Ask the everywoman Experts: ‘How can I find more time to fit learning and professional development into my too-busy life?'
Our everywoman experts respond to a reader who wants to find more time for personal development and learning in her role – and be able to use the everywomanNetwork resources to their fullest.
An everywomanNetwork member writes...
I love the everywomanNetwork and there are so many great resources on it to help me grow professionally. But, I find it hard to find the time to do as much personal development and learning as I want to. I am forever noting down webinars and workbooks I want to attend or complete or bookmarking articles and quizzes and then before I know it a week or two have gone by. I can’t seem to keep the momentum going. My job is very busy and I also manage quite a large team, so to a certain extent my time doesn’t feel as if it is my own. How can I carve out space or create the conditions that will allow me to invest in myself and my learning consistently without causing me stress? I’d like it to feel it was part of my everyday career journey, but at the moment it is just another thing on my to-do list. Do I need a mindset shift or a practical one — or both?
‘Reclaiming your time to use for the things that are most important to you, like personal development, is going to be both a mindset shift and a practical piece,’ says leadership coach Katy Murray.
In my work, I talk about power practices and the first is setting intentions; when we set our intentions around what we want to experience or how we want to feel in a day, we're more likely to experience it — it allows us to prime our brain. So, you can set your intentions by asking yourself, ‘what one thing do I want to do today that will help me progress towards what's most important to me in my life?’ And that practice will help you to get intentional about how you’re using your time and start to feel like your time is your own again, which I think is the core issue here.
The second practice is mindful gratitude at the end of the day, asking yourself to name the three things you were grateful for — whether big or small. This practice helps us to slow down and reflect on how we've used our time and see the things that are giving us joy more clearly — again priming our brain to include more of them in our life.
The third practice is affirmations. When we say to ourselves, ‘My time is not my own’ or ‘I don't have time for all these things’ then guess what? — we generally don't have time for all those things. Affirmations are just statements of belief that we hold about ourselves, which again, is the mindset piece here. So, I would use an affirmation like, ‘I create space for the things that are most important to me’. Or even, ‘it is safe for me to have space in my diary’.
Ultimately, it’s about asking yourself ‘what do I actually believe about what's possible for my life?’ Even if your diary is back-to-back now, look ahead to where you do have space and block out that time to listen to a few webinars or read a workbook, and get into the rhythm of how you’re creating space for that. It is sacred, uninterrupted time, but that starts with intentions and the affirmations because they will help create the mental and psychological conditions that mean you’re going to begin holding that boundary.
Katy Murray is a leadership coach, diversity equity and inclusion facilitator, author and speaker. She’s worked with 1000s of leaders, across 35 countries and over 25 years and recently named one of top 50 UK D+I leaders. Her first book Change Makers is published by Kogan Page. www.katycatalyst.com
When we articulate an issue in the form of a question as you have done here, it can be a way of asking ourselves for permission to make a different choice, says Kirsty Ritchie, co-founder of Mind and Mission.
You probably already know the answer here, which means the real question then becomes what are the consequences of making a different choice at work? It’s easy to allow CPD to fall down the priority list — we all firefight without realising it because the amygdala in our brain — the part that triggers fear — is always primed. It focuses on urgent issues because they have an immediate consequence. But this part of the brain doesn't know the difference between actual threat and perceived threat and while we have to respect the protective function it provides, we also have to learn to ignore it sometimes.
If you're jumping from one crisis to another and getting little else done, I recommend starting with the ‘important versus urgent’ principle. Important activities have an outcome leading us to achieve our own personal goals, and these can include personal development and learning. Urgent activities demand immediate attention, but they're normally more associated with someone else's goals. On our to-do list, the things that come to the top are almost always the urgent ones. So, we need to consciously help our amygdala to feel ok, and stop it constantly pushing us to focus on unimportant but urgent activities. Then we can start to make space for what is important for our own success. Look at everything taking up your time at work and ask is it important or urgent? If things are important and urgent, it's usually because you couldn't have possibly foreseen something or have left things to the last minute. Understanding that will help you work out whether you need to plan more effectively or escalate this if it’s a constant problem.
From a mindset perspective, it comes down to giving yourself permission to make choices that are beneficial for your professional development — deciding an amount of time each month and ensuring it’s blocked out no matter what. And part of that is also about how capable you are of saying ‘no’ to people to reclaim time. Could the person asking you to do this urgent task handle it themselves? Can you instigate time slots when you're available so others know when they can approach you? If colleagues can see that you’re clear on your professional boundaries they might well think twice about asking you to do these unimportant activities in the future.
Ultimately, it really does come down to giving yourself permission to make choices that are beneficial for your professional development; deciding a reasonable amount of time each month and ensuring that time is blocked out no matter what. I would also suggest looking around at what others are doing, for example, your own line manager — are they role modelling this behaviour? Because if they're not it’s very difficult for you to then put that time aside because it's not the standard. It’s also about having a collective conversation with your peers around what you want to be role modelling for your teams. And if there's a general sense that this [space to learn] isn't happening at all around the organisation, then maybe it's a wider problem and needs to be escalated upwards. It’s definitely the time to be making these changes now — everybody's talking about work/life balance, but actually a balanced working life is just as important.
Organisational therapist Kirsty Ritchie is the co-founder of Mind and Mission, providing training to improve organisational performance and agility through greater mental fitness.
Getting clear on what you want to do — and crucially, why — is essential to provide the motivation to make time to do it, says business trainer Kiechelle Degale.
I really related to your question, because we all see things and think ‘I want to do that’ or ‘I want to read that’ or ‘I’ll just sign up for that’ and because everything's online, it just seems so doable at the time. You’ve obviously got a genuine passion for learning and exploring. I think this issue is about getting clarity on why you want to do those specific things, be it the webinar, workbook or other learning activity. How does it connect to your job or your career goals and how is it going to help you? If it's something that you want to do for fun or that seems interesting to do then that’s fine, but be aware that in a busy role it might not have the draw for you to make it a priority. So, when you’re trying to book an event or bookmark a resource, that’s the time to be really specific around your needs and goals; ask yourself; ‘how would this benefit me?’, ‘how is this going to improve my prospects?’ or ‘how is this going to get me where I want to be?’ Finding out the ‘why’ of doing something is vital because it has to make sense. It’s also important to understand that it’s not always possible to fit in everything we want to do, and that’s why prioritisation skills and knowing your authentic self are so important — everywoman has some great resources around this to look at.
On the practical side, this is also about time management and organisational skills; blocking time out in your calendar can help you to formalise your learning time. But I’d also suggest, where appropriate, finding different ways to do this too — when I put something into my schedule, maybe to do with training or something I'm trying to learn, I try to find a fun way to do it. If it’s a podcast or an audio book then you can listen while walking or on your commute; if it’s something you need to sit to concentrate on then perhaps do it in the garden? Exploring different ways to do your learning instead of being stuck in your office just ‘trying to find the time’ can really help to open it up for you.
Business trainer and emotional fitness strategist Kiechelle Degalle is founder and CEO of www.kie4training.com.
Are you an everywomanNetwork member with a workplace dilemma? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Ask the experts’ in the subject line.