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The Best Skill I Learned from Ali Abdaal Skillshare Classes

Ali Abdaal Skillshare Lessons

It can be daunting to choose an online class these days.

I have acquired many new abilities through online learning, though unfortunately no superhuman abilities yet. What I didn’t expect was to improve at the actual skill of learning, thanks in a large part to Ali Abdaal’s classes.

I spent three months digging into his online courses and workshops. Here’s why I endorse Ali Abdaal’s videos on Skillshare.

Ali Adbaal is a doctor and YouTube creator with over 1 million subscribers. And he is so obsessed with productivity that he stays up until 1 am taking notes from books he loves. I’d rather get a good night’s sleep and afterward watch, read or listen to his highlights.

Here are the best lessons and my impressions from his classes on Skillshare.

Overview (Ranked by Favorites)

1) The Pilot, The Plane, and The Engineer (Rating: 4.5/5) – Very specific steps to improve your daily productivity.

2) Productivity Masterclass (Rating: 4/5) – Good high level course on productivity with lots of ideas to explore.

3) Ultimate Guide to Anki (Rating: 3/5) – The big take-away is to use spaced repetition systems to learn.

4) Stoicism Masterclass (Rating: 3/5) – I enjoy Philosophy more in written form, but this class offers an easy introduction. This encouraged me to read more, which is always a good thing.

The Pilot, The Plane and The Engineer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.5 / 5)

🔗 Productivity Masterclass – The Pilot, The Plane and The Engineer | On Skillshare

** My favorite Skillshare Class from Ali Abdaal! **

This class expands upon Ali’s idea of the different hats we wear throughout our days, which he introduced in the first Productivity Masterclass.

🥦 Impressions & Impact on Me

This class offered many actionable tips which I have incorporated into my daily routines. I particularly enjoyed the examples from writers such as Mark Twain and James Clear.

The Three Characters in our Mental Model

  • The Pilot – thinking thru what needs to be done and planning
    • Around 10% of your time
    • Do this when you have clarity – for me that’s in the morning.
  • The Plane – carrying out the tasks & staying on course
    • Around 80% of your time
    • My challenge is sticking to my plan throughout the day.
  • The Engineer – ensuring systems are working and no problems
    • Around 10% of your time
    • Reviewing the systems keeps it all efficient and organized.

Idea 1 – Time Blocked Calendar

The prolific author and computer science professor Cal Newport explains the importance of keeping a detailed calendar:

“A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60 plus hour work week pursued without structure.”

— Cal Newport

From Paul Graham, the computer scientist and author comes the idea of the maker versus manager schedule. If you don’t block out time for the long creative work that might require 1-2 hours to really get cranking, you won’t ever do it!

Idea 2 – Eat the Frog

Do the most important thing first, particularly if you want to do it the least.

This works really well for me. It’s also the idea in the book The One Thing, which has sold millions of copies. Such a simple idea should be more obvious, but it’s the thing you want to do the least!

It takes some guts to do it first. The catchy name comes from my favorite 19th-century author:

“If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you all day long.”

— Mark Twain

Idea 3 – Set goals for things you can control

The danger lies in tying your self-worth to some externality rather than by our internal processes.

James Clear says setting goals is fine as long as it helps you set your direction. But then he suggests we forget the goal and focus on the daily activities.

Noah Kagan explains the importance of being intentional about what kind of goal you set for yourself. Here are the three types of goals:

  • Object-oriented goal – what’s the target or destination
  • Progress goal – is it progressing, e.g. growth of mailing list. Do I grow each week?
  • Systems goal – e.g. I’m going to go to the gym three times per week

☁️ Overall Thoughts

This class digs into more actionable steps to be more intentional about what you work on. It builds well upon the first Productivity Masterclass.

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Productivity Masterclass ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4 / 5)

🔗 Productivity Masterclass – Principles and Tools to Boost Your Productivity | On Skillshare

This class offers an overview of how Ali approaches productivity. He offers a very straightforward lens with his productivity equation. And thanks to the simplicity of his stand-out ideas, they really stuck with me.

🥦 Impressions & Impact on Me

I enjoyed this class which led me to study some new books and several other topics. The structure of the courses suits someone interested in learning a few things on a lunch break or even just with ten extra minutes at the end of the day.

The following ideas stuck with me and demonstrate Ali’s ability to share bite-sized concepts.

Idea 1: Productivity Equation

Productivity = useful output/time x F (fun factor)

It makes sense that work becomes much easier to do when it’s fun. I often put on a podcast while doing cleaning or other chores, and the idea of emphasizing the fun aspect of any activity makes a lot of sense.

Idea 2: The Myth of Not Having Time

Ali shares a lesson from an older med student who was taking an Arabic class which I liked.

“Time is like a muscle. The more you squeeze into it and the more you use it well, the more it grows and the more you realize you can actually fit in with your time.”

There is a longer article with a lot more details that Ali recommends at WisdomNation — Screw Motivation – What You Need Is Discipline.

Idea 3: It’s Easier to Steer a Moving Ship

It’s harder to start something than to continue what you’ve started. And a few tips can help you get that initial momentum:

2 min rule – if it takes two minutes or less, do it immediately.

