‘Lack of time’ is commonly cited by our global members as a reason why life and career-enhancing learning easily falls down their ever-expanding list of priorities. We all instinctively know it’s crucial we stay acquainted with that particular synapse buzz we get from taking up and perfecting a new skill. And not just because we get such joy from learning — even before the global pandemic wreaked havoc on economies everywhere, experts were predicting that huge numbers of job functions would become lost to automation. It’s no exaggeration to say that in 2020 and beyond, lifelong learning is less a ‘good option’, more a must.
So how can you ensure that you’re continuously growing your portfolio of skills and sharpening your talents, while you juggle all the many other demands on your precious time? The good news is that small, manageable steps, taken often, can have big impact...
1. Cultivate a ‘growth mindset’
Do you believe that anything is possible if you set your mind to it? According to psychologist Carol Dweck, in a growth mind-set, challenges are exciting rather than threatening; skills are developed through dedication and hard work as opposed to being innate.
Dweck’s research is backed by robust science: brain imaging shows that every time you learn a new task, your neural network expands. Just as lifting weights builds body muscle, so does learning grow brain muscle. It’s called ‘neuroplasticity’ and you don’t need a PhD to achieve it. Take the London taxi drivers, who exercise their hippocampus so much on a daily basis that their brains are demonstrably larger than those of the city’s bus drivers (who follow the same route every day).
There are quick fire ways to enhance your growth mindset: Remind yourself daily, or whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, that success relies on persistence not luck. As you explore the latest content on the everywomanNetwork, take a moment to read something you wouldn’t normally — an interview with a role model from an unrelated industry, or a quiz on a topic you’ve preciously paid little attention to. Inspiration and excitement can be derived from unexpected sources — bookmark webpages that particularly speak to you and build a bank of material you can return to whenever your mojo needs a reboot.
2. Eat elephants one bite at a time
Choose one skill to focus on and break it down into management chunks, with end goals attached to each. For example, if you’re trying to become more assertive, read up on one proven method (such as ensuring you speak up within the first five minutes of a meeting) and challenge yourself to do that in all your meetings over the coming week. This is much more likely to lead to a feeling of success than resolving to become 100% more assertive in every area of your life overnight. ‘You can’t take on everything. If you do, you’ll never do it,’ says Joseph Weintraub in his book The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business.
3. Show up for remote working as you would a physical class
This is what social media consultant, Päivi Vahvelainen, did while undertaking a Facebook Advertising course during lockdown. ‘Daytime was for home-schooling and my day job,’ says Päivi.
‘Evening time became study time. It meant I missed all of the lockdown Netflix boxsets everyone was talking about — but it was worth it! I love learning and the sense of confidence it gives you. Giving up my evenings for a couple of months meant I built my skillset and now have a new service — Facebook and Instagram ads — to offer my clients.’
When you register for an everywoman webinar, the session will automatically appear in your calendar. If, for some reason, you can’t make the live event, make sure you block out another time in your calendar to go back and listen to the recording.
4. Start a bullet journal
No innermost secrets required — bullet journaling is a minimalist method of diary-keeping, created by US product designer Ryder Carroll, that asks you to practice ‘rapid logging’ of your learning goals on both a daily and a monthly basis (where you review everything you wrote down and move the actions you wish to continue with to the next monthly spread).
‘BuJo’ devotees say their bullet journals help them stay organised, accountable and motivated to achieve their goals. It’s become a hugely popular way to be more efficient, tagged in more than eight million posts and counting on Instagram.
5. Optimise your run, commute or lunchbreak
Swap your dog walking playlist for the everywoman podcast, your commute newspaper for a workbook or quiz. If you’re working from home, schedule dedicated learning lunchbreaks (printing off material in advance so you can step away from the screen and get a change of scene).
