When was the last time you took the time to learn something new? Was it a few months ago, many years back, or during the final college exam?
If you cannot answer the question with details, you haven’t taken the time to learn and increase your knowledge in a very long time.
“But, I learn new things at work all the time, so I’m learning after all,” you retort. Aye, Captain. That’s the good news. But here’s bad news – even though your job teaches you every day, you’re no different than the majority of the other people who learn the same way.
5 years back I worked 14 hours a day. My typical routine involved waking up, writing code, completing a random task, writing some more code. I invested zero time on learning because I believed my work already taught me new things. And sure, it did. But when I stepped outside my realm, I discovered how other people had deeper expertise in programming areas that I haven’t even heard about. I was proficient at what I knew but clueless about other aspects of programming that had tremendous potential.
That’s when I had my moment of enlightenment – “If you want to set yourself apart, you need to spend deliberate time on learning.” Today, we’re living in a market full of talented people. You cannot guess how technology or the economy will evolve in the next 5 years. Therefore, learning and improving is no longer optional – it is quintessential. If you don’t learn and improve your skills, you’ll fall behind.
In this article, I’ll talk about the value of learning, the reason behind it, and how to seek knowledge deliberately as a part of your daily routine.
- Why knowledge is important:
- The common trait of successful people
- Sources to learn from:
- What to learn
- How to learn
Why knowledge is important:
The other day I an interesting video popped up on my Linked In newsfeed.
In the video, a manager and a coach are having a conversation where the coach explains how the market has shifted over 3 generations.
Let us rewind time and look back two generations. In the 1950s, the economy, innovation, and technology were at a nascent stage. All that the market required was manpower which offered a pair of hands to do the job. Intellectual talent was scarce because not everyone had the opportunity to educate themselves or gain knowledge. A handful of smart people drove the ideas while the majority of the population offered their effort with physical labor. Businesses only cared about headcount and getting the job done whereas employees only cared about survival and meeting their daily needs.
As time moved on we reached another generation in the 1980s. Talent had started receiving recognition. More people had education. Work was no longer about physical labor alone. Businesses started looking for educated people who were committed to staying at the organization for a long time. Back then, working for the same employer for many decades or even the whole of one’s professional career was common. Both my parents have worked at the same organization for their entire careers. That’s how the trend was. The market in that generation looked for a pinch of talent and an essence of loyalty while the employees looked for financial stability.
The present world:
Today, the world has shifted entirely. Our grandparents and parents have sorted out the survival and stability concerns over the last decades and ensured our education. Most people have a college degree. Masters and post-graduation aren’t uncommon either. And academics are no longer the only source of knowledge. Information is available at every person’s desk via the laptop or even on the couch via the smartphone. You can be well educated, intellectual, and knowledgeable today without an ounce of formal education.
Therefore, today, employees no longer face the problems of survival or financial stability. A massive leap forward compared to the norm a few decades ago. And that advancement has caused a shift in our mindset too. Since we aren’t facing the challenges our parents did, our primary focus lies on the quality of life. We look out for career opportunities that offer better job satisfaction, culture, contentment, and money. And with the ever-growing population of smart and educated people, to stand out, you need to continuously sharpen your skills. The only way to do so is by learning.
The day you stop learning is the say you stop growing.Kenneth Blanchard
The common trait of successful people
Several successful people have advocated the importance of cultivating a lifelong habit of learning. Many billionaires even attribute their success to it.
Bill Gates, Barrack Obama, Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, Oprah, Jack Ma are just a few examples of successful people who love reading. You’ll find plenty more with a simple Google search.
Over the years, the habit of learning every week has developed a term called the 5-hour rule, though the roots of this principle date back to Benjamin Franklin, one of the earliest innovators of modern times. The 5-hour rule has a straightforward guideline that you can decipher from the name itself. It suggests that you must spend 5 hours a week learning deliberately, which is roughly an hour every weekday.
In theory, the 5-hour rule sounds simple, but rarely do people set aside time to read or learn. Most people brush off the technique for saying, “I learn from my job for 8 hours a day, so what more do I need to learn? What difference will an hour make anyway?”
