The Power of Cheatsheets

Cheatsheets are incredibly helpful lookup/guiding documents that you fall back to time and again. For that elusive bit of information that you just can’t retain in your head after repeated Googling over time, cheatsheets can save you the pain of rework.

I have built up a reasonably large assortment of cheatsheets over the last couple years, noting down things that are important to me and which I might need again in the future. These documents have proven invaluable and have helped me quickly retrieve the information that I precisely was looking for.

To give you a sampler of what my cheatsheets look like, here’s my categorized collection of cheatsheets that have been an indispensable tool over the last couple years.

My Cheatsheets

Here’s a listing of the advantages of building up your own cheatsheets:

1. Google Isn’t Always Effective
It is, most of the times. But not always. Googling can quickly get mentally exhausting if you are experimenting around in a new area where you don’t yet have the basic foundation of knowledge built up. For instance,  back when I was working through my Machine Learning course, I had to quickly get up to speed on the Matlab programming language to be able to complete the course assignments. To tackle this, I got started building my Matlab Cheatsheet. Every new Matlab operation I encountered went into that sheet and pretty soon I was functional in Matlab and my assignments got done sooner. I cannot imagine the drudgery that I would have had to endure Googling for hundreds of different basic Matlab functions without this cheatsheet. With my Matlab toolchest built up, all I had to do was to ctrl + F (search) the document.

2. Learn Things At A Breakneck Pace
Ingesting a large body of information takes time. The human brain often resists new unfamiliar streams of information that you cannot relate to something you already know. It takes quite a bit of repetition for things to start falling in place and making sense. To pace up this process of context building, cheatsheets are a great tool. As you begin processing new streams of data, you can straightaway start building your cheatsheet. Over the course of your learning, as you digest newer information that builds on the foundation that came before, referring back to your cheatsheet for a quick glance of the foundation data that you’ve captured in there helps strengthen those neurons in your head. I’ve found this method very effective in learning things like Git, Machine Learning, Matlab and natural languages.

3. Turn To The Old Faithful
It is really reassuring to know where exactly to go when you’re searching for your proverbial needle in the haystack. I don’t want to Google for something that I knew three months ago but don’t recall now and have to impatiently sift through the listing of results if the first few hits don’t get me what I’m looking for. No, I only need to turn to my old faithful friend where I’ve jotted down just what I need.

Building Your Own Cheatsheets

As you may see in the above shared link, I use Google Drive as the hosting repository for my collection of cheatsheets. The ones I’ve shared are all the documents that I’m comfortable sharing on the public Internet. I have another listing of private cheatsheets.

To constantly update cheatsheets, it quickly gets annoying doing it over the browser. You can instead download Google Drive for desktop and then create your cheatsheets folder that the Drive application can keep in sync. It then becomes a matter of just working locally on text files in your favorite text editor and let Google Drive do the rest in the background. I do this on all the multitude of computers that I regularly work on so that I always have access to my cheatsheets.