Your Schedule Can Accommodate Your Own Learning

By March 23, 2022Learning

If you’re like most people, learning and self-development continue to get pushed to the bottom of the task list each week. While we all have learned so many new ways to do our work differently and better in the past couple of years, it feels like a growing number of us have things circled to learn and improve for ourselves. This may include being a more empathetic leader, figuring out how crypto may impact your business, or in my case, learning how to build a rebranding strategy.

But, it just feels hard to get started when there are so many other competing things to do at work and in our lives. Getting started on a learning journey doesn’t have to feel like a giant undertaking. In fact, it’s best done when it can integrate into your work. This article provides some ways to build focus and learn in a more agile way using experiments and critique. 

First, Create Your Focus

As mentioned, the hard part is getting started. Maybe you’ve Googled and searched on Youtube only to feel overwhelmed in where to start. Making progress requires a well-defined focus on learning. It will help you feel more confident and excited to get started. When we work with leaders and teams, we always create a vision, check-in on growth mindset, and use learning questions to create a clear focus of the learning goals. 

Ok, you’re busy. If you can take 15 minutes to answer as many of the following questions as possible, you’ll be much more clear on the why, what, how, and when of your learning. 

1. Create a vision

Start by creating a clear picture of what you hope happens as a result of your learning. 

  • What is telling you that you need to learn and develop in a particular area? These might be to address new challenges, to solve a problem or an issue, to keep up with industry changes, or to comply with new rules.
  • What do you hope will change or improve through your learning? 

2. Make Sure You Have a Growth Mindset

The quality and speed of learning are directly related to your desire to learn, and your belief in your ability to learn. This is called having a growth mindset. 

  • Do you want to grow and learn in this area?
  • Do you believe you can do it one way or the other? 

Note: if the answer is no to both questions, re-evaluate taking on this learning challenge as it will likely not be successful. 

3. Define your learning area

Get specific about what the focus of your learning will be. You may already know about the topic, or you may know nothing. This can help unearth things you need to further define before you take on a learning focus. 

  • Is there anything I already know about this area?
  • What don’t I know about this area?
  • What do I need to research or decide to help me focus my learning? 

4. Make an agile learning plan

The only way a focused learning approach will work is if it’s realistic and flexible. First, define what your initial outcomes and impact will be, and then begin to define your plan for learning. 

  • How will you know when it’s working? What will indicate success? – Results, feedback, achievements, etc.
  • What sources of expertise, knowledge, and support will you engage first? – Experts, peers, online research, books, etc.
  • What can you do in the next 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 quarters, and even 2 years to make progress? 

Next, Launch a Cycle of Learning and Critique

Learning is an iterative process. This is why having a growth mindset about your learning area is so important. Your mindset will help you learn from failures and hiccups and try new things. Your initial focus (see questions above) will likely shift and change as well as you begin to learn and experience more in your journey. Staying agile along the way will help you identify opportunities in your busy schedule to keep the learning going. Ideally, you’ll find opportunities in your daily activities to practice, observe, and improve. Here are a few tips to keep the progress moving forward. 

1. Start sprinting

In Agile project management, teams huddle often to design their next iteration of work by considering the constraints on resources, time, and priorities. We suggest a similar approach. Each week, look at your calendar and identify when you can and should focus on your learning. This might be doing research, using an existing meeting to practice a skill, blocking off an hour to design, reaching out to experts or peers for opinions, asking for feedback. Some weeks will be easier than others. The trick is to take 5 minutes each week to look ahead and plan for those opportunities.

2. Experiment

Identify ways to experiment with your learning, particularly if you’re growing a skill or a capability. Our team will often do this when we’re learning a new technology or trying to learn how to work more collaboratively. We’ll research, design a new method, and then test it for a period of time. You first define what you want to test, identify what results you hope for, try the skill or technique, and watch what happens.

3. Critique

A natural follow-on to experiments is the critique. The critique is a way to reflect on the learning so far and to plan for what’s next. By critiquing the learning, you can go back and hone your focus, plan for additional learning, or pat yourself on the back and consider yourself newly competent in this area.   Here are some critique questions:

  • What happened well, and why?
  • Where there struggles and why?
  • What didn’t happen and why?
  • Did anything unexpected happen and why? 

Hopefully, by taking a small amount of time to shape your learning focus, you can more easily roll up your sleeves and dive into that new skill or topic that will best support your growth. If you’re able to block off some days to attend a course or a workshop, that’s fabulous! The hard part is always the application when you get back into the job. 

The process of sprinting, experimenting, and critiquing is the key to making sure the new learning sticks. If your calendar is double booked and all that you have energy for is Netflix and a glass of wine, then find ways of integrating learning into your existing schedule as best as you can, and be mindful of when learning is taking place. Cheers! 

Want to Create a Learning Plan This Year?

At Thrive at Work, we’re fortunate to be working in all of these areas. We’d be happy to chat further with you about your own ideas, or new ones that you’d like to pursue.

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Evan Ishida

About Evan Ishida

The work I love is designing solutions and experiences that help people learn, collaborate, create, and innovate together. As a proud Ohio University Bobcat, I began my career as an internal consultant, and team leader in large global Fortune 200 corporations where I focused on learning and development, instructional design, communities of practice, and learning technologies.