Updated: December 20th, 2020
In December of 2019, I sent a survey to my email subscribers (because I wanted to know where they currently are in their learning journey (and some other stuff)). Among a bunch of new stuff I learned about you, I noticed that many of you cannot find enough time to learn new things.
If you feel overwhelmed by all the things that you should learn but have no idea how to dedicate time to that, I have several tips that work for me. This article is NOT one of those “definitive guides” that will throw 30+ ideas at you. Instead, I will describe how I approach this challenge.
You are not alone
I have this problem (of not finding enough time to learn) too. Most of us have.
Quite often, I catch myself thinking that I’m not spending enough time to learn all those things that will make me better at X or Y. Therefore, I feel guilty about wasting time. Sounds familiar? That guilt is haunting me regularly. Even when I decide to go offline for a while (to reset and get some rest), that guilt never abandons me.
Instead of switching to “get some rest and energy” mode, I remain in (almost) constant anxiety-filled “self-blame for procrastination” mode. Even though I specifically took some time off to run away.
But constant guilt and self-blaming during holidays is a different topic (that I’ll try to learn to resolve in the future) so let’s skip it this time.
Today, let’s focus on how to tackle that guilt by actually dedicating time to learn something new and valuable.
Currently, I have two kids (2 and 4 years old) and I’m running Analytics Mania (as a solopreneur). Speaking of Analytics Mania, my work consists of:
- Publishing new blog content
- Supporting my students of premium courses, helping them
- Working with several clients (I don’t work on more than 2 projects at the same time and my consulting hours cannot exceed more than 50% of my work hours (otherwise my blogging frontier will suffer))
- Occasionally checking what’s happening in GTM forums and responding there.
Speaking of work hours I do not exceed more than 50 hours a week. In 2016-2018, I was hardcore with ~70-80 work hours a week (because I had a full-time day job at another company but was also spending nights and weekends trying to keep the Analytics Mania blog alive and growing). That period was definitely super exhausting, therefore, I absolutely enjoy the current 40-50 hours work-week.
So here are several options on how I try to allocate time to learn.
#1. Reading a blog post or a chapter of the book while trying to put my son to sleep
My son is 2 years old. Every night, before he goes to sleep he drinks a glass of warm milk and then goes to bed. However, he does not want to stay in his room alone until he falls asleep. That means that I have to stay in the room for at least~30 minutes. All I need to do is just be there.
Well, that’s a good moment to do some activity that does not require sound, right? How about reading? You could:
- Read a bookmarked blog post about a topic that you want to learn
- Or you could read a chapter of a certain book that teaches you an X skill. But in my case, that book must be an e-book because the room has to stay dark, hence I read it with my phone (or tablet).
That was a lot of text and no visuals. It’s about time to insert some stock photo about learning, am I right?
Nice, let’s move on.
#2. Cardio + podcast
When I used to go to the gym, I was doing a 60-80 minute cardio session during which I did a fast-paced walk maximum uphill. This gave me quite a good physical load (because I constantly climb uphill for more than an hour) but also I was able to remain focused enough to listen to a podcast.
Obviously, gyms are closed in most countries due to the pandemic but you probably could still go for a run outside.
I tried to listen to a podcast episode while doing a more intense workout session (with heavy-lifting, etc.). That decision did not go well. My brain was in “self-defense” mode and focused on surviving an exhausting workout (because the instructor was pushing hard) rather than carefully listening to the podcast and digesting new ideas I’ve heard.
On the other hand, cardio (e.g. walking uphill) lets you put your body into an autopilot mode, and then you can focus more on what is being broadcasted.
Usually, I listen either to Digital Analytics Power Hour (for analytics-related stuff) or Smart Passive Income podcast (business-related stuff that I have successfully applied to Analytics Mania). P.S. don’t be fooled by the title “Smart Passive Income”. It has nothing to do with “get rich quick” things and is actually valuable to those who want to get started with running a sustainable business (especially if you decide to go small) or scaling it.
#3. 30-60 minute learning window before going to bed
I have a recurring reminder in Google Calendar that reminds me to go to bed on time and grab a book. Or grab a laptop, earbuds and complete a module or a lesson of an online course.
You don’t have to create it as a daily reminder. Feel free to adapt it to your capabilities (e.g. only on weekdays, every 2nd day, etc.).
#4. 1,5 hours per day (on weekends) when my kids are taking a nap
Another window when I try to make use of free time is nap time for my kids. Once I see the opportunity to spend more than 30 minutes on something, I try to use it. And the content I consume depends on how much time I have:
- 30 minutes – read a blog post or a bit of a book
- 60+ minutes – continue some online course
All the ideas I’ve listed in this blog post are just trying to a moment for something meaningful. Always try to seize the opportunity. But don’t think that I’m very good at it. I’m still procrastinating a lot, but even with my current schedule, I try to learn something new.
