Learning new skills is a great way to advance your career. It can introduce you to new opportunities, improve your performance, boost your morale, and help you become better-rounded.
But how do you make time to learn those skills? If you’re dealing with the responsibilities of a full-time job, you’ll be locked down for 40 hours a week or more. And if you have a family to take care of and spend time with, your time may be limited beyond that.
To make matters worse, perfecting new skills and earning new certifications can demand a lot of your time. For example, if you’re preparing for the CPA exam, you’ll be responsible for dozens or even hundreds of hours of studying.
The good news is that there are plenty of strategies that can help you find time to learn these new skills.
Set Your Priorities in Advance
Before you start studying or going to class, set your personal priorities. What are the most important things in your life, and where does this new skill fall into place? For most people, personal health and family relationships are at the top of the list – and your full-time career is probably right behind them. But what about your hobbies? Your friendships? Your other personal development time? You may need to make sacrifices to make time for your skill – so you need to know what’s worth sacrificing.
Schedule Your Study and Practice Time (and Keep It Consistent)
If you want time to study, you’re going to have to schedule it – the same way you’d schedule an important work meeting or a doctor’s appointment. When you have an opening in your schedule, allot 30 minutes or an hour to the task (and don’t double book yourself).
While you’re at it, try to keep your schedule as consistent as possible so that your studying becomes a habit. For example, you might study from 8 am to 9 am each day, or you might have blocks of time to study every Monday and Wednesday.
Make Use of Dead Pockets
Most of us have pockets of “dead time” throughout the day, whether we realize it or not. On your drive to work, you’re not accomplishing anything. When you’re scrolling through social media posts on your phone, you’re not accomplishing anything. Be on the lookout for these moments of otherwise wasted time and try to fill them with studying and learning; you can use audiobooks, podcasts, and even thought experiments or mental rehearsals if you’re not able to study or practice normally.
Resist the Urge to Multitask
Many people try to cram more tasks into the day by multitasking. For example, you might read a chapter of a book during a meeting, or try to practice your new skill while watching a movie. This seems like a great way to save time, but in practice, it’s going to work against you. Multitasking doesn’t work; you end up performing worse and remembering less in almost every scenario.
Get Others Involved
Consider getting other people involved, including your coworkers, peers, and family members. Not only will they serve as motivation to stick to a consistent schedule, they can also help you study and recap your knowledge when you’re spending time together.
Study as Efficiently as Possible
Finally, make an effort to study as efficiently as possible so you make the most of the time you do have.
· Start early. Cramming isn’t an effective studying strategy. We learn and remember things much better if we have plenty of time with which to absorb them. If you’re preparing for an exam or have a goal deadline, start working many weeks or even months in advance. You’ll also feel less pressure and stress, making the experience more enjoyable.
· Work slowly and steadily. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to skill acquisition. Rushing through your lessons isn’t going to work as well as consuming them slowly and methodically; even if you burn through fewer lessons with this slower approach, you’ll end up retaining more information.
· Get lots of sleep. Speaking of retaining information, make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night. Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation and new skill acquisition, so if you’re sleep deprived, you’ll end up learning much slower.
Learning a new skill is still going to be demanding, both in terms of time and effort. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming – and it doesn’t have to interfere with your other life priorities.
Once you’ve mastered one new skill and you have a system in place that works for you, you can use it to master other skills in a similar way.