Why We Struggle To Set Aside Time For Personal Growth Work

We spend most of the year doing because we’ve got deadlines to meet.

As a result, it gets easy to stay heads down and busy.

But if you’re only focused on doing, when do you have time for growth work?

When I say growth work I mean things like:

  • Getting cross-trained by our fellow teammates to avoid the bus factor
  • Setting aside time to develop a new skill or going deeper into an existing one
  • Exploring new frameworks, tools, or ideas
  • Reading books that will challenge our thinking and our everyday approaches

Here are some additional types of growth work.

We know that learning is important. It will help us grow personally. New knowledge helps us solve problems and increases our productivity.

Despite a flood of reasons, we struggle to do it.

Time is treated as the scapegoat.

Let’s talk about why it’s the scapegoat, what else gets in our way, and how would we benefit if we were to invest in learning consistently.

Why training time is seen as a luxury

People want to just hire folks who are ready to go and assume they will come up to speed as they do things. Recruiters and hiring managers pile on the skills they are looking for, which results in job descriptions that seem impossible to fulfill. Some prospective candidates end up feeling like they don’t quality and hence don’t apply.

There are a few that feel confident enough to apply, and end up getting hired.

While they might be a quick study, they still need to be onboarded, but onboarding takes time away from productive employees.

It’s this sentiment that results in pretty much all departments: marketing, engineering, and sales, neglecting to onboard employees.

What people don’t understand is that having an onboarding program can be the difference between someone ramping up within a matter of weeks versus months.

Also the less time we invest has a direct correlation to employee morale: new hires feel stuck, like they’re not making an immediate contribution, and they may fear making mistakes because they don’t understand decisions that were made before them.

But again and again, I see companies that don’t invest.

And it’s not just companies that are to blame. Employees also have excuses as to why they don’t want to participate, which basically boils down to their fear of delegating work because they think new people won’t be as efficient or they want to maintain control and job security.

What they fail to realize is that it holds them back from advancing to new roles and responsibilities. They are in essence keeping themselves stuck in a position.

Onboarding doesn’t have to be a big production. One simple way to onboard employees is to start by creating an employee handbook. Companies both large and small, can set one up per department through a wiki or a simple Google doc that can be revisioned and edited.

It’s important to keep the handbook up-to-date. As new hires perform tasks according to the handbook, have them revise the tasks that are unclear or outdated.

Finally, even if your team doesn’t have new hires, it can be valuable to cross-train each other. This helps distribute the knowledge, making it easier for people to take time off, and rely on each other when there is a tight deadline that needs to be met.

I realize it can be incredibly challenging to setup onboarding in some companies. Some bosses and managers just don’t get it, and it can leave you feeling like you need to ask for permission to advance.

On the flipside, there are a lot of bosses and managers, who may feel the same way, but don’t know how to take the first step. So bring it up and see how they respond. They may be more amenable to it than you think.

Why it’s easy to accept grunt work than growth work

Every job has some amount of grunt work, but it’s up to us to determine whether that’s 20% or 100%.

We knowingly accept grunt work, because we’re afraid of pushing back, delegating the task to someone else (like I mentioned before), there really is no one else around to do it, we might not have the skills to automate it or automation may require an initial investment in terms of setup time.

Hence the easy alternative is to just do it.

Plus each item we cross of our to-do list, makes us feel like we’ve been productive at the end of the day, even if we didn’t actually produce anything.

But over time, doing the same thing day in and day out can leave us feeling unfulfilled, and it eventually causes us to get bored and burnout.

We need to learn how to balance grunt work with growth work, but growth work ain’t easy.

It can take awhile to see a breakthrough, and as a result. feel pretty slow going.

So it becomes comfortable to keep doing what we’ve been doing, even though it might be mind numbing.

There are a couple ways to getting over the hump.

The first is to get help, especially when you know you’re stuck. Seeking the guidance of a mentor or a coach can be tremendously valuable. The best do a good job of listening and understanding why you’re stuck and can suggest ways to move past it.

Peer groups are also great. They key is to find one where people hold each other accountable and are open to sharing what has and hasn’t worked for them.

These two approaches alone have saved me months of frustration.

The second is coming to terms with a steep learning curve. It’s easy to look ahead and lose our motivation once we realize we have more to learn. But that’s because we’re not taking the time to acknowledge our accomplishments.

This has been my go-to for staying motivated.

Awareness is the first step, so start by auditing your personal productivity

Most of us just aren’t aware of how we’re spending our days.

So just like businesses get audited by the IRS, it maybe time for you to audit how you’re spending your time.

Many people have sworn by Rescue Time to help them figure out how much time they’re spending surfing the web and on activities such as email.

If you are going to do an audit, it’s better to do it for future activities rather than ones that have past.

The reason I recommend focusing on the future is because we tend to overestimate or underestimate how much time we’re truly spent in the past. When we focus on recording future activities, we’ll have a more accurate picture of how we spend our time.

I recommend doing the audit for at least two weeks.

Once you’ve done it, tally up the time you spend on tasks, and consider coming up with a NOT to do list. Then consider just one area you’d like to grow.


Now I want to know, how have you been able to overcome the struggle? Let me know in the comments below!


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