We are expected to be across the latest trends and developments in our industry, to become better leaders and constantly meet new challenges. But how can you possibly fit it all in? Find out how to make the most of your time and increase performance every day by developing a habit of learning.
Let me ask you a question: which of the following constitutes learning?
- A client shares with you the business challenges they are facing
- You remember there is a formula on Excel that brings together text from two columns and google it to try and find it
- You attend a lunch and learn session with your peers and sharing some good ideas
- You pull your manager aside to debrief a meeting you went to and getting help with next steps
- You listen to a podcast on the way to work and think about how you can use it for a difficult conversation with a colleague
The answer is…
…all of them! Learning takes many forms, and research has shown that these days people find self-directed learning is their preferred way of learning. The challenge is it takes a bit more discipline than being put in a room for a course for two days. And yet people still say ‘I don’t have time to learn’ when what they really mean is, to formally set time aside to learn.
Learning is not a special time you allocate in your day – it is any time you take in new information.
So you don’t need to wait for a magical empty day so we you have a binge learning session because:
a) you’ll be lucky if that time ever comes
b) if it does you will probably get distracted by other things
c) why binge when you can snack instead?
However, getting the most out of your learning takes some deliberate effort. Here are some tips on how to make learning part of your day-to-day routine and maximise its impact on your performance at work.
Set a focus for your development: What would be the one thing that if you were to develop, would unlock your career goals? Perhaps it’s influencing senior people, presenting to the board or building a strategy. If you don’t have much time, look for anything related to this ‘one thing’. If you are feeling like you want more, go for 3 things. In an age where we are overloaded with content, this will help you screen out what is less important and prioritise what will make the biggest difference.
Apply the 2 minute rule: Make a commitment to a minimum 2 minutes a day of reading or writing related to your chosen development areas. This keeps a habit of learning and focus on what you are working on. Then on days where you are feeling motivated and have the time you can spend longer, and you’re keeping it alive through an everyday practice. But the minimum makes it accessible and regular. Neuroscience has shown that we learn best we reinforce pathways in our brain through ‘little and often’ learning (the AGES model).
Waiting time is learning time: I loved the tag line from AXA’s self-directed learning drive which was shared at the Learning Technologies conference recently: ‘waiting time is learning time’ – take 2-3 minutes while you are waiting for the bus or for a colleague is late for a meeting to learn and over time it all ads up.
Read, write, listen, talk: think about different ways that you like to learn and are easy to fit in your day. For me today, finishing this blog is learning because it is taking the time to gather my thoughts and share back information I’ve been exposed to and reflecting on over the past few weeks. It could be scheduling a coffee with someone in a different department, doing a quick SWOT analysis or listening to a podcast on your way to work.
Ask WWW and WDIL: reflection is what turns every day experience into learning and is a key driver of performance. But in the age of do, do, taking the time to reflect is not always easy, and many people don’t see it as productive.
John Dewey once said that “we do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” Research by Harvard showed that reflection is a key driver of performance, (not to mention fulfilment), specifically to “synthesise, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience”. I use two simple acronyms on my commute home or after a meeting to make reflection part of my day:
WWW = what went well? What did I do well, that I should keep doing?
WDIL = what did I learn? What would I do differently, if I could do it again?
And if it’s been a bad day that’s really got you down, remind yourself it’s AFLO, another f*ing learning opportunity! Learning isn’t easy and it doesn’t always feel great – but having a learning mindset can turn frustration and anxiety into rewards of increased performance and growth.
WDYL from this blog? What are your reflections?
How can you achieve amazing results as a leader while confronting a big fear? How can you motivate people without formal authority? Volunteering is a great opportunity to practice skills in a safe environment, and this experience reminded me how much there is to gain from this.
I recently organised an Open house event through Toastmasters, to give guests a taste of what it is about and recruit new members. As someone who has always had a fear of people not showing up, this was way out of my comfort zone – and yet it ended up being a raging success with a record-breaking 100 attendees (and 10 new members), winning praise for our club and a district award.
1. Be a good follower
The President of my club put out a goal of 100 RSVPs. At that point I didn’t think it was possible, but I bought into it and put in the action to make it happen, and gradually as we built momentum I started to believe it was possible. There was a point where becoming a good follower shifted into being a better leader as I translated that vision into my own and started to engage other members and guests in making it a reality. This is the power of followership.
2. Connect with your ‘why’
As Simon Sinek says, first start with why. At the beginning of the project, I took the time to reflect on what success would look like and why I was excited about that – which definitely paid dividends.
I love our club and as soon as I visited it I knew I had found my home. There was no need for me to experience other clubs because the people, the encouraging and genuine environment and the quality of speaking and leadership was high and palpable.