It might not be as immediately gratifying as scrolling through Twitter but it’ll give you a greater sense of achievement for having done so. If that’s easier said than done, there are a raft of free apps to help boost productivity and curb smartphone and social media love/addiction (delete as appropriate). Check out Flipd, AppDetox, Moment, and QualityTime.
6. Embrace skill-swapping
Talent swapping programmes are springing up across corporations such as PwC, Dow Chemicals and KPMG, offering employees the opportunity to share their knowledge in one area in exchange for acquiring it in another. Talk to your HR team about the benefits of introducing a similar scheme. Or you could create one from scratch in your local community.
Lucy Hall is the founder of Digital Women, a community where female entrepreneurs can share digital methods for growing their businesses. Lucy says, ‘The idea is for women to be able to connect and swap their skills, easily and quickly. For instance, our members could learn how to create an e-book or run a Facebook advert, fast, without the price tag and the months of training.’
7. Ask about upskilling opportunities at work
There’s no sugar coating it: to survive our fast-paced world of work, we need to know our stuff when it comes to digital, data and analytics. And with the International Monetary Fund projecting that 11% of jobs currently held by women are at risk of elimination as a result of digital technologies, we need to make now the moment we meet the challenge head-on.
A growing number of companies are investing in training programmes such as the many leadership and forum events created by everywoman. Approach the area of your organisation tasked with learning and development and ask about upcoming opportunities. As well as formal training, does your workplace offer job rotations or shadowing opportunities? Are there projects you can volunteer time to that will enable you to learn new skills? Find ways to do this at team level too — invite cross-functional departments to buddy up with your own for knowledge swap sessions; invite expert guest speakers to come into your business to give talks.
8. Make a date with a mentor
Make it your goal to periodically go for a (socially-distanced) coffee or set up a video call with someone you think you could learn from. Arrive armed with questions to make the hour as productive as possible for both of you. Ask about the career path your mentor took and what learning they do outside of work. Make your relationship a two-way street by offering to return the favour in some way (such as by sharing your own skills with them or someone they know who needs them), or pledging to pay it forward by mentoring someone else in return.
9. Find a ‘study buddy’
Numerous studies show, that when we buddy up with a partner to learn something new, we’re more likely to be successful. So if you’re embarking on a new skillset, finding someone who’s just as invested, and committing to keep each other motivated, could be your ticket to success.
Former UK Crown Prosecutor Maria James studied for a law degree alongside a female colleague, while they both worked full-time as associate prosecutors. She says, ‘It was so important to have someone who totally understood the challenges of keeping up with the course material and traveling to lectures, while holding down a full-time job. There were times we picked each other up and kept each other going, and times we celebrated.’
There are no rules against learning with loved ones, either. In fact, learning to code alongside a young family member could be a win/win for both you and your loved one, and you and your employer.
10. Find your place in the ‘value chain’
As many business functions increasingly rely on automation, and other, brand new ones, spring up in their wake, seeking to understand the ‘value chain’ in your organisation is one way to create a learning plan that can future proof your career.
Business futurist Kate Ancketill advises those asking how they should be upskilling: ‘I’d be continuously asking myself “Where is the most value added in my organisation?” and then making sure I’m in that link in the value chain.’
Identifying that link can be as simple as dialling up your listening in departmental meetings to understand the ‘hot spots’ in your business, or just keeping an eye on the company intranet to understand the current major focus of those higher up. The next step is to create a plan for genning up on that particular area. Again, this needn’t mean committing to a lengthy or expensive course; you could sign up to receive regular emails from an expert organisation in that field; join a specialist group on LinkedIn, or pledging to spend half an hour each week reading the latest thought leadership material.
A final thought: ‘Fan your inner sparks’
Continued learning nourishes your mind, keeps you young, agile and on top of your game. A favourite quote on the subject comes from former Israeli stateswoman Golda Meir. ‘Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.’ We love this idea because it makes learning and acquiring new skills sound exciting and do-able, which of course it is — and there's never been a better time to discover it for yourself.