I cheated a little in the hopes of winning at New Year’s Resolutions 2016. Last fall, I started to look for good habits I was already developing, and tried to shape them into something constructive.

One of those habits was reading higher quality content, and more of it. I used to spend too much time lurking on Reddit. I replaced most of that with reading longer and usually more thoughtful pieces, like blog posts, articles, and podcasts.

The appetite for this fancier content grew into a craving for even longer, in-depth stories. Something like Serial. Or books. Indeed. I dug up my old Kindle. I read paper books. I subscribed to Audible. I finished a modest stack of acclaimed non-fiction books. Look at me! Such an adult! So productive!

This is great. Since graduating, I’ve been panicking about leaving behind the 16 years of structured education. The real world experience has been great, but learning seems haphazard and inefficient by itself. Augmenting it by reading books seems to help.

However, this habit wasn’t perfect. When I thought back to one of the books I had read, all I found was a one-sentence summary and a hazy memory of my feelings. “Oh, I read that! It was about that one thing. I liked it.” I wanted more than check marks next to the things I’ve read.


To counter this, I started writing down and reviewing the key points and interesting quotes from what I’ve read over time. I put them on cards in a flashcard app that spaces out and mixes up cards. If I stick with it, I’ll continue to extract knowledge long after I first read something.

For example, instead of checking Hacker News for the 3rd time one day, I could choose to spend a few minutes reviewing my favorite things I read in the past.

I might get a card from The Pragmatic Programmer’s tips about software development:

Put Abstractions in Code, Details in Metadata: Program for the general case, and put the specifics outside the compiled code base.

followed by

Get people talking. Learn to ask questions that will elicit answers about what is most interesting or vivid in their lives. Nothing so animates writing as someone telling what he thinks or what he does–in his own words.

from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.

It’s like school again! But even more enjoyable than school, there’s no pressure, and the material is delightfully diverse and personalized.

I started reviewing six weeks ago, and I like it. I’m getting more out of it than I originally thought. Namely:

  • I find new connections and interpretations. I might be working on a new project and the old note takes on new meaning. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s awesome when it does.
  • Even in the worst case, when I’m not interested in the card’s contents and quickly skip to the next one, I get reminded of the things I’ve read, the original reason for trying this.
  • The most surprising thing is that the reviews are fun. When I’m choosing which app to pass the time with, the review calls to me in the same way Hacker News or Medium do.

Onward to 2016, where I’m hopeful of completing my New Year’s Resolution.

I have a few more posts about implementation coming soon. In the meantime:

  • Anki is the app I’m using. Spoilers, it’s great for some use cases, but it’s not particularly great for this one.
  • Janky Method for using Anki to learn programming.
  • Coding Horror has the Pragmatic Programmer’s tips in “A Pragmatic Quick Reference”