Mar 29 2018
Ongoing learning frequently comes up in discussions about career development and personal fulfillment. Workforce surveys regularly highlight the rising importance of learning opportunities in the workplace as key factors among job seekers. Organizations, realizing the importance of this trend, are adopting learning-friendly policies to foster a culture of continuous learning. However, even with the support of your employer and an internal drive to learn, a strong opposing force must be overcome if you’re going to meet your learning goals–a lack of time.
The truth is, if you don’t reserve time for learning, your daily tasks will easily consume every minute of the 40+ hours you’ve allocated to getting work done each week. If learning is truly important to you, know that you’ll need to be proactive in allocating and defending your learning time on an ongoing basis.
Here are six proactive steps you, as a motivated learner, can take to ensure you don’t end up wondering “where did the time go?”
It’s important to understand how ongoing learning on the job is viewed in your workplace. Company policy is a good place to start, but consider how you’ll be viewed if your neighbors see that you’re engaged in an e-learning session at your desk while they’re working on a project. If you anticipate this to be an uncomfortable scenario, speak with your boss. Seek their support in spreading the word that learning is supported and encouraged. A simple email reminding the team about your company’s learning and professional development policy will go a long way.
Of course, this presumes your company is bought in to ongoing learning. If not, you’ll have to tap in to that internal desire for self-improvement to fuel your learning sessions during lunch, and/or pre or post work. As much as you’d like to have an ally in your company, remember you’re doing this for yourself, your career, and your personal fulfillment.
Like any other important project, learning takes planning. A simple way to start is by setting a recurring meeting on your calendar. Title it “Time to Level Up” or something that reminds you of why this time is important to you. Having this meeting on your calendar keeps other meetings from encroaching on your precious learning time.
Reserve your learning time in the middle of the week. This allows you to begin your week with a strong start on your important projects. After a couple days of progress, you’ll have earned a learning session as a small but meaningful reward, rather than feeling guilty that you’re putting off work.
Just as important, don’t leave learning to the very end of your week. Sometimes your internal motivation may wane after a long week. Also, the end of the week is often project deadline time. Don’t have project deadlines be in direct competition with your learning sessions. Deadlines will always win. Even if you hit the deadline, you’ll resent that it came at the personal expense of your precious learning time.
Your first scheduled learning session should be dedicated to developing a list of 3-5 topics you want to level up in, and how you plan to pursue each one. Be specific. The purpose of this list is to remove any decision making friction when you start your learning session. Rather than writing down “Get better at SOLIDWORKS”, aim for the more specific “Learn new SOLIDWORKS Tab and Slot sheet metal feature” and have links to relevant resources, such as SolidProfessor lessons, articles, or blog posts, ready to go. If you stream movies and tv shows, you know the frustration of wasting your allotted tv time debating which show deserves your commitment. Don’t let this happen to your learning time!
Do your best to curate your list on an ongoing basis. If an interesting blog post hits your inbox but you can’t get to it right away, add it to your list. If you saw an interesting new approach your colleague used during a design review that you’d like to try, add it to your list. (Isn’t it nice that you’ve already got a placeholder in your week to get to these items that you otherwise wouldn’t?)
As your list dwindles down to just a couple of items, dedicate the next learning session to building your list back up with your latest interests and curiosities. This time investment pays off in the long run in the form of more productive learning sessions.
Often, the only reason people don’t take advantage of company learning and development policies is a lack of awareness and leadership. If you’ve asked for your boss’s support, you’ve already helped spread awareness. You can take this one step further by being a leader and inviting others to join you. For example, this might take the form of group learning or a lunch and learn to share your newfound knowledge. Even starting small by sharing your approach in an email may be enough to give your colleagues a place to start. This certainly benefits your peers, but it also helps you stay on track with your learning when others around you are doing the same.
If you’ve reserved time on your calendar and you’ve created an actionable list of topics and resources, resist the temptation to skip your learning sessions. There will always be a next task or looming deadline. Or perhaps you simply don’t have the energy to dedicate a focused hour to learning. No problem. Be proactive and keep an item or two on your list that are tiny in scope. Perhaps it’s reading a short blog post that caught your interest last week. Ten minutes later you’re finished with your micro-learning session and feel good about sticking to your plan. Now you can take that small victory with you as you charge full speed toward that deadline!
These six simple tips should help you take ownership of your ongoing learning. Elevate the importance of your career and personal growth and you’ll find that it truly deserves its rightful place on your calendar!
About the Author
SolidProfessor Co-Founder, soccer dad, podcast junkie, always eager to learn something new.