My why was to get a huge crowd to experience this and if that was what they were looking for too, they would join our club. This drove me to take action and also helped me paint a picture of what the night would be like for guests and members, even though I was scared no one would turn up. And they did!
3. Look for people’s strengths and see how you can amplify them
Organising this event without a strong team around me was not an option – for the success of the event and because of the demands of my role at work. This seems obvious but as someone who is very driven, and sometimes perfectionistic, it would be easy for me to step in and do too much. After some initial planning and a call with a trusted peer to get clear on the approach I built a team and started delegating.
I was lucky to have a President, committee and 40 members to choose from – many of whom are growth-oriented high achievers. However, I knew that if I handed out jobs I didn’t want to do I wouldn’t get commitment, especially being volunteer work.
In the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard tells us to ‘catch people in the act of doing something right’ and I reflected on what I had observed in the meetings and used my intuition to select people for each role: who would do it well and who would grow from the experience.
I also thought about the purpose of the event and the Toastmasters values which I share – integrity (which to me is a lot about following through on what you say you will), service and excellence. Who ‘got’ what the event and we as a club are about and showed enthusiasm? Who could I count on? I felt so proud to see the speakers and every single person on the event team stepped up and did an amazing job.
4. Take time to recover and reflect
When I first started planning the event I underestimated quite how big it would be. I put my hand up to do 2 workshops the following day. If there was one thing I would do differently it would be to anticipate that it would be a massive event and give myself time to celebrate and recover from that for a day at least. This is a key to resilience and sustainable performance.
Lastly I recommend a reflection practice after any event which takes you out of comfort zone (more on reflection here). Take time to reflect and write down what well and what you learned, and share that with others to embed the learning for you and the team, and pay it forward.
You may have a busy role with lots of opportunities to develop, but if you are looking to accelerate your development and learn in a different environment, volunteering can be a great way to do that. With a team that is not being paid, you have to put even more attention into ‘what’s in it for me’ and inspiring people with your vision. And I will certainly be taking that back to my day job.
Progress your career and add value to your organisation and your network by narrating what you learn and what you are working on – ‘work out loud’.
As someone who is passionate about learning and growth, my mission is to learn every day about things that matter, to me and the communities I’m in, whether its my friends or family, colleagues or clients at work.
And yet I don’t take as much time to reflect and share my learning as I would like to – even though it is the perfect way to both embed the learning for myself and to help others as well.
This year I have committed to practicing ‘working out loud’. The concept of Working Out Loud (WOL) first appeared in 2010, and refers to narrating or sharing what you are working on and how you are approaching challenges, and inviting feedback.
It could involve writing a regular blog post, sharing a post or photo in your Linkedin feed, sharing an update on a collaborative platform like MS teams, or engaging in regular face to face discussions. In remote working, working out loud becomes even more critical as you are no longer visibly working the office – it’s a way to keep yourself top of mind among your stakeholders (some of whom could influence your career advancement).
In his 2014 book of the same name, John Stepper outlines ‘The five elements of Working Out Loud’ that follow:
Relationships: Working Out Loud involves connecting and collaborating with others, as they are both the source and recipients of the knowledge you share.
Generosity: As the author of Never Eat Alone (Keith Ferrazzi), said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Working out loud is giving your knowledge and experiences freely to others.
Visible work: If you don’t share it, how does anyone know what you are working on? It doesn’t need to be online – it could be over a coffee. However, social platforms allow you to share your work as a contribution and also give people a sense of who you are and what you have to offer (aka your personal brand). This may lead to opportunities or connection with people in your network in the future, as they think of you when they need expertise or resources.
Purposeful discovery: Given the amount of content and people you interact with, it’s useful to be clear on what you want to learn about and contribute.
Growth mindset: In line with Carol Dweck’s philosophy, a mindset of curiosity and a passion for learning sits at the heart of working out loud. This means always being on the look out for new information that can help you, your organisation and people in your network. This mindset also helps build resilience as you continue to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Working Out Loud has been dubbed a critical digital skill for the future by many, so why doesn’t everyone do it? For me it’s perfectly aligned to my values and closely connected to my work. And yet I still haven’t been doing it to the level I would like. What gets in the way? Here are the top 3 I have come across.
This is the number 1 challenge for me, and most people. I’ve asked myself, how can I possibly find the time to do the work and tell people about it in a meaningful way? Shouldn’t I just get on with it?
When I decided to write this, I was studying (I am doing my CIPD in Learning and Development). I needed to get through a 150 page document, which included some information on this very topic. So I had the choice: do I crack on, or take some time out to put my learning into practice and share what I’ve learned?
This time I decided to do the latter and I’m glad I did, even if it did take some time to do, away from the core task I was working on. So how can you overcome the time barrier?
Do it immediately when you feel inspired
- When I think about taking time out to think of what to write, prepare it, write it and perfect it (to a level I feel comfortable sharing with my network or strangers) can feel overwhelming – and it’s easy not to take that first step.
