Prasanna Natarajan

Prefer Just in time learnings over Just in case learnings

You learn some stuff just in case it might come handy some day.

And you learn some other stuff just in time so it might come handy right now.

But which is better?

Can we do both? I think so. You can learn multiple things during any period of time. Example: learn new coding topics in the morning, and spend 30 minutes learning hindi in the evening. After some time, you’d have made progress in both. The “learn to code” can be a “Just In Time” thing for me, and “learn hindi” is a “Just In Case” thing.

But these days I prefer spending time on the most important things. Spending all of my energy on a task can move the mountain faster. And though I’d like to learn hindi right now, learning code is more important to me as I think that could move me to my financial goals much sooner. “I don’t have the time” (neither do you, for anything that takes second place).

So, spending time on JIC is not worth my time.

Which I just realized recently after listening to a Tim Ferriss episode. But I realized I’ve always been an idiot in this matter. I’ve spent a lot of money and time on JIC learnings. Just look at my tech blog. Here’s what I see there:

I bought a book to learn Elm, spent about a month to finish it. Why did I learn Elm? Now that I’m thinking of it, Derek Sivers once mentioned it in a podcast (made in 2015) that he’s considering Elm as it looks like fun. So I just bought it. What I didn’t consider was, the 2017 StackOverflow survey mentioned Elm in near top in the “Worst language to learn to get a Job” list because companies aren’t yet using it! (But I learnt a functional programming and type system stuff etc. Totally.)

But after I finished that book, I couldn’t use it anywhere. Not in my day job, because they don’t even use javascript. And not in my “side projects” cos I don’t have any.

Then, I bought a book to learn PostgreSQL, spent about 2 months finishing it. Wrote about 10 posts about it. Did all the exercises etc. I bought it because I was consumed by the arguments in the internet claiming PostgreSQL’s supremacy over MySQL’s idiocy. But the again, I couldn’t use it in my job, nor in my life. (I don’t remember any of the stuff I learnt. But I hope when the day comes, the blog posts and the dust-collecting pdf would come to my rescue.).

This is crazy. I once bought a Udemy course on “Learn Ethical Hacking from Scratch” and spent about 15 to 20 hours going through the entire course material and doing the stuff that he asked me to do. Never mind the fact that I didn’t get most of it. To this day I don’t know why I bought it.

And then there was a phase in my life where I was this “meditation guy”. I bought and read 2 books, listened to several of Dan Harris’ “10% happier” podcast episodes, and spent about 60 days meditating for 30 minutes daily. It was me, sitting there and trying to contemplate the void, but my mind was more interested in the mundanes of life like sexual fantasy and stupid thoughts. (I do get the memo that that’s what needs to be controlled. So all I’m doing now is a 5-minute mindfulness staring-into-the-void daily. Hold on, let me do today’s turn and get back.)

Then there was some 15 days of focus lost to finishing Wes Bos’ free course on “CSS Grids”. I know not one thing about it now. (But that was damn compelling marketing by him right? I tend to buy anything from people who I respect and look up to.)

I also have this book on parenting: “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk”. The CodingHorror guy wrote a post about this and I bought it. It’s sitting near my desk for 6 months and slowly rotting. I’m not a parent yet, but I bought it once my brother became one. But neither of us have read it so far. (But I still don’t regret buying it. I will get around to reading it someday. (someday is the ether in the void where all of our non-compelling ToDos get lost.))

Enough examples. You get the point. I’ve always been the Just In Case learner. But now that I’m aware of the distinction, I’d like to focus more, a lot more on my JIT learnings.

Of course, you can’t just learn some specific stuff alone and ignore other things that need to be learned. Learning to control your impulses, mastering self discipline, getting what-needs-to-be-done done, buying milk and food so your kid doesn’t die etc.

You just have to prioritize.

I talked about this to my colleague last week, and I talked him out of his compulsion to learn “some good functional language”. Now that’s persuasion.

So, please allow me to persuade you to consider dropping the unwanted shit you think you want to learn but don’t really need right now, and consider learning things that are absolutely important.