A while back I wrote about learning things just-in-case or just-in-time. Some things you learn in case you need them in the future, and some things you learn as needed.
How do you decide whether something is worth learning ahead of time, or whether it is best to learn if and when you need it? This is a common dilemma, especially in technology. There’s no easy answer. You have to decide what is best in your circumstances. But here’s a suggestion: Learn real-time skills and bicycle skills in advance.
A real-time skill is something you need for live performance. If you’re going to speak French, you have to memorize a large number words before you need them in conversation. Looking up every word in a English-French dictionary as needed might work in the privacy of your study, but it would be infuriatingly slow in a face-to-face conversation. Some skills that we don’t think of as being real-time become real-time when you have to use them while interacting with other people.
More subtle than real-time skills are what I’m calling bicycle skills. Suppose you own a bicycle but haven’t learned to ride it. Each day you need to go to a store half a mile away. Each day you face the decision whether to walk or learn to ride the bicycle. It takes less time to just walk to the store than to learn to ride the bicycle and ride to the store. If you always do what is fastest that day, you’ll walk every day. I’m thinking of a bicycle skill as anything that doesn’t take too long to learn, quickly repays time invested, but will never happen without deliberate effort.
When you’re under pressure, you don’t learn bicycle skills. You don’t make long-term investments, even if the “long-term” is 30 minutes away. I’ll just walk, thank you.
What are bicycle skills you need to learn, things that would save time in the long run but haven’t been worthwhile in the short term?