Making Work, Work

New Year, New Skills – how to carve out time to learn something new

For a positive start to 2017, you might be thinking of taking the opportunity to learn and hone a new skill. Hobbies and interests can fall by the wayside in our busy working lives, but working towards mastering something new can renew your energy and zest for life, allowing you to be more productive in your work and more efficient with your time. Making a long term commitment to developing a long lost or completely new skill will enhance every aspect of your life. After all, making New Year’s resolutions is about being happier and more fulfilled in the year ahead and beyond.

The beginning is always the most daunting part of learning something new, and from the start point it can feel like you will never master it. Particularly when taking on something later in life, acquiring a new skill can feel an almost impossible task. Don’t listen to the voice that says it may be too late to embark: your mind never loses the capacity to learn new things; it’s just a matter of a different approach to learning. It really is never too late to start something new!

Of course, the practicalities of finding time around a busy career and family life are something most of us didn’t have to contend with when we were younger. Still, you don’t have to let that stand in your way – here’s some guidance on managing time and pursuing a personal project around other commitments:

Tell people

Make friends, colleagues and tutors aware of your new learning intentions and how it will fit around your work and home life. It helps for people to understand all commitments that you have, so they don’t make extra demands on your time or they can be more flexible around your schedule.

Make practice a priority

It’s all too easy to let life get in the way of learning a new skill as we tend to prioritise everything else that is happening currently – as it is something we are doing mostly for ourselves rather than out of any urgent necessity associated with work we tend to put it at the bottom of the list. Make your practice or study priority on par with everything else. This is your personal development and it should be treated as equally important. Allot time for single tasks rather than constantly multitasking. The more you have to do, the more important it is to focus chunks of time on one thing rather than trying to do several things at once.

Use a separate room

If you have the luxury of space, set up a corner or room dedicated to that activity alone to prevent distractions creeping in. If you are studying as well as working from home, try to keep your workspace and study space as separate as possible to maintain focus.

Set small and regular milestones to keep you on track

Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time that you have, and reward yourself for taking each step towards your end goal. Small steps all add up so each one should be celebrated – those little wins will keep you motivated.

Revive your ‘dead’ time

Any dead time you have – on the bus, in the car, waiting for the kids to come out from school, the first quiet moments when you get up, the last moments before bed – turn it into productive time and use it to revise something, listen to audio clips etc. to help you on your way and keep you inspired.

Use the Eisenhower Matrix

If you feel you need to adopt a strategy to carve out more time, a good place to start is the Eisenhower Matrix. Divide up your tasks and responsibilities into the following categories:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

You may also add an estimate of the time each task takes up, to give a clear idea of the time that can be saved and put towards other endeavours. More information on the Eisenhower Matrix method can be found here.

Above all, be patient and kind to yourself. Learning a new skill should be an invigorating and enjoyable endeavour. Learning takes time, so don’t be disheartened if busy periods or unexpected events temporarily knock you off course – just pick up where you left off when you are ready.

We’d love to hear what you plan to achieve in 2017 – let us know @TheAtticLondon

By Kayleigh Ziolo

Kayleigh Ziolo has a background in magazine publishing and is writer and Commissioning Editor at Obelisk. She specialises in the subjects of workplace wellbeing, flexible working practices and gender equality.