When starting a self-directed learning project (see Ultralearning, after Young), you should always do metalearning first. However, it is important to set how much research is good enough so that you don’t waste time and effort. Remember the law of diminishing returns. At some point, you get less benefits from research relative to the time you put into it.

To strike a balance between no research and excessive research, do the following:

  1. Approximate how much time you are going to spend learning the subject or skill.
  2. Get the 10% of that approximate time and spend it on metalearning.


Young, S. (2019). Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career (Illustrated edition). Harper Business.

Spend 10 percent of your total learning time to metalearning

This is the sweet spot between insufficient research and analysis paralysis. This percentage will decrease a little bit as your project scales up. You don’t have to exhaust every learning possibility. Just don’t latch onto the first possible resource or method without thinking through alternatives.

Be aware of the following before starting: - common methods of learning - popular resources - tools - the strengths and weaknesses of these

Long projects provide more opportunities for getting derailed and delayed, so doing proper research in the beginning can easily save a much larger amount of time later on.

  1. Spend a few hours doing more research: interview more experts, search online for more resources, search for new possible techniques.
  2. Spend a few hours doing more learning along your chosen path.
  3. Do a quick assessment of the relative value of the two activities.

If you feel as though the metalearning research contributed more than the hours spent on learning itself, you are likely at a point where more research is still beneficial.

If you felt that the extra research wasn’t too helpful, you’re probably better off sticking to the plan you had before.

Be mindful of the Law of Diminishing Returns. The more time you invest in an activity (such as more research), the weaker and weaker the benefits will be as you get closer and closer to the ideal approach. If you keep doing research, eventually it will be less valuable than simply doing more learning, so at that point you can safely focus on learning.