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Selection: Choosing The Best Material You’ll Actually Study

This article is part of a series on the learning framework developed by Tim Ferriss through years of experimentation, called DiSSS (or DS3). The initials stand for Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes. While each article can easily stand on its own, if you want to start from the beginning, go to my article on deconstruction.


Let’s assume that you already have chosen the skill you want (or need) to learn, and have also set a specific goal to achieve. In addition, you’ve done the necessary research to deconstruct the skill at hand, effectively understanding its core components and what it is you should learn. It’s now time for the second part of the process, selection, where you’ll have to choose the most effective and efficient resources, techniques, and/or equipment, to start learning.

What is selection?

Selection is very largely based on the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. The 80/20 rule states that 80% (or more) of the outcomes come from just 20% (or less) of the inputs. Those inputs can be resources, equipment, clients, teachers, you name it, as the rule has been proven true in multiple different settings (like learning or business). Make sure to read my full article on the 80/20 rule along with this post.

What you want to achieve at this stage is to identify the few resources, techniques, and processes that will produce the greatest results. As Tim Ferriss puts it in The 4-Hour Chef (his words, not mine), “Choose the highest-yield material and you can be an idiot and enjoy stunning success.”

There is another thing you are trying to achieve, though. That is compliance, or sticking to the program. You should not only factor how effective each material is, but also how probable it is that you stick with it. After all, the mediocre thing that you do is a lot better than the great thing that you don’t. Quoting Tim again, “Will you swallow the pill you’ve prescribed yourself?

The above 2 different goals together become what Tim Ferriss calls the Minimum Effective Dose. That means the lowest volume and frequency material/process (easier to stick with) that will produce the desired results (effectiveness). This is what you are looking for in your selection process.

Examples of selection

1) Language Learning

A great example of selection and the minimum effective dose can be found in language learning. There are a ton of words in every language (more than 250.000 in use in English), but just the 100 most common ones comprise approximately 50% of all the written material. In fact, learning the top 1200-2000 words (depending on the language) will make you able to understand and talk about most subjects.

You can see more of a selection process in language learning in my Italian in 3 Months Challenge.

2) Fat loss

Tim Ferriss, in his book “The 4-Hour Body“, describes how consuming 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up can speed up fat loss by a lot. This simple change, which is really easy to implement and stick with, has been replicated by hundreds of people with amazing results. This is a clear case of the minimum effective dose in effect.

3) Cooking

Another example can be found in cooking. There are multiple techniques that you can use in the kitchen, as well as a ton of ingredients and equipment. Nevertheless, 3 techniques have been confirmed to be the most popular (and most important): grilling, sauteing, and braising. By learning these 3 you will have a huge head start in cooking, and these also need very little equipment to perform. (Source: The 4-Hour Chef)

Personally, I’d start with sauteing, because that produces some of the tastiest and easiest-to-make meals possible.

4) Design

In design, there are a ton of things to learn in various categories: graphic design (logos etc.), web design (websites), and many more. There is one common element in almost all of these, though, and that is the use of some type of design software. The most common ones are in the Adobe Suite, like Photoshop or Illustrator. Therefore, when selecting material to study, you should start learning one of these first. It is also a good idea (minimum-effective-dose-wise) to do that in a structured, yet cheap, course. Here is my recommendation for learning Photoshop, and the one for learning Illustrator.

5) Guitar

Finally, a great example can be found in learning guitar. There is a ton of things to learn about music and the guitar, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Nevertheless, a band called ‘Axis of Awesome’ has a video on YouTube where they show how a lot of pop songs are based on the exact same 4 (or 5) chords. So, when selecting what to learn on the guitar, start with these chords. Don’t forget that early wins are extremely important.

To see more examples of the selection process, follow my learning reports where I try to illustrate how I structure my learning on various subjects. Here is my 1st learning report.

How to do the selection process

Now that we saw what the results of the selection process might look like, let’s dive into how to actually perform it.

Important concepts

First, there are 2 basic concepts to keep in mind. One is, according to Tim Ferriss, that material beats method. Every student is subordinate to the material they use, and if the material is the wrong one, studying well or having a good teacher won’t matter. Therefore, you need to take extra care in choosing what you study, and not just how.

The second is to aim for small but powerful changes in your current lifestyle. Even professional athletes wouldn’t find it easy to change their diet or exercise completely. Choose material and processes that will have a great impact result-wise, but a small one lifestyle-wise, at least in the beginning.

Identifying effectiveness

By far the best way to identify the most effective options for your selection process is leveraging others’ work. Others have almost certainly tried to learn what you are trying to, and many of them may have shared their insights online or in a book. So, now that you’ve identified the core components of the skill through deconstruction, use google to find info for each component. This time, though, you are not trying to get a feeling of the skill, but rather to identify the best material to study.

The technique

  1. Grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write down all the various studying resources and processes you’ve identified until now.
  2. Create 2 columns next to the list.
  3. The first column is about effectiveness. Rate each item (I use a scale of 1-10) based on the research that you’ve done on how effective the particular item is.
  4. The second column is about how likely you are to stick with each item. Factor in how big a change it demands from your lifestyle, how much time it will take, how much you like it, and anything else that helps you answer this question. Here, I also use a scale of 1-10.
  5. Now add the 2 numbers into a third column. When using 1-10 scales, the ones with the highest total are the best items to select for your process.
  6. Personally, I add one more rule to this technique. When I choose items based on their total grade, I make sure that the “how likely I am to stick with it” column has a grade bigger than 6. That ensures that I choose items I am more likely to stick with, even if they aren’t the absolute best choices.


Selection is the process of choosing the best material and processes for your learning. It’s not only about choosing the most effective ones, but also the ones that you are most likely to stick with. After all, the best method is the one you’ll use more than once.

In addition, make sure to use the same process when you select new material later on in your learning. In fact, I personally do a selection process again a little after I start, including the grading technique. I do that because, after a couple weeks of learning, I’m already in a better position to judge both the effectiveness of an item and my likeliness to stick with it.

Call to Action

If you liked this article, please share it with your friends. Also, if you want us to work together in your selection process, or anything else for that matter, make sure to let me know! Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!

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Deconstruction: How To Make Any Learning Subject Manageable
Sequencing: Putting Your Learning In The Right Order

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