If you believe an hour of deliberate learning makes no difference, ask the expert in any domain. The top 1% talent of any skill will tell you how they put in painstaking effort to learn and sharpen their art.
One hour per day of study in your chosen field is all it takes. One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.Earl Nightingale
Sources to learn from:
You’re living in a time where finding knowledge is a walk in the park. Oh wait, it’s even easier, literally. You can access articles, courses, and lessons right from your laptop or phone without even stepping out. Compare that to the situation 2 decades ago. Internet hardly had extensive resources. All the sophisticated research and experiments remained hidden in some books in either a scientist’s bookrack or on the top shelf of a library.
Today, if you possess a curious mind to seek knowledge, the sources to access information are plenty. Here they are:
Amazon has more books today than all the libraries in your city put together. And you don’t even need to scan through book racks(an experience I miss) to find the book you need. You just need to type in the title and hit enter. Two clicks later, boom, the book is ready to read on your Kindle. No more visiting the library or asking a friend to lend a copy.
If you’re particular about reading physical books only, you can place an order and a delivery executive would knock on your door holding the book within a couple of days.
Investment in knowledge pays the best interestBenjamin Franklin
2. Podcasts and audiobooks
If reading isn’t your thing, don’t give up on books and knowledge. A lot of people dislike reading books either for the experience or the time they take. If you’re one of those people, you can resort to your ears to do the job instead.
Today, you will find experts sharing their knowledge on podcasts which are available for free on various apps.
If you like to consume the knowledge from the books using your hearing senses, you should give audiobooks a try. Audible offers affordable monthly plans and in certain countries, the subscriptions come with a free book a month. If you have a busy schedule, you can put on your earphones and read(or rather listen to) a book while you’re driving to your workplace or sweating it out on the treadmill.
3. Online Courses
If you prefer organized learning material along with ease of access, online courses are your best bet. Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning are among my favorites. Some of these websites offer one course at a fixed price which you can pick and choose based on your core skill and expertise level. Some platforms also offer a monthly payment model for frequent learners which allows access to all their content.
Those are the 3 platforms that I prefer, but I’m sure many other websites deliver immense value that I’m unaware of. Many of them are free too.
A word of caution: Selling online courses has turned into a current trend to make passive income. Several people put together a course with half-baked knowledge and inadequate research just to earn a few bucks. Therefore, do glance through the curriculum and peek through the reviews before purchasing one.
4. Youtube videos
Some of us prefer video content because books and audio fail to keep our attention. If you’re one of those, you can look up specific learning material on Youtube too.
The advantage of Youtube is that the content is free and easy to access. You also find a plethora of information across all fields and industries.
But, since youtube videos are free, the value they deliver isn’t always at the level of a paid course. But depending on the niche you’re targeting, you can sharpen your skills using Youtube alone. For example, if you wanted to learn to play the guitar but never managed to, Youtube has enough tutorials to learn by yourself. The same goes for fitness and exercise. But if you’re attempting to learn a new technology using Youtube, you can end up more confused than enlightened.
A word of caution: Youtube also has the same challenge where content creators use it to generate passive income. So watch out what you watch. You might even consume incorrect knowledge and accept it as the holy grail of truth. Besides, Youtube has its algorithms designed to keep you hooked on its platform. Therefore, you might start with the intention of learning and find yourself immersed in standup comedies and funny dog videos.
5. Virtual/Physical classes
These are classes that mimic the experience of learning in school. A few years ago, such classes were limited to a physical location where you had to visit the premises and listen to the teacher in person. But today, times have changed and most of these sessions happen virtually online. This change has its pros and cons. On one end you can easily attend the class in boxer shorts and an out-of-bed hairstyle whereas on the other side you lose out on the personal connect that you have with other members interested in the same topic.
Nevertheless, both virtual and physical classes are a tremendous opportunity to boost your knowledge. But, they are more expensive and commitment intensive than the other forms of learning. Also, if you already are at a certain level of knowledge, you can neither skip over parts of the curriculum nor pace at your learning speed which can be slower or faster than the course itself.
