10 Ways Busy Professionals Continue Learning
You’re a busy professional with barely enough time to handle work and home life responsibilities. You wonder how you’d ever find the time to go back to school, read, or learn a new skill.
Learning has to work with your busy lifestyle, and the good news is it can. It only takes a little creativity and an updated definition of what learning really means and how it happens. Starting with how to define learning. While there is no unified, agreed upon definition of learning, I love how one of my former professors described learning in a recent Human Resource Development Masterclass podcast. She said:
“Learning is simply change. It’s a change in behavior, a change in your perspective perhaps, a change of skill – so something is learned.”
Dr. Karen E. Watkins,
Professor, Learning, Leadership, and Organizational Development
University of Georgia
With that definition, it’s easier to see the possibilities for learning in everything you do. While there is the classic formal learning with structure, clear objectives, and generally a teacher-student relationship, most learning you do today is likely informal and experiential. Learning on the job, in project teams, through mentoring relationships, self-assessments, in conversations with others, etc. There are probably hundreds of ways you can continue learning and keep pace with the demands of work and home.
Now, on to 10 practical ways busy professionals like you can “sharpen your saw” and continue learning in a way that doesn’t slow you down but propels you forward.
- Mentor or teach – it’s likely that you informally mentor junior employees, peers, or students. Within each of those relationships, you are learning something new or deepening the knowledge you already have. It is said that if you want to know something deeply, teach it to others. The preparation you put into mentor or teach someone else helps you to grow your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and surface tacit knowledge that you may have not known was already within you.
- Listen to book summaries – Of course, we all wish we had time to sit and read a book from cover to cover, but you may not have that time. One way you can stay up to date with the latest books is to try a subscription to book summaries. Blinkist, is an online and app-based resource for busy people who don’t have time to read. With over 4500 titles of non-fiction books on wide-ranging topics, Blinkist is one of the most comprehensive libraries of non-fiction bestsellers you’ll find that gives you the key ideas to each book in 15 minutes or less. So, when time doesn’t allow you to read an entire book end-to-end, try Blinkist.
- Group projects – In organizations, work gets done through small teams. Involving yourself in a group project is one of the best ways to gain knowledge and skills. You learn from others, they learn from you, and together you expand the capacity of the organization to learn and achieve success. You’ll learn more than the technical or functional skills. You’ll also learn soft skills, such as leadership, listening, collaboration, inclusion, relationship-building, empathy, risk-taking, and more.
- Assessments – Self-assessments, 180- or 360-degree feedback assessments are great tools to build your self-awareness and gain an understanding of how you’re perceived by your coworkers. Self-awareness is also the first step in any personal change and transformation journey. Some assessments can be done in as little as 15 minutes. If you’re not sure what assessments are best for you or where to start, you could ask someone in the learning and development department in your company.
- Coaching – peer coaching and executive coaching are growing inside organizations. Coaching is beneficial when taking on a new role, following a promotion, when you’re new to the organization, when you’re struggling with interpersonal relationships, or you have a project or goal that is a bit of a stretch for you. Coaches can facilitate assessments, help you set goals, coach you through internal or external blocks (self-doubt, interpersonal skills, gaining leadership buy-in, etc.), and hold you accountable so that you can be successful.
- Lunches and coffee chats – Never underestimate the amount of learning that goes on inside of informal lunches and coffee chats. Being in conversation with others is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to learn new things. You’ll not only learn from each other, but you’ll build and strengthen your network, which has huge benefits.
- Take a course – learning courses have evolved. Now, you can take a course on practically any topic through MOOCs (massive online open courses) like Coursera and Udemy. Many MOOCs are free, and some are available for credit for a nominal fee. The best thing about them is you can take the courses on any device, including your smartphone. In addition to MOOCs, many universities offer executive education programs on specific topics (e.g., leadership) and universities and local communities offer continuous learning courses on a wide range of topics with flexible schedules.
- Podcasts – There are podcasts on virtually every topic. It’s difficult sometime to wade through all the different ones to know which are worth your time. I recommend you start with a few and grow your podcast list slowly. How I Built This by NPR, Ideacast by HBR, Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (A Stanford Speaker Series) and Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam are four favorites of mine for work. My personal development recommendations start with Your Aha! Life by me (of course), On Purpose with Jay Shetty, Unlocking Us by Brené Brown, and Super Soul Conversations with Oprah. Jump in and find the ones that speak to you. The great thing about podcasts is they travel with you.
- Blogs – I love a good blog. They are short articles, much shorter than a book, and the good ones are packed with interesting and insightful information. Again, this is a personal preference because there are so many out there. You’re reading an article from my Your Aha! Life blog and there are others by categories: personal, lifestyle, business, spirituality, etc. A few of my personal development favorites include Mindvalley, Zen Habits, No Sidebar, and Simple Happy Zen. For Business, I love Seth Godin’s blog (and I’m not even a marketer) and Adam Grant’s articles.
- Explore – the best way to learn is to explore your interests and follow where they lead you.
You don’t have a lot of time, but hopefully you see with that with a little creativity you can integrate learning into your day and likely already are.
If you enjoyed this article, I invite you to read others on my website at Your Aha! Life. While there, sign up to become a member of the Your Aha! Life Global Community. You’ll gain access to my monthly newsletter, the Aha! Moment, a monthly video that provides insightful tips in less than 3 minutes, and the Your Aha! Life Journey Accelerators, which are free tools delivered to your inbox each month to help you on your journey to living your best life. You’re also welcome to join my private Facebook group, The Aha! Community, with nearly 600 members who are committed to their personal development and to encouraging others on their journeys as well.