“I don’t have time to learn”

I don’t know how many times this has come up in conversations with staff members and mentees over the years, but it’s been quite a few.  “I’m too busy to take a course..”; “My manager won’t let me study.”; “I would have to do the study in my personal time..”;  “The tools are too difficult to use.”.  I don’t have time to learn.

I sympathise with anyone who feels tremendously time-poor, for often valid reasons, but the above comments, and variants of them, feel like excuses.

We often talk about building cultures of continuous learning, but fundamentally we all need to realise that like it or not, intentionally or not, we’re all learning all the time.  Some of the lessons are very basic, pragmatic ones, like the fastest way to drive to the office at a particular time.  Some of them are more meaningful, like the best way to phrase something in order to get through to a teenage son or daughter, to help them move past a problem. Some of them can be life-changing – through interactions with others, through seeing a video or movie, or reading a book, we may come upon an idea or concept that changes how we look at the world forever.

Intentional learning takes time and effort, and is not always easy to fit in, but it is critical to our development.  We all have blind spots and weaknesses, and engaging in different forms of learning (mentoring, coaching, class-based, career mapping, reading, practical hands-on learning, coding, or whatever) can help us strengthen our overall capability and hopefully close some of our gaps.

There are vast amounts of resources available at low cost, or even free in some cases, for those who wish to pursue a particular avenue.  From the Khan Academy to the Open University, from Youtube to Open Library, there is a staggering amount of information available to consume.

The challenge for me is not the lack of time to learn. It’s the lack of remaining time in my life (however long that may be)  to learn everything I want to learn.  It’s incredible how developing an interest in one area can turn into the equivalent of a bag of marbles dropped on a wooden floor.  They roll in all directions, and it can be hard to know which ones to chase.  And when you do follow one, it can lead you to another room, with a floor covered in rolling marbles, and so on, and so on. I was recently conducting end of year performance discussions with one of my team, and this exact point came up – the wealth of information makes the act of intentional learning into something that requires a plan.

And that’s also the case for those who claim not to have enough time to learn – I believe we just need to plan more.  In the same way that we build development plans for staff, we really need to consistently build learning plans.  If one of our staff wants to develop skills in a particular area, they need to include that information in a learning plan that will help them achieve practical skills or certification or both.  Having a plan agreed with one’s manager takes away excuses on both sides, and makes the act of development a joint exercise with buy-in from both parties.

And for those of us who are trying to quell the panic of not having enough time left in our lives to read all of the interesting books (and there are new ones coming out all the time!!), or practice new skills that will help us become better leaders or managers or just better people, having a plan helps reduce that mental noise to a background hum.  It still surfaces for me whenever I find a whole new area I know nothing about, but in 2019 I’m going to refine my planning to become a more refined, more intentional learner.

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