When was the last time you really leveled up your knowledge?
How often do you block off time to learn something new – and how often does that time “somehow” get taken up with other things?
I don’t consider myself a procrastinator, because when it comes to knocking things off my to-do list, I almost never wait until the last minute to do something. If anything, I tackle things so far in advance that I am nagging people to help get things in order 2 weeks before anyone else even thinks of starting.
But when it comes to growing my skills and learning, in the last year, I have let it fall by the wayside.
And I, just like everyone else who procrastinates on learning for work, have a lot of good reasons:
- I’m busy! I have a full day of work, every day, plus a personal life.
- I learn a lot on the fly – my job requires me to figure things out as I go, so it’s not like I’m learning nothing. I’m just not doing any focused, proactive learning.
- I don’t even know where I’d start sometimes
That third excuse there is an area Popforms is actually trying to fix. With Pop Star, we take the worry out of where to start with career learning – we send you bite-size (10 minutes or less) lessons every week, so all you have to do is open your email and become a little more brilliant just by sitting there.
But those first two – I’m too busy and “I’m kind of already learning” – are really not that valid.
Or rather, they are valid if you are happy with where you are and don’t ever want to get promoted, get a new job, or try your hand at a really awesome new project or opportunity.
But if you read this blog, I don’t think you want to stay where you are forever.
So how to balance learning time with doing time? How can you get smarter without sacrificing work time or personal time? Read on to find out how and why you should make it happen.
Reframe learning in your mind
It’s easy to see learning as a distraction. It feels like a bonus (“a nice thing to do when you have the time”), and it’s an easy thing to cut when your schedule gets busy.
But you’re thinking about it the wrong way.
Think about it this way: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. If you never learn anything new, you’ll never advance in your career.
You get paid to do the job you have now. If you want to get promoted, you have to do more. That means it’s actually worth your time to find ways to learn. Think of it as an investment. Think of it as doing work today that you’ll get paid for tomorrow.
You don’t have to do a $2000 3-day conference to get valuable learning time in. All you have to do is make regular, ongoing education a priority. Make it something you see as small investments in a much bigger future.
Making time for focused learning on the job
You may feel like your job currently takes all 40+ hours you spend at work every week. And that’s because it probably does. But it doesn’t have to.
You can take courses, attend workshops, do online trainings and tutorials, all while on the company clock. That means you don’t have to sacrifice any of your personal time, and you still get to make time for learning on a regular schedule.
You just have to know how to do it right.
Look for learning opportunities within your org
Lots of companies offer learning opportunities. If you’re at a big corporation, there is likely a whole curriculum of courses at your fingertips that you just have to sign up for and that will work with your schedule.
If you don’t have traditional education programs within your company, though, you can still take advantage of learning opportunities within the organization.
Even things that don’t sound like traditional education — like attending meetings — can be educational. One of the best ways to learn about other roles and departments is to sit in on their meetings. See if you can join in with another team’s status meeting one week, just as an observer, and check in to see how other teams work, what they’re thinking about, etc.
Present your outside learning as an opportunity to your boss
Don’t forget that having you be smarter and more amazing at your job is a good thing for your employer too. They want you to be more productive, earning them more money, and cutting down waste on their teams.
If you can show how taking a day here or a week there can earn or save them money in the long term, then your odds of getting approval are probably way higher than you think. They might even pay for it, so you can learn for free.
If you find a workshop, course, or conference that can help you be better at your job, ask your boss about it.
(Be prepared: you may get a “no” if you’re asking during a bad time, where working on anything but the big priority just isn’t smart. So think wisely about the time that you ask. And if you do get a “no”, don’t shut it down forever; find a better way and time to pitch it again down the road.)
You can even offer to come back from the class or conference and share what you learned with the team. That way your manager gets even more benefit from the money they spent helping you learn, and you get a chance to be a leader on your team by sharing new knowledge with your peers.
Learn something over time
A big reason people procrastinate on learning is that they don’t have time to complete a book (or even a chapter of a book) or course in one day. The feeling of devoting 15 minutes a day to something almost seems like a waste; you can make so little progress in 15 minutes, why start?
Well, because 15 minutes a day over a whole year is just over 91 hours. And if 91 hours of learning doesn’t feel significant or worthwhile to you, then I don’t know what will. It is through consistency that the most successful people around you got that way. Very few people only do one big thing that makes them great; rather it is people who commit to being a little bit better every day, even in small doses.
So what can you do in 15 minutes a day to level up your skills?
- Read 10 pages in a book. KateM is fond of reminding people that 10 pages a day will equal 3,520 pages a year, which equals about 10-12 great business books a year. If you’re worried about reading so slowly and forgetting things, keep notes in a notebook.
- Read a blog post. If you need to stay up on industry trends (and if you want to be in a leadership role, you do) then spend 15 minutes a day reading a blog post from an industry news site or thought leader.
- Have an email conversation. One of my favorite things to do is to connect with people over email. I’m always surprised by how willing people are to engage, and most everyone likes being asked for their opinion on something. Why not bounce a question you have off of someone in your network who might know the answer? You’ll probably get better info than if you just Googled it, plus you’ll be nurturing relationships.
- Brainstorm an idea. One of my favorite ways for getting smarter is to try to solve or innovate on something. When you practice innovating on a regular schedule, it gets easier and easier to do. And when you always have ideas, you are a valuable member of the team. Plus, when you share ideas you also get feedback on them – which makes you even better at it.
Delegate: it’s what leveling up is all about
Something that you hate to do, and that isn’t a good use of your time, is an amazing opportunity for someone else.
When I very first started working with KateM, I used to copy and paste links for her in the Tech Leadership Newsletter she sent out. And as surprising as it may sound, giving me that very boring job was a win-win for both of us.
I was just starting out in my career and thrilled to have a chance to play around with an email newsletter, even if it was just copy-and-pasting links. And Kate got time back to focus on what she did best. (Which is not copy-and-pasting links.)
Don’t think that you’re the only person who can do everything you already do. Even if you only free up an hour of your time every week, think about how much better used one hour of your week could be.
What could you do with 52 extra hours every year?
Make time for learning this week
How can you level up this week? What will take you closer to where you want to be?