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5 ways to skill-up and keep learning (even if you’re time-poor)

5 ways to upskill and keep learning (even if you’re time-poor)
August 4, 2017 James

One thing that helps me keep energetic and engaged in my daily work is to continually find new knowledge and tricks that keep the passion alive.

Now, I get that when the work day is so full, and your personal commitments seem endless, finding time to learn and apply new skills is hard. But it’s also true that easy access to learning and education material is far greater than it’s ever been – and it’s available on-demand in accessible and bite-sized chunks, if you know where to look.

Here are a few quick ideas on how you can keep learning and be engaged in whatever you’re passionate about, and how to get started.

Learn or improve a skill that’s directly related to your job

A skill that is directly linked to the job you do every day is the most obvious place to start, so let’s tick that off first. There are so many courses or skills you can be learning that are quick, easy, and can fit around your schedule. These are perhaps the most inspiring because you can begin to apply them the moment you learn them.

For example, if you write lots of reports or proposals or emails, take a comprehensive course of the Microsoft Suite. You could find a shortcut that saves you minutes every day. This in turn can quickly add up to hours, or even days, saved every year.

In the same way, a course in public speaking might highlight one small difference in your posture that helps you close more sales. Or learning new techniques in project management that allows you to streamline your whole business.

And here’s the great thing – today they’re readily available online in management bite-sized courses.

Where to find them

A favourite place of mine for this is Lynda.com. Another is Udemy.

You can work through them in your own time. Most are broken down into a course of 2-10 minute videos that range from 2-4 hours in total. Take your time, do them at home or on the train, and you’ll quickly be inspired with new ideas and skills you can implement immediately.

Learn new associated knowledge that enriches your core skills

While learning a direct skill takes time, focus, and dedication, sometimes I just don’t have the energy for it. That’s where I love to learn what I think of as ‘shoulder skills’.

Shoulder skills are skills that sit alongside the skills you use every day. For example, I don’t personally need to know everything about typography, but being aware of the key terminology and principles makes it easier to communicate with our designers.

The best thing about learning shoulder skills is that they take less time and require less mental effort (because you’re going to general knowledge, not deep understanding), and that can make them incredibly fun.

In the typography example I mentioned, I binge watched the history of setting typography. I was walked through the history of movable type, why typography matters, and how to design type that reads naturally and leads the eye of the observer. And you know what? That very same week I was working on a flyer where I put that knowledge to work. It made the conversation between myself and our designer quicker and more efficient, and I could relate to exactly the design problem she was trying to address.

So when you’re tired, bored or want some new inspiration, think about learning some shoulder skills.

Where to find them

YouTube is a great way to build knowledge and learn shoulder skills. Documentaries might also be useful, as is Lynda.com and Udemy again. If it’s a skill where the tools are readily available, why not give them a go yourself and get some hands-on experience?

So next time you’re thinking of putting on ‘just one more’ episode of House of Cards, turn on one of these courses instead – you’ll likely find it incredibly rewarding.

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Reflect on your skills to learn new insights or enhance your understanding

An interesting thing happens when you re-read a textbook or notes from a course you’ve done long ago. Little nuggets of information, long forgotten, click into place and make more sense. For example, I’ve always found theory more applicable after I have experience to give it context.

If you keep a diary or journal, or have examples of work done in the past, why not go back and review them. Time passes so quickly, especially when you’re busy. Taking a few moments to see what I’ve done before often encourages the creative parts of my brain to come up with new ideas for the future.

What to do

A really amazing way to bring this knowledge back to life is to re-read books, then try to explain it or teach it to your staff or colleagues. Teaching helps you cement your understanding of the topic. And, you learn to think about it in differently as you try to explain it in a way that others can understand. It’s also a really efficient use of your time as it benefits both you and those around you.

Another option is to decide to write a blog article about it. While knowledge of your skills might not be relevant to your customers, there are plenty of places you can demonstrate your expertise online. Medium would be a great place to start, or consider sharing on LinkedIn if it’s career related.

Improve your professional accreditation, and get the certificate to prove it!

A useful take on learning is seeking accreditation that is recognised in your industry. For many, you might find this the most practical use of your time because there is a tangible benefit at the end.

Professional skills that are accredited have the added advantage that you can display them on your website or personal profile. They can help you do your job better, and also reflect the expertise of yourself and your organisation.

Now this is obviously going to vary depending on your industry. I, for example, am currently working towards Google certification in AdWords and Analytics. While they’re tools I use almost every day, learning in more detail how it works and discovering new features is going to put me a step ahead of the rest. Plus, we get to put a big shiny Google Partner badge on our website!

What to do

Search your industry organisations to see what courses are available. Is there an expert license you can apply for, or a fellowship in your field? If you’re stuck for ideas, head over to LinkedIn and search others in your field and see what they’re studying.

Some examples include: gaining a TAFE certificate, doing an MBA, continuing your education at University and completing trade certifications such as AdWords.

Keep on top of your physical and mental health

While not a direct skill in itself, the personal skill of staying happy and healthy is important to stay motivated and focused. Exercise, meditation, and spending time with family and friends are all ways I try to keep myself on track.

Each of these takes me 5-10 minutes to do. They’re well worth finding the time for because as soon as you finish, you realise it actually took such a small amount of time you didn’t even notice it in your day.

What to do

Call a member of the family or friend. I aim to speak to or visit one family or friend each day. Making a call is a small, quick gesture and always makes me feel happy and energised.

Meditate. Sometimes, when it skips my mind, or when I’m already feeling good, I go days without meditation. Yet deep down I know I should be doing it each and every day as it helps improve your focus.

Exercise. This is the hardest one, especially now it’s getting colder. Last week I wrote a week’s worth of exercises down to do at home, that take up to 10 minutes.  

Take the time now to think about which of these would be quick and easy for you to implement today and give it a go. You might be surprised how beneficial it can be.