5 min rule – if you are struggling to start any task, give yourself the easy challenge of doing it for merely five minutes.

Ali explains how he applies the 5 Min Rule to making YouTube videos. Instead of “starting” the daunting task of a full video, he begins by just setting up his camera and microphone.

Reflective Prompts

Ali describes at the start of the course how they used reflective prompts in medical school to learn new things. A few benefits:

  • Writing a response to a prompt is more active than watching a bunch of videos.
  • The enthusiasm that remains after a writing exercise lasts longer than a short burst of energy, followed by the return to old habits.
  • Taking time throughout the lessons to reflect on current patterns makes it easier to break them.
  • Usually my response took less than two minutes. (See the rule above!)

Many of his ideas come from the book Make Time, so I read the book myself. I even typed up my book notes and impressions which you can read here.

Make Time - John Knapp

☁️ Overall Thoughts

A great introduction to productivity and a taste of the world view of “how can I do this more efficiently?”

** You might also like my article Why you should learn online (Nov 2020) **

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Ultimate Guide to Anki ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 / 5)

🔗 Learn Anything With Flashcards – The Ultimate Guide To Anki | On Skillshare

I stumbled upon this class as I tried to get better at my language studies (teaching myself Japanese).

Research shows that we eventually forget everything if we don’t revisit the information with some frequency. Using flashcards and tools such as Anki employs a scientific approach to keep useful information in our brains. It’s terrific!

🥦 Impressions & Impact on Me

The use of note cards is super useful. Beyond just how to use Anki, this course offers examples of how it can be used to remember concepts from a lecture or an article you enjoy. The focus is more on memorizing facts for an exam or writing a paper in college, which does not apply to me.

The class offers some technical tutorials, such as adding cloze deletions or image occlusion cards. And it makes the whole process of creating study cards accessible – which turns out to be extremely valuable. The process of preparing study cards makes them more personal and thus easier to remember.

A Primer On Spaced Repetition

I have found it difficult to memorize new words in a foreign language, even with flashcards and separating out the hard words. And then I (re)discovered the idea of spaced repetition and the explanation.

Here’s my simplified graph, and check out the interactive article for a much better explanation.

Learn faster by reviewing at the optimum time spacing.

How to Remember Anything Forever-ish by Nicky Case (10 – 20 min)

☁️ Overall Summary

This course focuses is more on memorizing facts for an exam or writing a paper in college, which does not apply to me. I wish it gave more examples of how someone could apply this to relearn a foreign language from high school, or study something new like music theory.

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Stoicism Masterclass ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 / 5)

🔗 How to be Happier – Stoicism Masterclass | On Skillshare

Stoicism is a fascinating philosophy endorsed by entrepreneurs and authors such as Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday.

The basic idea is that happiness lies in accepting your experiences as they present themselves. The philosophy emphasizes treating others fairly.

🥦 Impressions & Impact on Me

A nice introduction to a very useful philosophy. This class encouraged me to go read some philosophy books, which better suits me than hearing it explained. The lessons are nice and short but just didn’t quite speak to me.

Memorable Quotes

“When you anticipate the challenges you face you will have an easier time addressing them in the moment.”

This works well for me, especially during really high-stress periods of work.

When I list some of the things that might go wrong in my day or week, it doesn’t surprise me if those things go wrong.

And it might encourage you to read some books:

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.

— Epictetus

Stoicism Resources

Happy by Derren Brown

This book is a good introduction to Stoicism and happiness, even if a little oversimplified.

A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine

I have seen this book endorsed in a few places, and it takes a very personal approach to stoicism. I would describe this as a very comforting book.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

This book is truly a gem and I have filled mine with underlines and notes in the margins.

☁️ Overall Thoughts

I did not find this class super compelling but I like the subject a lot. After watching for a bit, I was inspired to read more about stoicism which has served me very well.

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Summary and More Resources

When things are fun we are much more likely to do them. A one hour class is fun!

“When I’m not enjoying it, but I have to do it anyway, then I might as well start to enjoy it.
I’ve often found that having more fun is often more down to the story that I tell myself about the thing, rather than about the thing itself.
Actually, this is a stoicism principle that applies to all aspects of life.”

— Ali Abdaal

Learning online is great – go do it!

A few more courses from Ali and some additional resources:

Read: Why you should learn online – Jono Sanders (Nov 2020)

I have found tremendous value in learning new perspectives, models of living and other new skills through online courses and workshops.

Listen: Dispelling the Motivation Myths of Passion and Willpower with Jeff Haden (Jun 2020)

On the How to Be Awesome at your Job podcast, Haden explains that we can find motivation in the cycle of improvement. As a person sees themself improving they enjoy the process, and that fuels more effort into getting better.

Book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (Goodreads)

The ideas in this book heavily influenced my thinking when I read it in 2019. It offers a helpful method to define your principles and make big decisions based on your larger goals.

Read: My Book Summary of The Elephant in your Brain

Ali references this book a lot throughout his courses and it was a real eye-opener.

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