The new year is here, and for many it means resolutions. At work, this often translates into a vague desire to learn new things. But to really make consistent progress, one needs to make learning a habit. Habits are freeing because they save us from the difficult, draining business of making decisions and exercising our self-control.
There are different strategies that can be used to make or break habits in all facets of life. However, below mentioned are a few that are especially helpful for making a habit of ‘on-the-job’ learning.
Identify what you need to learn:
Take time to think big. In the tumult of everyday life, it can be hard to step back and think about what matters most – Where do you want to be in two years? or How could you develop your skills to make your work more interesting and yourself more valuable? Some people prefer to do this kind of thinking alone, with just a pen & paper; others prefer to talk it out with a few trusted co-workers or an old friend.
Take time to think small. Sometimes people get overwhelmed when they try to make grand plans or ask huge questions. In such a case, it’s useful to focus on small and manageable steps that you can incorporate into your life immediately. A useful question to ask could be: To make your work easier or richer tomorrow, what do you need to learn or get better at today?
Ask yourself: whom do you envy? If you envy someone, that person has something you wish you had. Do you envy your friend who gets to travel all the time — or the friend who never has to travel? Do you envy your co-worker who is taking night classes toward getting an MBA – or the one who gets to make lots of presentations? Envy can help show us how we want to grow and change.
Make learning habitual:
Be specific about what you’re asking of yourself. Put your resolution into the form of a concrete, measurable and manageable action. Such as, “Every month I will go to at least two events with learning opportunities” or “Spend two hours every Thursday afternoon reading all the articles I saved during the week.” Being specific helps you figure out what to do, and also makes its execution possible.
Monitor your habit. Monitoring is, almost, uncanny in its power. Research shows that simply by monitoring a behavior, we tend to do a much better job of it. It holds true even if we are watching instructional videos or making time to practice a new skill. Keep track, and you’ll push yourself in the right direction.
Schedule time for your habit. Something like “Research such-and-such”, is a goal that may keep getting pushed to the bottom of a to-do list. Even if it’s important, it’s not urgent enough. So, schedule a specific time for research and learning.
Recognize that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination. When you schedule a time to do certain work, you should do that work and nothing else. No filing, no cleaning, no checking emails. Do the scheduled work, otherwise, you may work and work and work, but will never get around to do the very thing you had set out to do.
Spend time with people who have the learning habits that you want to emulate. Studies show that we tend to pick up habits from the people around us. So choose your company wisely. If you know that some of your co-workers make ‘on-the-job’ learning a habit, go out of your way to spend time with them, and you’ll easily pick up that habit yourself.
When we understand ourselves better, we can apply habit-forming strategies that have greater chances of success. We can shape our habits to suit ourselves — our own nature, our own interests, our own strengths. Further, if we develop habits that work for us, then we’re likely to be happy, healthy, and productive.
The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge based management consulting firm in India, believes, that utilizing the aforementioned insights into habit formation can go a long way in automating the process of learning. For Henry Ford once said “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or at 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”