Beginning a Journey into Spaced Repetition

Have you ever gone to tell a coworker about a book you just read or a friend about a show you’ve been watching and completely blanked on the name, standing there for a minute and staring into space like the information you’re waiting for is a meteor that’s going to hit you at any second? No? Just me?

I have notoriously unreliable memory and it’s always been a fault of mine I’ve wanted to improve but the weight of it’s effect never quite hit hard enough. I can’t say there was any epiphany moment or turning point, it’s just been a slow build up that’s made me realize all of the wasted time and slighted feelings, the forgotten names and ephemeral knowledge. And so I’ve decided it’s time to do something concrete about it.

Queue Spaced Repetition

I was partially inspired by the Director of Product Engineering at Shopify, though I don’t plan on going quite as hard, to give spaced repetition a more serious look. I’ve used Anki in the past but never seemed to be able to make a habit of it and never took it seriously past memorization for tests.

And so here it begins. I’ve downloaded Anki and begun this test with two different bodies of knowledge, each quite different:

  1. Learning Rust - I’ve made multiple attempts at the Rust Book but never made it further than a few chapters. In an attempt to get further I bought a physical copy and have begun creating my own Anki deck with snippets throughout.
  2. Geography - There’s a premade Anki geography deck that has some great reviews. Yes, some of this feels a bit like trivia and is of questionable use but I’ve made a fool of myself in the past for not fully comprehending where in the world a country is so figured this could be good knowledge to work on.

I may expand this into further areas like takeaways from articles or functionality from frequently used programming libraries. It’s important to me though that I first work on forming the habit and refining the translation of knowledge into flash cards.

But Why?

When mentioning Anki and flash cards a lot of people question the value of memorization. The real value is in deeper or abstract knowledge, so why memorize? If you didn’t remember it in the first place, is it really that important?

There are a couple of key reasons:

  • Looking up information that I can’t pull from the top of my head required a context shift and costs both time and focus. I want to take back that lost time.
  • Smaller facts are the building blocks for more complex knowledge, so memorizing those facts should make overall learning faster.
  • Less frequently accessed information isn’t less important. Concepts from that book you read 3 years ago could be relevant to tomorrow’s meeting.

So yeah, this is a personal challenge of mine right now and we’ll see if I reap the benefits that I hope to.