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How to find time to learn and perform better

We are expected to be across the latest trends and developments in our industry, to become better leaders and constantly meet new challenges. But how can you possibly fit it all in? Find out how to make the most of your time and increase performance every day by developing a habit of learning.

Let me ask you a question which got me thinking this week: which of the following constitutes learning? Let me ask you a question which got me thinking this week: which of the following constitutes learning? 
  1. A client shares with you the business challenges they are facing
  2. You remember there is a formula on Excel that brings together text from two columns and google it to try and find it
  3. You attend a lunch and learn session with your peers and sharing some good ideas 
  4. You pull your manager aside to debrief a meeting you went to and getting help with next steps  
  5. You listen to a podcast on the way to work and think about how you can use it for a difficult conversation with a colleague

The answer is...

...all of them! Learning takes many forms, and research has shown that these days people find self-directed learning is their preferred way of learning. The challenge is it takes a bit more discipline than being put in a room for a course for two days. And yet people still say 'I don't have time to learn' when what they really mean is, to formally set time aside to learn.

Learning is not a special time you allocate in your day - it is any time you take in new information. 

So you don't need to wait for a magical empty day so we you have a binge learning session because:
a) you’ll be lucky if that time ever comes 
b) if it does you will probably get distracted by other things 
c) why binge when you can snack instead?
However, getting the most out of your learning takes some deliberate effort. Here are some tips on how to make learning part of your day-to-day routine and maximise its impact on your performance at work.

Set a focus for your development: What would be the one thing that if you were to develop, would unlock your career goals? Perhaps it's influencing senior people, presenting to the board or building a strategy. If you don't have much time, look for anything related to this 'one thing'. If you are feeling like you want more, go for 3 things. In an age where we are overloaded with content, this will help you screen out what is less important and prioritise what will make the biggest difference.

Apply the 2 minute rule: Make a commitment to a minimum 2 minutes a day of reading or writing related to your chosen development areas. This keeps a habit of learning and focus on what you are working on. Then on days where you are feeling motivated and have the time you can spend longer, and you're keeping it alive through an everyday practice. But the minimum makes it accessible and regular. Neuroscience has shown that we learn best we reinforce pathways in our brain through 'little and often' learning (the AGES model).

Waiting time is learning time: I loved the tag line from AXA's self-directed learning drive which was shared at the Learning Technologies conference recently: ‘waiting time is learning time’ - take 2-3 minutes while you are waiting for the bus or for a colleague is late for a meeting to learn and over time it all ads up. 

Read, write, listen, talk: think about different ways that you like to learn and are easy to fit in your day. For me today, finishing this blog is learning because it is taking the time to gather my thoughts and share back information I've been exposed to and reflecting on over the past few weeks. It could be scheduling a coffee with someone in a different department, doing a quick SWOT analysis or listening to a podcast on your way to work.
Ask WWW and WDIL: reflection is what turns every day experience into learning and is a key driver of performance. But in the age of do, do, taking the time to reflect is not always easy, and many people don't see it as productive. 

Researchers at Harvard business school did a study that highlighted that we do not learn from experience, we learn from thinking about experience. That is, to "synthesise, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience". I use two simple acronyms on my commute home or after a meeting to make reflection part of my day:

WWW = what went well? What did I do well, that I should keep doing? 
WDIL = what did I learn? What would I do differently, if I could do it again? 

And if it's been a bad day that's really got you down, remind yourself it's AFLO, another f*ing learning opportunity! Learning isn't easy and it doesn't always feel great - but having a learning mindset can turn frustration and anxiety into rewards of increased performance and growth.

WDYL from this blog? What are your reflections?