For example, right after I publish this blog post, I’ll go watch an episode or two of Netflix’s Witcher.
#5. Flying? That’s another good opportunity
At least, this was a good tip before the pandemic.
I don’t like reading on a plane. The air is too dry and using eye drops every 15-30 minutes is annoying. That’s why I prefer keeping my eyes shut most of the time, stay relaxed and listen to podcasts. Of course, make sure you have downloaded them to your device before the flight.
Another tip that will work again when the pandemic ends.
Driving time to your office is a perfect time to learn something new via audio. You can:
- Listen to an audio-book (e.g. connect your mobile phone via Bluetooth or AUX to easily turn on the audio file)
- Or listen to a podcast episode. If the episode is longer than your commuting trip to the office, you can finish the episode on the way back home.
Unfortunately (but also luckily), I don’t have to commute anymore. My current office (that I rent) is 5 minutes away (on foot) from my home. But before that, I always tried to use that time to listen to something valuable.
#7. Watching a video course? Speed up the video
If the instructor of the course is talking pretty clearly and not fast enough, you can speed up the video (if the video player allows doing that). For example, in my Google Tag Manager courses, you can choose the speed of the video.
When I watch courses from other creators, I usually watch them at 1.5x-1.75x speed. This helps me save up to 75% percent of my time if the course’s material is not too technical and does not require coding.
#8. What are your plans for the Christmas holidays?
During the last week of the year, the work pace is much slower, a lot of people have taken time off to spend it with their family and friends. But do you really need to spend ALL of that time on leisure activities? If you feel exhausted, then sure, go ahead and take your time.
But I’m pretty positive that most of you can spare a day or two for self-improvement. For example, December 23rd, 26th, 27th, and 30th. Are you planning some serious stuff for those days? That’s a lot of time you could use to learn something new or even complete 1-2 courses.
I’m definitely doing/learning something new on December 23rd and 30th. At least.
General tips on how I approach learning
Once again, a quick reminder. These tips are not universal rules. That’s just what has worked for me. Maybe it will work for you too.
#1. Don’t learn if you’re tired
Do not force yourself to read a book chapter or a blog post if you feel exhausted. Your body is already telling you to get some rest. Do it. If you ignore such signals, you’re just wasting time. Even if you manage to read that chapter or blog post, you will probably not remember anything tomorrow. At least I don’t.
#2. Learn one thing/topic at a time
If you decided to tackle a certain topic and learn it, focus just on that one topic. I hate multitasking because it never properly works for me. I’m much better at doing one thing at a time. So if I, say, start a course, I do not take another course until this one is finished. I’d rather have 3 finished courses in a year than 15 courses with “20% complete” status.
There is only one reason where I justify dropping a course – you see that the course provides little to no value.
#3. Quality over quantity
It’s not about who reads more books or completes more courses in a year. It’s about who learns and remembers better. And if you are a slower learner, that’s totally fine. I’d much rather rewatch a course or re-read a book in that same year (to make sure that I actually learn its material and apply something from it in my life/work) than just read 10 books and boast about it on social media.
I tried once to read as many books as I could. The final result? Too much haste & I even forgot what some books were all about (or just could not properly apply learnings from them). Of course, that depends on the book as well, but rushing through pages never worked for me.
You will learn a topic by practicing and repeating steps multiple times. Then why not rewatch a course or re-read a book? Of course, you will still need to apply new knowledge in practice but sometimes the key thing for me is to understand and remember the concept.
#4. Plan your next year realistically
2021 will start in a week, now it’s a good time to reflect on what has happened in 2019 + to think what could you achieve in 2021.
Here’s the approach I took in 2019 and it worked pretty well. Before that, I usually got the same result every year: A LOT of ideas in January and almost NONE of them achieved in December of that same year. Underachieving was really demotivating.
And you know what I did this year? I reduced the number of things I want to achieve and made my plan more realistically. The end result? I achieved more (because I focused on what actually mattered) and now I feel much better in general, have more confidence.
Of course, I did not complete 100% of my major tasks (I did ~80%, actually). But reaching 80% is much better than 40% or so (from previous years).
So here’s the approach I took (learned it in Michal Hyatt’s webinar last year (can’t remember the title)):
- Think of one biggest thing you want to achieve in 2021? For me in 2020, it was to start working on Analytics Mania full-time and generate enough revenue to support my family (so that it would become my only job)
- Create smaller goals/tasks that will help you achieve your top goal of the year. Several examples from what I planned in 2019: Launch Intermediate/Advanced GTM course, revisit my email marketing strategy (segmentation, nurturing, etc.), grow my email list to X subscribers, launch a Black Friday sale, etc.
- Plan no more than 3 tasks/goals per quarter. Be realistic, you and I will still procrastinate a lot + there will be many unplanned things that will require a lot of time and attention. That’s why you should plan no more than 3 things to complete in one quarter. This year, I will probably reduce the number to 2 because in the 2nd half of 2019 but plan to achieve 3 things just went bananas.
