Matt Campion
Published by Matt Campion February 14, 2018

Considering that our species is advanced enough to decode the human genome, surely we should be able to crack the basic riddle of how to fit ongoing learning into our hefty work schedules.

Basic – but not unchallenging. It’s commonplace that knowledge workers work 50+ hours, excluding on average 45min+ commutes, and this is on the increase. Meanwhile, the flood of information that we need to digest is also rising.

And as knowledge workers, we need to continue to learn throughout our careers. Therefore making space for learning is effectively a job requirement.

Recently, I’ve reflected on how I am spending my time, how it relates to my values, goals and priorities. Some things are working; others I’m adapting. One area that I wanted to share was in the area of ongoing learning. It feels like a constant battle to “stay up-to-date” on everything in your industry and the market as a whole.

Far from being a self-proclaimed expert in personal productivity, I’m more of a work-in-progress type of person who is constantly looking or improvements to automate low-level tasks to free up time for high-value activities such as reading, creative thinking, collaboration and reflection.

If you’re finding yourself as time-poor as me, here are some ideas you might find helpful to make space in your day for ongoing learning:

Simple and small chunks

Figure out what your goals are for the year, then break them down into achievable chunks for smaller periods of time e.g. by month. It might be to “learn 3 new project management frameworks.” If this is your goal, break-down specific items which you want to learn within each of the 3 frameworks. Keep it smaller and simple, it helps you feel a sense of achievement and progress.

Automate, always and everywhere

Time is one of the most precious things that most employees have these days. One hundred emails, 27 voicemails, 32 text messages and 17 slack messages. We are overloaded with communication and collaboration. After reading a lot of productivity blogs, books including the great “4-hour work week” by Tim Ferris, I’ve re-configured many things in my digital work life:

Limit social media

I’ve saved a lot of time by cutting out “just looking” at social media. I’m now very deliberate about what I read and contribute. Usually I browse only to keep up-to-date with my industry and market, therefore the time spent on this is tied to a goal and value.

Audiobooks

I have a one-hour commute each way to work, so I’ve been working through a backlog of audiobooks. This helps me feel like I’m making progress.

Subscribe to insightful blogs

Through following certain topics and people in social media, I’ve curated a nice short list of about three to four blogs on product design, digital and technology that provide me with timely updates that I no longer have to go and hunt down.

Be pragmatic and ‘pass it forward’

I’m starting to accept that there will always be the too much information and not enough time. That’s OK. It’s not about knowing everything, it’s more about focus and quality. Part of this mindset shift for me is about paying it forward, sharing what I’m learning with other like-minded people. It actually reinforces what I’m learning and at the same time provides them with helpful information. I might be sharing selected content on LinkedIn, or engaging in targeted conversations on Medium, or simply taking time with a colleague or client to share something of real relevance and value. Make it authentic, valuable and part of your own learning experience.

Batches versus chunks

Putting to best use the time that I’ve saved through automation is key – let’s say that it’s an extra two hours per week. What would you do with it? Batches can be short bursts of say up to 30mins of time, easily carved out of the day. These are good for tactical learning, such as watching a YouTube how-to video. A “chunk” of time is one hour plus, which allows more deliberate learning. This is requires a block of time, or more focused energy. At the moment, I’m working my way through some really focused innovation books an hour at a time. This allows me to really get into the content which helps with the retaining the knowledge.

Some of these strategies might work for you, others might not. For me, time-balancing is a perpetual work in progress. The one thing that certainly won’t change is the need for it.

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