I go through seasons when it feels like I have no extra time in my schedule. After accounting for work, keeping up my house, running errands, and watching a show or two on Netflix, it’s time to go to bed and start all over again. Weekends get filled with running more errands, spending time with family, getting some exercise, and squeezing in some down time before preparing for the week ahead.
Where, in all of this, is the time for intentional learning?
When life starts to feel full, here are some of my go-to strategies for making time for learning:
Listen to an audio book or podcast. This can be done during my commute, when I’m getting some exercise, or when I’m cleaning or doing other tasks around my house. As long as I can find the time to download the book or episodes that I need, I can usually squeeze in a chapter or episode here and there.
Treat learning like it’s my job (because it is). I schedule some time during my workday to read an article on a topic in my field, peruse a blog post by a higher education thought leader, or watch a TED Talk about a topic related to my work. Although it can feel like a guilty pleasure, keeping up with my field is an important part of my job.
Level-up a skill. Sometimes I pick a particular thing that I know I need to do better and I focus on learning more and practicing. This can take the form of watching tutorials, scheduling a meeting with an experienced colleague, or reading an article or blog post. Knowing that I have a concrete goal in mind to improve something can help me to find the time to work on it.
Find a community. When I start to look for other learners, it’s often not to hard to find them. Although I’ve done this at my workplace, I’ve also sought out peer-learners on social media. For example, I’ve learned a lot from the academic writing (#acwri) community on Twitter.
Create a community. If I can’t find an already-existing version of what I need, I create it. Earlier this year, I began hosting meetings with a group of colleagues who were all interested in research methods. I’ve also been building an online community through Twitter with a podcast about research through my job.
Cut back on social media. As difficult as it can be, pulling back from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media is one of the easier ways for me to create time for learning during busy seasons. While checking in with these communities may feel like a mandatory thing due to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), the truth is that missing a post here and there isn’t the end of the world. My typical social media times are early mornings and after work, so I switch those out with a book instead.
Take a lunch hour. I know I can’t be the only one who typically works through lunch while eating at my desk. When I need to create time for learning, I start to take a lunch break so I can take a walk and listen to an audio book or podcast episode, sit outside and read a book, or meet a colleague and talk about a topic I want to learn more about.
Use time windfalls. When a meeting gets cancelled, rather than fill that time with checking email, I’ll turn to my to-read stack of articles and see what I can learn during this “found” time. I can usually read an article or two before needing to move on to the next meeting or project.
Have a plan for learning. When I do get a time windfall, it doesn’t help my learning if I don’t know what I want to learn in the first place. I try to keep a to-read pile, a set of digital bookmarks to follow up on, or a list of things that need additional research to make sure that I can learn on a moment’s notice.
Work from home. Every once in a while, I take a day to work from home where I can truly focus on learning. Sometimes the workplace is too full of distractions for intentional learning to occur, so choosing to be at home to get some reading done or really focus on a topic or issue can be helpful.
Take learning on the road. Travel is one of the best times for me to learn because I’m not dealing with the typical distracts of the office and I can set my email on out-of-office mode. I bring my article to-read pile, some podcast episodes, and a book or two and work through them in the airport and on the plane.
Pick something to learn that I’m genuinely interested in. If I don’t care about the topic I’m trying to learn more about, then I’m not going to be motivated to find time to focus on it. When I’m curious and interested, then I seek out time to devote to the learning project.
To think on:
- Create some space in your life this week for learning. If you haven’t already, set aside some learning materials (paper or digital) so that you can learn something new when the time is right.
- How do you make time for learning? Do you have particular seasons where this is easier to do than others?
- What are your biggest obstacles to intentional learning?