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How to Pick Up New Skills When You Are Busy

Have you ever heard the old saying ‘A year from now you'll wish you had started today.’? Don’t let it happen to you. Learn how to acquire new skills quickly even if you are busy.

Learning a new language, playing on an instrument, finding out the secrets of coding, devoting more time to a sport … We always talk about how we’d like to do things like these, but we rarely get around to actually do any of them.


Barriers and how to overcome them

So why don’t most of us learn new skills regularly? According to Josh Kaufman the writer of “ The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast”  it’s because of three main reasons:


1. Lack of determination - For most of us, the wish to learn something new remains just that … a wish, a vague inclination rather than a plan. 

What to do?

Decide what you are genuinely into. Choose something you are interested in enough to actually devote your time and energy to learn it.


2. Fear - When you start learning something new, it can seem overwhelming at first. You are probably uncertain where to start, how to proceed, what source to choose.  Uncertainty generates fear, a feeling most of us want to avoid and as a result we tend to give up.

What to do?

It’s essential to have a goal, but to feel up to it, break it into more manageable tasks. Do just enough research to know what sub skills you will need, what source to use and set smaller specific goals. Do you want to learn to code? Choose a programming language and focus only on that for a while. Do you want to learn to cook? Pick a couple of easier recipes and concentrate on preparing those dishes. Later on you can always choose other sub skills to learn. 


3. Frustration - English lesson: ‘beginner’ doesn’t mean ‘expert’. That is, you won’t be great at … whatever you choose to learn. Or how Josh says “YOU WILL SUCK. Completely, totally suck.” As a result you might feel stupid and your determination will decline.

What to do?

Remember that you don’t have to master the skill from the very beginning. Having set bite-size tasks, soon you will notice progress and being proud of your accomplishments will help you carry on.

Remove physical barriers. The more effort it takes to practice, the less likely you are going to actually practice. Do you want to learn a new language? Buying the latest manual and then putting it in a drawer won’t do the trick. Keep it handy so that whenever you have 5 minutes you can learn a couple of new words. 

Practice makes perfect. Of course, the best way to feel less and less frustrated is to practice. But don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be hundreds of hours per month. Less than an hour of focused practice each day will be enough. The key is focus and frequency.


I don’t have the time … or do I?

The most common excuse for not learning a new skill is : ‘I don’t have the time.’ Here are a few tips on how to use “wasted” time to pick up a new skill:


  • Chatting time

How much time do you spend on Facebook catching up with friends, watching funny videos or liking others’ photos? An hour? How about the weekends? Two? More? Devote half of it to learn something new and you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll progress.


  • Commuting time

How much time do you spend travelling to work and back? An hour per day? More? This is the perfect time to listen to an audio book or podcast. Do you use public transport? Even better. Watch tutorials or entire courses on your smartphone or your tablet. Make the most of your commuting time.


  • Waiting time

Waiting in line? Waiting to get better during your sick leave? Waiting for your child to finish the piano lesson? Waiting for the soup to be ready? It is your choice what are you using these precious minutes or even hours for.


  • Weekends

While no one wants to spend the whole weekend with work-related activities, I am pretty sure you could find an hour or so when you are actually not doing anything. Determination is all you need. Do you have children? Great! Learn while they are making their homework. It could be motivating to all of you.


  • TV time

How many hours do you spend watching TV? Three hours per day? More? Sacrifice one hour to improve yourself. Do you have a smart TV? Connect it to your notebook or computer. Who said learning must be boring? 


  • Workout time

There’s no rule that says professional training requires you to sit in front of either a book or a laptop. Almost any type of workout can be done while you are listening to a podcast or an audiobook.

Not sure it’s worth the effort? Motivate yourself by checking out the salary you could have by learning new skills.


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