Do you really want to learn a new skill or pick up some new knowledge to help your career but just can’t find the time? Today’s super busy world can make it a challenge to keep learning. This post will help you find the time and motivation to build learning new skills into your daily routine. I’ll address 3 common challenges and their solutions:

  • Where did time go? Make mornings your new best friend.
  • How to stay motivated and beat procrastination? Breaking into smaller pieces and setting goals.
  • How to stop taking on too much at once? Prioritise and use a backlog.

Your current situation

You get up late and are immediately confronted with a hundred things to do. You rush to get the kids ready for school and off to work. Busy all day, come home and need some time to relax. Still have work to do with the cooking, dishes, cleaning, etc. and then finally you can relax. Then you’re tired and want to go to sleep. All of a sudden you’ve skipped that time you promised yourself you would study for that new certification that will help you change jobs.

Sometimes you know something is important but you can’t find the time or motivation to do it because:

  • Keep procrastinating
  • Too many other tasks during the day, then you come home and you have a baby, you have dishes etc. you just want to relax
  • Times of the day with highest energy levels are for work so you can’t use your best times of the day
  • You also Need leisure time
  • Weekends you have parties, take your kids to sport, shopping etc. and other social events
  • Lack the extra energy once all your tasks for the day are done, tiredness
  • Keep getting distracted by other things
  • You can’t seem to find the time and consistently stick to the plan
  • Nobody is there to supervise you, there are no checkpoints

How do you learn something new when life is so busy and full of things that you must do? How do you stop the above from using up all your spare time, preventing you from working on your own personal development?

I’ve grouped these into 3 common challenges and suggest solutions that will help you get on your way to overcoming each of them.

Challenge 1 – Every day and evening is full of must do tasks and you can’t find any time to put towards that new skill

This is a situation faced by many people with young families who recognise the importance of continuous learning but have so many demands on their time that they can’t seem to spare a minute. Say that you have planned for today day the night before. One of the items on your list is to read a chapter of a book on project management and you really want to cover this book as it’ll help you in your later career. You wake up in the morning and you’re rushing to get to work. The day is full of tasks that you must do. When you get home you have family commitments and then you just want to relax. All of a sudden the day is finished and you haven’t put any time on reading that chapter.

Become a morning person. If you played that same day again but you got up 2 hours earlier, you’d get to work 1.5 hours earlier and nobody would be around to hammer you with must do tasks. After breakfast you spend 1hour reading that important project management chapter. Then it’s about 8.45am and your colleagues start getting in. Now you can start on your most important task for work and at about 9.15 those must do tasks can start coming in. The rest of the day progresses as in the previous example but this time you feel a lot better because you’ve covered off your continuous development task and are progressing on your way to covering that book and learning that new topic.

If you get up early, this time in the morning before the rat race begins is the best time to focus on those important but not urgent tasks like learning a new skill. This is because there are much fewer distractions and you have much more energy available. Those other tasks will get done anyway because after all, they are must do tasks and you have the rest of the day to do them, so you won’t be concerned about that during the morning. Notice how a lot of CEOs have this habit of getting up early? It’s because this is the most productive time of the day for you to focus on your most important tasks, and how you perform in the morning sets the scene for the rest of the day.

Check out this article for becoming a morning person.

Challenge 2 – Learning that new skill seems too daunting to start – Motivation and Procrastination

When learning the new skill just seems too big to start, you procrastinate and never get started. The best way of tackling this is a combination of looking at your motivations for learning the new skill and techniques for beating procrastination.

Make sure you identify why you want to learn the new skill – what benefit will you get as a result of learning or reaching proficiency in that skill. Put these benefits somewhere you’ll see them every day to remind yourself of why you’re working on the new skill.

There are many techniques out there for tackling procrastination. The one I’ve found most effective is to look at your new skill and break it into smaller areas and use short bursts of time to focus on them. For example if you’re studying a book, break it down into topics or chapters that you can cover in 1 or 2 sessions. A session for you may be 20mins or an hour, but if you’re procrastinating, it’s better to choose smaller chunks of work to start off with. Once you’ve identified a few smaller components of the skill, put the first of these onto your task list or use your next continuous development timeslot to focus on this.

Timebox your efforts to say 20mins. Focus on that new skill for that time period and see how much you can get done. If you commit yourself to focussing on it for 20mins only and you can see that the smaller component of the overall skill can be covered in a few sessions, it won’t seem like such a huge commitment and the psychological barrier that keeps you procrastinating will be gone. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with how much you get done.

Check out TEDx talk for learning anything in 20 hours.

Challenge 3 – Taking on too much at once and can’t get to the desired level of proficiency in any new skill

You may have a mountain of important new things that you want to learn in life. When you take on too many things, you end up not having the time to reach the desired level of proficiency in any of those things. This situation results in many started endeavours with a feeling that you’re unable to complete anything and you get overwhelmed with the number of open continuous development tasks you need to fit into your busy schedule.

The solution here is a matter of priorities. You can’t do everything, so work out what you want to focus on now and put the rest on the backlog. If you don’t have a backlog of non-urgent but important tasks, this is a good time to start one. Writing down the things you want to do will free your mind from having to remember them and allow you to dedicate that energy to the higher priorities. Identify one or two of the new skills or topics that you’d like to cover and use your continuous development time to work on these. Put the rest of your new skills to learn into the backlog for later. You can only focus on one or two of these at a time because you still have to balance your continuous development with your work, family, social and other tasks.

At times there will be other tasks that come in and use up your continuous development time, preventing you from working on the one or two skills you’ve prioritised. At these times you may need to put your new skills at the top of the backlog again to focus on the more urgent tasks, but try not to use this time for work tasks. Only family commitments should be allowed to eat into your continual development time. Another benefit of getting up early – using the mornings to work on your continual development tasks lessens the chance of interruption.

Further reading:

Post on Huffingtonpost.com for becoming a morning person

TEDx talk – Learning anything in 20 hours

Image from this site.