Mentors are other experts in your area who can guide you with their wisdom and experience. They come in two forms – free and paid. You can receive mentorship for free if you have a relationship with the person. If that’s the route you want to take, don’t reach out to a person solely with the intention of receiving free lessons. Aim to genuinely connect, know and understand their journey and perspectives. People who mentor for free don’t just offer it to anyone who asks. You’ll have to connect with them intellectually and also have your own views. Most mentors will run away at the first hint of people-pleasing.
The other route is to go the paid way. This will save you all the time required to build the relationship but will cost you money. Experienced mentors might charge a high fee for every hour of their time. But what you gain from proven experts in a few hours will take ages to learn any other way. Even the cost you incur will circle back to you over time in multifold.
A word of caution here: When you pick a mentor, do your research and opt for one who’s suitable for you. Just because a mentor is highly reputed doesn’t mean he’s the best for you. A simple guideline is to ask yourself, “Do I want to become like this person?” If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, ask more specific questions such as, “What value can I gain from the mentorship I receive? Which attributes would I like to learn from this person?”
What to learn
So far, we’ve spoken about setting aside time every day to learn and the different sources to learn from. But, if you’re unclear what to learn every day, this section is for you.
1. Improve your core skill
Your core skill is what you do for a living such as programming, sales, recruitment, designing, project management, and so on. If you’re a student, your core skill is the profession you’re aspiring for.
Most of us have one core skill, some have multiple. The best way to utilize your learning time is to build upon your core skill each day by forcing yourself to find ways to improve it.
- If you’re into sales, learn and implement new ideas to pitch to your customers
- If you’re a stock investor, learning decision-making tactics and the influence of cognitive biases
- If you’re a programmer, approach a problem with a different algorithmic approach
For me, I work on improving my writing skills by reading books and taking up courses every day for 30 minutes.
2. Improve your weakness
Each of us has at least one weak area that we want to improve but end up postponing for some reason or another. It could be public speaking, leadership, or communication.
The best part of improving your weakness is that you’re starting from a point of poor performance, so you will make tangible progress rapidly. When you notice yourself improving, you build momentum and keep going.
When you’re trying to improve your weakness, you aren’t competing with the best which makes the journey both fruitful and enjoyable.
3. Learn a complementing second skill
A complementing second skill is neither your core skill nor your weakness, but an area that offers an edge to your expertise. You don’t need it to perform your role effectively, but learning aspects of it offers an advantage.
For example, I’m currently learning how to read body language. My observational skills are not the best, so gauging a person’s expression doesn’t come naturally to me.
Leadership is one of my core skills and I can perform the role without reading any body language. But, knowing what people are thinking based on their facial cues and body movements makes me a better leader overall.
Similarly, you will find one or more secondary skills which enhance your core skill.
- The understanding of cognitive biases helps you make better investment decisions
- Developing your writing skills helps you draft compelling emails
- Adding words to your vocabulary makes you appear more polished
- Learning new productivity techniques helps you get work done faster
- Improving your presentation skills fosters your career growth
4. Learn better personal skills
Learning doesn’t have to remain confined within the boundaries of your career aspects alone. You have several aspects of your personal life that you can improve each day.
For example, you can learn to:
- Develop a better relationship with your partner
- Apply empathy
- Be more social
- Have superior conversational skills
5. Pursue a hobby
Do you have a hobby that you’re interested to spend time on but have postponed since age eternity? Well, guilty myself. Maybe you wanted to learn the guitar, or a new language or a specific form of dancing, but never got to it.
How about picking it up and resuming where you stopped? If you never started, you still have time to begin at step 1. You already have the interest to pursue the hobby, so make up your mind and get going right away. You won’t regret it.
How to learn
Now that you know the sources to gain knowledge from and the topics to learn about, all you need to do is begin your learning journey.
Here are some tips that’ll help:
Follow the 5-hour rule:
The simplest way to go about is to spend 1 hour a day learning as per the 5-hour rule indicated earlier in the article. Keep in mind that the 5-hour rule is the recommended guideline to grow in your career alone. If you’re spending all your 5 hours pursuing your hobby, your career growth will take a backseat. Likewise, if you spend all your learning time on your professional skills, your personal life will be thrown off balance.
