In my opinion, continuous learning is a must for every professional. I really like this quote from Brian Tracy in his article Discover the importance of lifelong learning:
Your ability to expand your mind and devote yourself to lifelong learning is the key to breaking any success barriers that may be in front of you.
So how do you find the time?
If your life is anything like mine, it is filled with social activities, family obligations, fitness, hobbies, household chores etc. In addition, I think that a lot of us associate continuous learning with taking a class or attending a seminar. These have a lot of value and while they are definitely components of continuous learning, they are held at specific times and locations and are not always practical. What I propose is incorporating learning into your daily or weekly routine to keep a steady inflow of information.
Because everyone’s life and learning style is different, I don’t feel comfortable dictating what one should or should not do. I hope that by sharing what I do, it can give you some ideas on how to incorporate continuous learning in your life.
How I started
I am one of those people who eats lunch at my desk. While I am aware that there are studies that show the benefits of taking a one-hour break and socializing with your colleagues, I realized early in my career that this just wasn’t for me, and that I could use my time more productively.
I will admit, at the beginning it was difficult because my colleagues pushed back. I got the usual “Oh, c’mon! You don’t need to do that. Come sit with us.” It was really hard for me because I am very much a team player and I am one of those people whose presence or absence is glaringly obvious.
So at the beginning, I started with a few days per week. I would spend some time on Monday finding new resources dedicated to Talent Acquisition, and sometimes one day of research gave me material for a couple of weeks. On the days I felt really guilty about declining my colleagues’ invitations, I could go with them because my research was done and I had my plan: I had my series of webinars or articles to read already lined up so I could just jump back in the next day.
Over time, a new normal began to set in. My colleagues eased up and respected my decision. I also felt less and less guilty about not participating with the group. I know that many people don’t struggle with leaving a group. I share my experience because there are those of us out there who get intense social push back, and I wanted to show that it can be done. Having a plan really helped me to manage the transition to taking my lunch hours and investing them in my career.
Audio books & Podcasts
Continuous learning comes in many forms and not everyone has the flexibility do what I did. If you are a member of a professional association for instance, your continuous learning has to come from your association and there are seminars you must attend and online classes you must complete. If you are like many of my friends, you are busy and you cram the required courses by the deadline to keep you title. I don’t blame you – I would certainly do the same!
When you incorporate continuous learning into your life, it doesn’t always have to be industry-specific.
Audio books and Podcasts provide a wealth of information from today’s thought leaders and are a way to gain knowledge and insights from the classics. If you don’t like reading or if you drive to work and obviously can’t read, audio books and Podcasts are a lifesaver.
I am a big fan of Audible, which I had mentioned in my previous article, A holiday gift giving guide for the office. Audible is affiliated with Amazon and has an impressive number of books available for download as well as a monthly membership program which is both practical and affordable.
Because of where I live, I don’t have a commute to work, so I had to get creative to find similar downtime. Whenever I have a boring task that needs to get done, I will use this time to listen to audio books and Podcasts. If I have a workout like a steady heart rate cardio or if I am tidying up around the house or cooking, I find that listening to an audio book keeps me mentally stimulated. When I am done, I feel like I have gotten two-for-one and that my time was well spent.
YouTube & Khan Academy
Some people are visual learners and some concepts are just easier to learn visually. For example, I don’t normally have to use Excel for my job and I am not very good at it. If I were to take an Excel class for instance, I would learn a bunch of concepts I don’t need and would never apply, so I would not derive much value from taking a class.
Enter YouTube and Khan Academy.
If I need to know something specific, like making a table in Excel, I use YouTube. If I need to understand a subject quickly, like accounting and financial statements for instance, because I am recruiting for a position, I use Khan Academy.
Both resources are free and are broken down into videos that last a few minutes, so if you only have short blocks of time available or if you are someone who has a shorter attention span, these resources can be a great entry point into continuous learning. I would not recommend relying on them as a long-term strategy, however. With that said, do I understand that we all go through periods in life when we are exceptionally busy or if you are someone who prefers to start small then gradually increase. It’s always better to learn something than nothing, and you have to do what feels natural to you, your lifestyle and your learning style.
Taking the time for continuous learning is an investment in yourself that pays off exponentially. I hope that by sharing my approach, it can help you to find the time in your busy life to commit to your growth and development.