Successful, self-made business leaders come from all walks of life, but they all have one thing in common: they never get complacent about what they know. They are natural lifelong learners, motivated by a combination of curiosity and a deep desire for personal and professional growth.
Most of us consider ourselves business leaders and very busy people, and many of us really are. We have plenty of things we know we should be doing, things that we very much would like to do, but we just don’t have the time. Who has time a read books anymore? Or learn a new technical skill outside of work? Or study a new language?
I catch myself making these excuses, too. It’s something universal in our fast-paced society, and doubly so among burgeoning entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals. But you know what? If Bill Gates can find the time to learn something new every day, the rest of us can too.
Without further ado, here are four ways extremely busy people can continue to learn new things and never stop growing.
Talk to business leaders who know something you don’t
Nobody knows everything about everything, but everyone knows something about something. You don’t have to rub elbows at elite networking events to meet business leaders who have valuable information on something you aren’t familiar with. Your next door neighbor might have studied classical French cooking; the guy you always bump into at the water cooler could be moonlighting as a software developer. Grandparents, parents, or any family members with more life experience than you are a fountain of wisdom. Ask people you already interact with in your mundane routine about their passions and interests, and you’re bound to learn something.
Bonus tip: if you do get lucky and find yourself chatting with Steven King or Jeff Bezos, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It might feel embarrassing talking to someone who is at such a high level in their field, but you will learn so much more if you can swallow your pride during your interaction.
Find a new way to read
I know I personally spend a lot of time “reading”, but it could be a lot more effective with the right strategy. When time is limited, and it always is, you have to be choosey about what you spend your time reading. In other words, you’re going to have to use some self-discipline and skip a few news articles, opinion pieces and Buzzfeed posts and focus your precious free time on whatever is meaningful to you right now.
And when you do make the time to read something useful, employ techniques so that you retain as much of it as possible, like chunking and reflection or note-taking. Don’t let any of that valuable information slip through the cracks.
Use the internet to your advantage
Most of us spend many hours each day online, and a good portion of that time could be put to better use. Similar to point two, you have to use your internet time wisely if you want to fit learning and growth into your hectic schedule.
Set a timer and limit yourself to 30 minutes of social media, and use the remaining time that you would have spent pinning photos of exotic locations on Pinterest, filled with wanderlust, to start an online language course or watch a TED talk about cultural topics. Try some basic programming lessons or test your skills with an investment simulator. Or let yourself fall into the rabbit hole of reading Wikipedia – but don’t let the infinite amount of information available online go to waste.
Learn on the job
You can kill two birds with one stone by incorporating learning into your regular work schedule. If you work for a large company, formal training may be available, or you might be able to informal training from a coworker in their area of expertise. Self-employed and thinking about starting an e-commerce store? Sounds like the perfect time to learn the basics of WooCommerce or Magento – just make sure you don’t get paralyzed in the “learning” stage to the detriment of your productivity in other areas of your business.
Learning something new doesn’t have to require hours of dedicated study. Opportunities to learn new tidbits abound every single day – you just have to look for them.