I cannot suggest the right balance between the two. That’s for you to figure out.
I break my learning into two categories:
- Learning for career
- Learning for happiness
The career-oriented learning includes ways to sharpen my professional skills, improve my financial status, and pursue my entrepreneurship goals. The happiness-oriented learning includes ways to become a better partner, pursuing my hobbies, and gathering new facts.
Implement what you learn:
Unused knowledge is no better than ignorance. So, if you’re consuming information from valid sources, but not implementing it in real life, you gain little value from it.
A good rule of thumb is to put your fresh knowledge into practice at the earliest. The longer you wait, the more likely it is to evaporate. Your learning gets ingrained in your memory better when you practice what you learn.
That said, implementing every piece of knowledge you encounter is impractical. For example, I read 3-4 self-improvement books a month and learn a wide range of useful tips. But, implementing them all isn’t feasible because of time and situational constraints. Therefore, I note down 2-3 major takeaways from each book and try to incorporate them in real life. I don’t even succeed with implementing them, but even if I learn one improvement from one book, I consider the time well spent.
You don’t have to follow my line of reasoning behind learning. Apply your own judgment and decide how you want to incorporate the knowledge you garnered. If you can find a way to implement most or all of what you learn, do take that route.
The bottom line – follow a consistent learning process and apply it in some shape or form.
If spending an hour a day appears daunting to you, start with 30 min or even 15. Don’t underestimate the short duration thinking, “What can I even learn in 15 min?” When you repeat the same exercise every day, you’ll notice the results for yourself.
Begin with the shortest amount of time you can dedicate to daily learning. Once you have consistently followed it for a week or two, step it up by 15 min. Your schedule and your mind will have a smoother transition with the change associated.
Once you embark on a journey of learning, in the long run, consistency adds bigger value than the daily duration.
Stick to the same time:
As much as possible follow the same schedule for learning.
For example, my learning time each day is 8 AM to 9 AM. Sometimes I start early, sometimes I start late, and once in a while miss my learning hour. But, on 8 days out of 10, I stick to my learning hour from 8 AM – 9 AM.
When you have a constant schedule for learning, your brain creates a routine that becomes easier to stick to. If you plan to learn at a different time slot each day, you will have to make up your mind each day to learn, then find an appropriate slot between your schedule and then sit down to actually learn. These barriers appear small, but they can easily become reasons for procrastination.
Most people face a smaller hurdle when they stick to the same time each day. But, if adhoc slots are more suitable for your schedule and personality, feel free to use that approach instead.
Be humble and keep an open mind:
When you seek knowledge on a daily basis, you will stumble upon different types of resources. Some of them will contain quality content while some others will only be subpar.
As you stick to your learning schedule, your expertise in a topic will improve and with time you’ll encounter repeated material from different channels.
The biggest barrier to continuous learning is the arrogance of “I know this already.” There is a thin line between mastering a concept and assuming you’ve mastered a concept, and the difference isn’t easy to spot unless you cultivate an attitude of humility.
For example, after few months of learning public speaking skills, you will find the same tip on a podcast that you’ve already encountered on a LinkedIn course you took earlier. At that point, you might assume that you already know all the ropes of public speaking, and halt any further learning.
But, keep an open and humble mind while improving a skill. Initially, you’ll learn aspects of any skill quickly, but after a few months of repeated effort, you’ll have to dig deeper, try harder, and experiment wider to improve further.
If you’re finding repetitive lessons, look for other sources of knowledge to find material of deep-seated expertise. As per the law of diminishing returns, as you improve, you will have to try harder to improve further.
Learning is one of the most neglected aspects of life. In your quest for career growth and personal happiness, you tend to leave the process of learning out of the equation. But, when you make learning a part of your routine and cultivate it as a habit, you will grow in your professional life and remain happy in your personal life.
When you embark on a journey of learning, you won’t notice a difference immediately. In fact, you might feel that your efforts aren’t delivering any results. But, if you trust the process and enjoy the journey, in a few years, you will fall into the elite bracket of people who long crossed the milestone of mediocrity.
So, wait no further. Go seek some knowledge today.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.