Put Learning on Your To Do List

To do list
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To do list from beth77’s

One of my SMEs mentioned today how she wants to learn more about Web 2.0 tools, but hasn’t made time for it. She knows she should; she knows it would help her do her job more effectively. But it hasn’t been a priority in her schedule.

She was surprised when I said that I have a recurring reminder on my to do list to set a goal for my own learning for the week. Having that reminder pop up every Monday morning means I always add some specific goal to my list for later in the week. Sometimes the “goal” is simply to attend a webinar; sometimes it’s to work on something in Captivate, Flash, or CSS. Sometimes it’s just to try out some new site or app. Last month, the Comment Challenge was my goal for each week. My blog reading is just part of my daily habits now, so I don’t count that towards this goal. I try to set a goal beyond my usual reading, commenting, and bookmarking.

I admit that I don’t always meet the goals I set for myself. Some weeks that goal just gets pushed back every day of the week until Friday afternoon, when I finally admit it won’t happen and postpone to the next week. But more often than not, I spend at least a half hour doing something specifically to improve my skills. Even if I don’t meet the goal, I’m thinking about what I want to learn next and looking for opportunities.

I started doing this at a previous job when I had my Franklin-Covey binder and followed those techniques to stay organized. I don’t follow it closely anymore, but the idea of “sharpening the saw” still influences how I plan my time for the week. I’ve been setting these goals for myself for several years, so it seems normal to me. I don’t think my SME had ever thought of it that way though, and I suspect I’m actually in the minority for setting aside the time each week.

That conversation has me wondering: What do you do to make time for learning in your schedule? Do you set goals for yourself or put it on your to do list? Does it just naturally happen as part of your job? Do you have a system that works for you? Do you focus just on formal learning, or do you consciously think about your informal learning too?

Please share what you do and how it works for you. I’m curious to hear other ideas.

5 thoughts on “Put Learning on Your To Do List

  1. @John, It can definitely be hard to find that uninterrupted time. I know I’m very lucky to work from home and have so much quiet time to myself. I’m sure it’s frustrating to need to wake up early, but I admire your dedication for doing so.

    @Dave, I agree that simply being aware of it is a big part of the battle. Your spreadsheet does help you be conscious of the time you’re spending. That is very much like tracking the money you spend so you can see the “leaks” in your budget, or weighing yourself every day so you can get used to how much your weight fluctuates all the time. You have to do something to get and keep your attention first before you can do anything else. It can become obsessive to the point where you’re more worried about that process than about actually doing anything, but I agree that you can be obsessive about anything.

    @Karen, I think more people should be doing what you’re doing. My SME actually mentioned that she needs to stop feeling guilty for spending time learning; right now, she feels like all her time should be spent doing her “real job.” I think she’s struggling a bit with the idea that the company would benefit from her spending some time on personal growth. I wonder if she could get herself to set aside that time in Outlook, or if some other system (GTD etc.) would work better.

    For a system to work in her case, I think it would have to allow her to say that her learning time is valuable. John shows that value by getting up early; learning is important enough to him that he rearranges his schedule around it. You show it by setting that time aside and protecting it from being rescheduled.

  2. I have to schedule reading, learning a new skill on my Outlook task list with reminders turned on and firm due dates or I will push that time aside and continue to work. About two years ago, I decided I was important enough to schedule a part of my day for my own personal growth. While I personally benefit, my current employer does as well, since any knowledge I might attain will be used in “our” deliverables.

  3. I’ve read that one technique for effective weight loss is… weighing yourself every day. I think the effectiveness comes from the self-selected reminder.

    A person can become obsessive about a system like FranklinCovey, but then, a person can become obsessive about pretty much anything.

    There’s probably an analogy with financial management — for some people it’s best to start by just tracking what you spend, and gradually work up. For others, starting with Quicken works.

    The color-coded time-tracking worksheet I mentioned to you offline is one example. On the one hand, it helps me focus on how I’m actually spending my time. On the other, the fact that I’m focusing attunes me to the need for personal goals as opposed to “get the damned tracked changes out of here by Friday.”

  4. Christy,

    I feel like I’ve tried them all. I’ve tried Remember the Milk and any other number of to do lists, I’ve tried index cards, and seriously, my wife used to make me a to do list every morning. None of them worked because I could have cared less. I was going to do what I was going to do.

    As for my learning (both formal and informal), I have the benefit of working in an environment where I “get paid to think.” But even as a faculty member, I have to carve out time to read journals (formal learning), go through my RSS feeds, and play with the new toys (informal learning). The key for me has been to find time when I am uninterrupted. And that’s DIFFICULT. If I’m at work, I have students and colleagues knocking on the door. If I am at home, I have my wife and kids needing me for something or another. So I have had to resort to getting up early (around 5 a.m.) before everyone else, because it’s the only ME time I get to do those things.

    The results are I am yes, sharpening the saw, but man am I tired a lot of the time . . .

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