The 3 Books Technique for Learning a New Skilll

When I’m learn­ing a new skill, there’s a tech­nique I of­ten use to quickly gain the ba­sics of the new skill with­out get­ting drowned in the plethora of re­sources that ex­ist. I’ve found that just 3 re­sources that cover the skill from 3 sep­a­rate view­points(along with ei­ther daily prac­tice or a pro­ject) is enough to quickly get all the pieces I need to learn the new skill.

I’m par­tial to books, so I’ve called this The 3 Books Tech­nique, but feel free to sub­sti­tute books for courses, men­tors, or videos as needed.

The “What” Book

The “What” book is used as refer­ence ma­te­rial. It should be a thor­ough re­source that gives you a broad overview of your skill. If you run into a novel situ­a­tion, you should be able to go to this book and get the in­for­ma­tion you need. It cov­ers the “sur­face” sec­tion of the learn­ing model from na­ture pic­tured above.

Pos­i­tive re­views of this book should con­tain phrases like “Thor­ough” and “Got me out of a pinch more than once.” Nega­tive re­views of this book should talk about “over­whelming” and “didn’t know where to start.”

The “How” Book

The “How” Book ex­plains the step-by-step, nuts and bolts of how to put the skill into prac­tice. It of­ten con­tains pro­cesses, tools, and steps. It cov­ers the “deep” part of the learn­ing model cov­ered above.

Pos­i­tive re­views of this book should talk about “Well struc­tured” and “Clearly thought out.” Nega­tive re­views should men­tion it be­ing “too rote” or “not enough the­ory.”

The “Why” Book

The “WHY” book ex­plains the mind­set and in­tu­itions be­hind the skill. It tries to get into the au­thors head and lets you un­der­stand what to do in novel situ­a­tions. It should cover the “trans­fer” part of the learn­ing model above.

Pos­i­tive re­views of this book should talk about “gain­ing in­tu­itions” or “re­ally un­der­stand­ing”. Nega­tive re­views should con­tain phrases like “not prac­ti­cal” or “still don’t know what steps to take.”

The Pro­ject or Practice

Once I have these 3 re­sources, I’ll choose a sin­gle pro­ject or a daily prac­tice that al­lows me to prac­tice the skills from the “How” book and the mind­sets from the “Why” book. If I get stuck, I’ll use the “What” book to help me.


Over­com­ing Procrastination

“What” Book: The Pro­cras­ti­na­tion Equa­tion by Piers Steel

“How” Book: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore

“Why” Book: The Re­plac­ing Guilt blog se­quence by Nate Soares

Pro­ject or Prac­tice: Five po­modoros ev­ery day where I de­liber­ately use the tools from the now habit and the mind­sets from re­plac­ing guilt. If I find my­self stuck, I’ll choose from the plethora of tech­niques in the Pro­cras­ti­na­tion Equa­tion.

Learn­ing Calculus

“What” Book: A First Course in Calcu­lus by Serge Lange

“How” Book: The Khan Academy se­ries on Calculus

“Why” Book: The Essence of Calcu­lus Youtube se­ries by 3blue1brown

Pro­ject or Prac­tice: Daily prac­tice of the Khan Academy calcu­lus ex­er­cises.


This is a sim­ple tech­nique that I’ve found very helpful in sys­tem­atiz­ing my learn­ing pro­cess. I would be par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in other skills you’ve learned and the 3 books you would recom­mend for those skills.