I’m all about skills development and consistent learning. I love learning new skills and levelling up the skills I already have. That’s how I can keep offering my clients a service I’m proud of and one that keeps up with the latest changes in my industry. I know that I don’t know nearly as much as I want to know, and I know that there’s just so much to know. You know?
Every day I read about something interesting: a new technique, updates to software I use every day, changes to technology that impacts my work, small tweaks that I can make to my work to improve it, and content from people whose work is influential in their field.
This information can be so overwhelming that I have often spent two hours reading about mistakes bloggers make, or improving my SEO, or implementing best practices for analytics tracking, when I was meant to be creating content strategies or writing newsletters. And I know that I completely suck at multitasking. I can’t listen to music with lyrics if I’m writing, or need to focus on words in any way. Sorry, Hozier, I love you deeply, but I can’t listen to your soulfulness and hypnotic voice while I work.
It’s tempting to devote hours or days to learning new skills and practising them, but, chances are, there’s other work to do and deadlines to meet.
How Much Time should you Spend Learning?
I don’t think “should” applies here. You have to want to learn and improve your skills. If you want to keep up with changes in your industry, it’s important to keep reading articles on the influential websites (and written by the thought leaders) in your niche.
Aimlessly surfing the web can be a complete time suck, so I find it useful to dedicate a specific amount of time each day, or every second day, to diving into useful resources: blogs, e-books, real books, and tutorial videos.
Look at your usual schedule and decide on the amount of time you can dedicate to learning without impacting on your free time or your non-negotiable tasks. Block out that time in your planner and commit to it. Don’t see it as time that you can reallocate, because you will definitely use that time on something else.
Scheduling time for learning is vital. It may be unrealistic to expect yourself to devote an hour or two each day to learning. A more achievable goal could be to set aside 3 hours on a Friday to devote to skills development. Or a larger chunk of time every two weeks or once a month. Some weeks may be busier than others, and you find that you’re able to set aside an extra hour during one week where you may be under more time pressure the next week. It’s important to be consistent with the habit – and booking time in your schedule helps with consistency.
How do you Focus your Learning Efforts?
There is so much information online about anything you could ever hope to learn about that it’s unbelievably easy for one of the following to happen:
You enter a simple search query into Google, find an promising-looking search result, read that article, find 5 related articles linked within that one, open all 5 (because you want to read all the things), then find that each one of those leads to 3 more, and suddenly there’s just all the browser tabs open. You’ve lost an hour and a half, you aren’t any closer to solving your actual problem (how to get rid of spam results in the language section of your Google Analytics dashboard, anyone?), but oh my cupcakes, you have found so much information you didn’t know you needed.
You enter a simple search query into Google, get video results, watch the video tutorial on what you actually wanted to find out, but then glance to the right-hand side of the page. Suddenly you’re watching iiSuperwomanii videos and an hour has gone by since any productive progress has been made on a project. Is this just me?
If you’re like me, there are a number of things you’d like to learn about or improve your skills in. Write them all down and keep that list in the back of the planner or diary you use most often. There are always new things I’d like to learn, so keeping that list handy means that I can add to it as needed. Once you have a list, prioritise it based on what you feel is going to help you make the most progress right now. Then spend your allocated time working on that skill or reading about that topic.
Learning without applying that knowledge is pretty pointless. So, to make the most of your time spent learning, allocate some of your study time to use the skills you’re improving. If you are developing the skills you need in the short term, it’s likely that you have a task in mind where you can apply those skills. Bonus: you accomplish two tasks at once – you work on a project that’s been hanging around on the to-do list for a while, and you solidify your skills by practicing them.
Learning is Awesome!
While time spent studying may not sound hugely appealing, it’s so important to keep your skills up to date with the most important trends in your industry. Besides, if you’re learning about the work you love doing, you’ll be so engaged in the process that it won’t even feel like work.
Melissa De Klerk
Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi
Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.
You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.