- So don’t think, just do. Mel Robbins promotes the 5 second rule to taking action – count down from 5 and then just start without thinking or you will talk you out of it.
Choose a format to fit the time you have and a frequency that is realistic for your lifestyle
If you are short of time, keep it short and simple:
- It may not be a blog post like this one, it could be photo with a couple of sentences.
- Jot down a few notes or creating a slide to take to your next team meeting.
- Share a slide deck from a meeting that went really well that others could learn from.
- Share an article or post as soon as you read it with your network on Linkedin or another social platform.
- Keep the mindset which Sheryl Sandberg advocates: ‘done is better than perfect’. Waiting for it to be perfect could mean no one ever gets to see your work.
- Change it up based on how much time you have. Find what works for you and your work flow and make a routine out of it.
Have a clear sense of purpose – ‘why’ you are doing it
When I had my own business full-time, I used to post a blog every week and share it on my Linkedin page. I was building a digital brand and my sales and livelihood depended on it: I knew I had to be visible and engaging my followers consistently. When I started working as an employee again, I lost motivation and momentum because I saw it as something I’d like to do but didn’t have to do to be successful.
So ask yourself, what is the benefit of working out loud for you, and for others? How can it help your career, your brand? Write down 20 reasons and when you think of putting it off, refer back to your list.
2. Not knowing what to share
Working out loud requires a system to capture and organise what you’re learning every day. I use Evernote which also has a web clipper to save resources. The Hive Learning app allows you to save links in the platform ready to share in learning peer groups. There are many other tech options which allow you to search and tag your information so you can access it easily.
Another criteria I consider is my audience. Who are the people in my network that I want to speak to and what are they interested in or curious about? What problems do they want to solve? Alternatively, what expertise do I want to be known for? Which can then attract people who are interested in that as your audience.
3. Fear of visibility
This is a big one for many people – and no wonder, posting into a digital group is like presenting to a room full of people with that many people in it! That’s right, I have over 1000 Linkedin contacts, so how would it be to stand in front of all of them and speak? Yikes, does that scare you off?
The reality is, with everything you do you are visible – it’s just that online sharing can feel more vulnerable because it is recorded, it can reach a large number of people at scale, and you don’t always get feedback or see how people react.
When I’m faced with this, I come back to the contribution mindset – it may feel scary, but why am I doing it? So that it might help someone. And even if it’s just one person out of a thousand that it touches, I can feel good about that. What other people think about you is more about them than you, and besides, you can’t control it.
If you and your work are not visible, no one can gain from it – it’s a missed opportunity. If it sounds like something you’d like to do more of, take some time to reflect on what the benefits of Working out loud are for you, your career and your organisation and what the best approach for you would be. Make a plan, diarise it and start sharing!
I would love to hear from anyone who has tried out Working out loud – how is or was it valuable? What challenges do or did you face?
• Follow Me •
• Praise •
"I am feeling very much in love with my life at the moment, and I think the work I have done with you is part of that."
"My session with Louise was both inspirational and practical!"
"If you are thinking about working with Louise, go for it!"
“I would wholeheartedly recommend Louise to anyone wishing to gain clarity and confidence in their professional lives.”
"Helped keep me focused and accountable in setting up my healing business."
"I feel more resilient and confident. I’m overcoming some of my fears around leadership."
• About Louise Taylor •
Louise is a Leadership & Career Coach who specialises in helping driven professionals to shape their dream careers and develop habits for peak performance and resilience.
Since 2009 Louise has coached over a hundred leaders with a focus on career transition and development, behavioural change, leadership, communication, influencing and managing emotions and stress. She has also coached leaders to design and launch coaching and consulting businesses.
Louise is an experienced and innovative Solutions Designer & Consultant, who has worked in this capacity for much of her career, gradually moving up into more senior roles.
Louise brings a wealth of experience designing and delivering talent and leadership programs in companies such as Microsoft, GE Money, Barclays, Inchcape, Boots, HSBC, Google, Yahoo!, AXA, Astra Zeneca, Commonwealth Bank, Babcock and Wesfarmers.
With coaching psychology training and a Graduate Certificate in Counselling, Louise has effective, evidence-based tools to access the root cause of behavioural change and results.
Louise is an International Coach Federation (ICF) PCC credential holder and has over 800 hours’ coaching experience. She can use tools such as Strengths Finder, Hogan, LSI, CCL and fuel50 Career Assessment tools to help her clients gain clarity and increase effectiveness.
Louise lives in London, UK with her partner Ian and their two cute pugs Mimi and Lola. She enjoys yoga, meditation and fitness, relaxing with friends and family, cooking, personal development and travel. Louise is passionate about languages and is fluent in French and German and speaks basic Spanish.