- SUPER IMPORTANT: Write down those goals for 2021 on a large sheet of paper (e.g. A3) and hang it somewhere you’ll see it every day, e.g. on a fridge or near the kitchen sink, etc. It’s crucial that you see the list every day. This will serve you as a reminder and will switch you to the correct mindset. Before that, I used various calendar reminders and other things — didn’t work. Only hanging an actual piece of paper on a wall and seeing it every day felt like things were working out.
The result of 2019? I did not complete all the tasks I planned (20% remain incomplete) but my main goal of the year was reached. I am now working full time on Analytics Mania and it generates enough revenue so that I can support myself and my family. In the end, the feel of accomplishment is definitely present.
#5. You don’t have to learn every day
I definitely don’t (because, well, that’s how life works). Even sparing 4 hours a week is good to get things moving forward. Of course, the more hours you spend the better but even several hours per week is better than 0.
#6. Don’t rely on your employer to give you an opportunity for self-improvement
Quite often, I hear excuses that people are not learning enough because their employers don’t give them enough time for self-improvement.
First and foremost, I believe that you are the one who’s the most responsible for your own growth. Not your employer (even though work-related-self-improvement should always be in employer’s interest). You need to keep learning and improving so that you could become more efficient at what you’re doing, you could solve more complex tasks, etc.
What do those improvements mean to you? Maybe a raise or a promotion? Or maybe even a new better-paying and more fulfilling job? You need to do this for yourself. And nobody should get in your way.
#7. Sleep well
This one is obvious but it looks like the industry is still glorifying waking up at 4 am., working 12+ hours every day, etc. 2016-2018 was a very tough and exhausting period for me. Even though I did manage to grow the blog significantly while working full-time at my day job (Omnisend), I had no life whatsoever.
Everything was sacrificed just so I could increase my traffic compared to the previous month. Also, my health was damaged (e.g. stomach problems became more serious) and consequences are still present till this day.
While I believe that you can still work more than 8 hours per day (especially if you enjoy what you’re doing), you should definitely get proper sleep. Every day. I’m not talking about 4 hours. Think of 7 or 8 hours at least. Your future self will thank you.
In my case, now this is possible not only because I am working only at Analytics Mania, but also because I don’t party that much anymore (as I did before). At the moment, I go to a pub maybe once in 1-2 months. This means a much more free and productive time on weekends. Hangovers used to cost me a lot of time that could be used in a better way.
Things I don’t do anymore
Obviously, not everything worked for me and some things had to be abandoned. For example:
- I unsubscribed from the majority of newsletters and other sources of information. I just cannot consume THAT MUCH. And just constantly feeling like I’m missing out on things is not good. In this case, less is more. So I reduced the number of blogs/newsletters/podcasts/etc. I follow maybe 5-8 (instead of 20 or 30).
- I don’t bookmark as much as I did. I used to be addicted to bookmarking tools like Evernote, etc. Once I saw something potentially valuable, I added that to my “read later” list. Guess how many articles I’ve read from that list. Probably less than 2%. That’s right — 98% of my bookmarked articles just stay and silently die in my backlog. My current solution? I just don’t lie to myself. If I see something really REALLY valuable I either read it right away or send an email to myself with that link. Seeing something in my inbox works as a good reminder to read it. If that article stays as “unread” email in my inbox for more than 2 months, I just mark it as “read” or delete it. P.S. this tactic works only if you’re not hoarding emails. I always try to stay below the threshold of 30 unread emails.
Personally, I was the main reason why I did not have enough time to learn a new skill. Once I switched my mindset and tried to maximize every spare 30-60 minutes, things started moving forward. Of course, nothing groundbreaking happened overnight. However, in the long run, the results were noticeable.
Just take a look at how I find time to learn (maybe something gives you ideas where to “steal” some time?):
- While trying to put kids to sleep
- While kids are taking a nap
- Before I go to sleep
- While being in a gym, etc.
Your life situation is probably different compared to mine (maybe you don’t have kids but there are some other things that require a lot of your attention). Nevertheless, you could still try to find a time window and learn something. Several hours a week is a good start to turn this into a habit.
My personal favorite content formats? Online course and audio files (books/podcasts). Audio files just don’t require my eyes, hence I can be on the move and still learn ( like SPI, DAPH, and Lea Pica’s podcasts. There are more on my list, but these are the main ones.).
Online courses are a good way to learn because the instructor has already figured out a lot of stuff and is showing me a step-by-step process on how to learn X and they are more interactive than books. That just works for me better. Also, it usually requires less of my time to complete a course than to read a couple (or more) books (but that, of course, depends on the length of a course and the size of a book).
What do you think about this topic? Do you have some hacks that work for you? I’d really like to learn/hear that. Maybe I’ll borrow it for my own self-improvement 🙂 As always, the comments section is at your service.