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Education and research August 29, 2023

How to make time for professional development

Old clock in Roman numerals, reading 20 minutes past 12
In today’s fast-paced business world, continuous learning is not just a buzzword, it is a necessity.

Professional development not only elevates skills and careers but also spurs personal growth. The tricky part? Balancing its undeniable value with the pressing demands of the average workday. Our executive education team witnesses this regularly with our executive learners. Carving out time for learning is a genuine challenge for leaders.

Learning might not scream “urgent,” but sidelining it is a gamble on future success. So, with packed schedules, how can leaders keep learning? Here are some hands-on tips.

Commit the time

Establishing a learning routine is a powerful act. It goes beyond merely allocating a regular time for learning — it is about preserving its sanctity. So, when you earmark time, whether through time blocking or themed mornings like “Wisdom Wednesdays,” guard these slots fiercely. Close that email inbox. Mute your social media alerts. How about using your commuting time? You can swap out your usual playlist for an educational podcast or audiobook.

With these measures, you fend off distractions and seamlessly weave learning into your daily rhythm.

Make it smaller for bigger impact

With so little time to dive deep into lengthy learning materials, concise, bite-sized learning can be invaluable. On a short subway ride? Listen to a brief podcast episode. Waiting for a software update? Dive into a “Two-Minute Tidbit” instead of scrolling through social media.

The beauty of microlearning lies in its flexibility. By replacing idle moments with quick lessons – be it short videos, succinct articles, or other learning material – you’re making a conscious choice to prioritize meaningful content. And it’s remarkable how these quick sessions, when consistently embraced, can sum up to substantial learning time.

Lean into your network

While microlearning offers quick, daily insights, the power of collaborative learning in teams cannot be understated. Your “development network” – the community of your workplace peers, mentors, and experts – is not only enriching but also a time-efficient strategy to bolster learning.

Team-based learning goals, for instance, make learning a collaborative endeavor. Each team member commits to an online course, a TED Talk, a podcast or audiobook, or seminar. They then share their learnings with the group, magnifying the impact of their efforts. In age diverse teams, especially, it facilitates “reverse mentoring.” The fresh perspectives of your younger colleagues can offer a fast track to understanding the latest trends and tech.

This commitment to sharing knowledge not only strengthens the bonds within the team but also encourages a sense of shared responsibility. When everyone contributes and shares, it fosters a culture of mutual encouragement and collective growth.

Be smarter faster with AI

AI isn’t just revolutionizing industries; it’s streamlining personal learning journeys, ensuring you focus on what truly matters. Imagine having AI-powered browser extensions that condense the essence of lengthy books and articles, extracting insights you can use immediately. Or voice-activated assistants that curate daily news, filtering out the noise to ensure you only receive the information most pertinent to your industry. With AI, you’re not just saving time, you’re enhancing the quality of what you learn.

Seize the moment

While proactive, scheduled learning sets a solid foundation, it’s equally important to remain agile. This is why “just-in-time learning” can be an important complement to your established learning routines. Imagine, for example, a conflict brewing between yourself and a colleague. Instead of solely relying on past tactics, you can quickly tap into online resources or webinars on conflict management. You can thus adapt your foundational knowledge to the current challenge with innovative techniques.

In the same vein, there’s immense value in post-event reflections. After meetings, presentations, or conversations, regularly taking the time with your peers to discuss what went well and what could be improved can support and transform your structured learning.

Stay the course

Tracking your progress and staying motivated are pivotal to harnessing the power of continuous learning. Monitoring progress not only optimizes your learning time, it boosts motivation and efficiency. Journaling, for example, is an avenue for reflection, aiding in better time management by emphasizing where focus is essential.

Digital tools can help in this. Platforms like Notion serve as a unified workspace, integrating journaling and task tracking. Some popular apps include gamification elements to reward consistency of effort. For example, Todoist users can level up with “Karma points” and Forest users can plant virtual trees that grow with completed tasks. These fun and engaging rewards help users create learning time that is both purposeful and rewarding.

Leaders, like everyone else, must manage procrastination, waning motivation, and information overload in their learning journeys. Carving out time for learning is one thing; sticking with it is another. To counter the challenges, begin with clear, achievable goals. Upon reaching milestones, whether it is completing a course or dissecting a hefty report, reward yourself. Rewards – whether a cherished treat, a momentary break, or a well-deserved spa day – can keep you engaged and moving forward.

In the hustle of professional life, prioritizing learning can seem like an added task. But, as we have explored, it can be seamlessly integrated into daily activities. A vital element in this is self-awareness. Recognize your unique learning style. Reflect on which methods resonate and yield results. Remember, lifelong learning is not just about career advancement — it is a journey of personal growth and discovery.


This article was originally published by Forbes on August 23, 2023, and republished with permission. 

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