Why ‘I don’t have time’ is a bullshit excuse for not learning — and how to stop using it

I’m going to be using the terminology “things” throughout this article, because the items that interest you could be a new language (programming or otherwise), a framework, a tool, software, a skill… the list is endless. So it’s just easier to label them ‘things’.

I started trying to create more time because I found myself saying over and over again “I’d love to learn [that new thing] but I don’t have time”.

(…Here come the excuses!)

But having said that, I’d often find myself watching trash TV, or looking at Facebook or browsing some arbitrary website – essentially just wasting away the hours. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time, it was that I wasn’t making use of it.

Although I thought I really wanted to learn all these new and exciting things, it seemed that subconsciously it was quite low on my agenda.

Sometimes the weight of all the new things would overwhelm me and I’d feel defeated before I started. If you’re like me you probably follow a whole host of blogs, a bunch of mailing list subscriptions and social outlets to boot. Each one packed with new things to learn, tools to add to your arsenal and techniques to stay on top of. So it’s natural that you’d feel like you’re drowning in a sea of tech.

It’s easy to think “this [ thing ] doesn’t apply to the role I’m in” and assume you could get by day to day without it. You’re probably right, but if we’re not learning we grow stale, bored and uninspired.

Get organised

I’ve found that making a list of the new things (and even old things) that specifically interest me has been enormously beneficial. This enables you to filter out all the noise and really focus on the things relevant to you. I add a short description of the item as well if the name is ambiguous.

Keep your list in a Google doc or somewhere that is easy to access, evaluate and add to. I prefer to keep mine in a rough priority order too. When I finally find the time I just grab whatever is top of the list.

“That’s great”, you’re thinking, “but finding the time is the problem in the first place!”

Touché. I’m going to cover that now…

Finding the time

Whilst it’s tempting to try everything out at once, it’s unlikely to stick. Your best bet is to try these approaches independently and stick to the ones that work for you.

1. Ask your boss!

We’re not all blessed with working at a company that allocates training / learning time each week. But after asking one of my previous employers for it we were granted that luxury and it made a huge difference. Each team member was granted a half day each week to dedicate to learning. All email, Slack, Hipchat etc shut down and time blocked off in the calendar as busy. We’d physically hide ourselves away for the half day if we had to.

It’s worth asking the question of your manager. The worst they can say is “no”. And even if they do, it still shows them that you’re keen to develop and love what you do which can only reflect positively. If they say “yes”, you’ll be benefiting not only yourself but the rest of your team and even the business as a whole.

2. The journey

My bus ride to work is populated by people glued to their smart phones scrolling through baby photos on Facebook or flicking through other social sites.

This is prime prep time. Try to do your blog catch ups and subscription pruning now. As I said earlier a lot of the things you hear about probably won’t apply to you so this is an ideal time to collate the list of ones that do.

For a longer commute use a Kindle or e-reader and do some road learning on your way to the office. You can pick them up for as low as $100 which is a small price to pay for your personal development.

3. Fight the snooze button

It sounds easier than it is, but try getting up a little earlier at the weekend and get a couple of hours of learning in. I personally find this one to be the most useful. My wife has a tendency to sleep later than me, so I make a point of getting up extra early (quietly…) on one of the days to play with something new.

If weekends aren’t an option, get up a bit earlier on a week day and learn at home or go to the office and use their facilities before anyone is there to distract you…

4. The calendar is your friend

The calendar on my phone has been a huge help. I’ve set a recurring calendar reminder for Wednesday saying ‘learn something new this week’. That way I can feel smug if I already have, but I know to get my ass in gear if I haven’t. I usually set it for a few minutes after my bus is due so it pops up on my commute.

Block some time off in your calendar, start small, even if it’s just one lunch time or evening per week set aside to learn something new. At least that way it’s there as a constant reminder.

5. Experiment on your new projects

When you start a new project refer back to the list you wrote earlier and just try adding one or two tools or techniques from it into the project. You’ll know pretty quickly whether this is a something that’s going to help or hinder your development.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that none of these suggestions are ground breaking, (I’m still trying to figure out how to alter time and physically create more hours…) but if you’re reading this looking for ways to make more time, then I assume you’re not trying them yet ;) They are all simple things that you could implement right now and you’re on the right track.

So, no more excuses — get out there and happy learning!

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