There’s one surefire technique for succeeding in the workplace: keep learning.
Technology changes at a rapid pace; the skills now required in today’s workplaces were little more than ideas a few short years ago. Working in technology means constantly learning and building up your skills; the best employees know how to be resourceful and quick on their (proverbial) feet.
Keeping up with such rapid change involves lots of complicated decisions, information, and emotions—it isn’t easy, which is why not everyone handles it well. You can prepare yourself for the challenges by planning out a few smart strategies in advance, which you can rely on to process those new things.
Gather All the Information You Can
When it comes to learning something new, the best first step is to gather all possible information—that way, you can make a well-informed second, third, and fourth step.
Whether you start with a Google search of a particular topic, or simply ask around at the office, the first thing you should do is come up with a solid list of resources you’ll use to learn the new technology. You could put together a list of online tutorials and instructional guides, for example.
And try to find the highest quality information available. Instead of picking out random books that you hope will help you learn something, find the best books on the topic. Sites such as Quora can help you search through blogs and forums, in order to quickly to compile a list of the best resources available based on what other people already know.
Whenever you attempt to learn something new, start by casting the net wide and collecting a lot of information, so you can get a handle of what you need to do next.
Break It Up Into Pieces
Tackling the big things in life, such as learning to write code, can be overwhelming. In fact, many people hold themselves back from even starting because it all seems too daunting. But every journey—even the huge ones—starts with a single step.
In the first part of this process, you put together a list of resources. After that, begin deconstructing the skill you want to learn, or goal you want to achieve, into its most important elements. Do you want to build a website? Be able to deploy a server into the cloud?
Online tutorials or step-by-step instruction can help break a new skill into its core pieces, but you can also do this yourself. Start with the end goal and work backwards. For example, if you want to learn a new programming language, you don’t have to know its every nuance and detail in order to be productive. Instead, you can approach it from the ground up, learning the pieces that you need to complete a specific task.
Put It Into Practice
You can read about something all you want, but there is no substitute for actually doing it. If you want to build a skill, especially something in technology, the best way is to roll up your sleeves and dive right in.
If you want to round out your resume with an open-source technology, go online and figure out how to contribute to a project that leverages that technology. Every open-source project has a list of open bugs, and a great way to learn the ropes is to take a lower-priority bug and fix it. When you’re first learning a new skill, quantity trumps quality, so it’s better to try a lot of things imperfectly than to try to get everything perfect the first time. Not only does this help you learn, but it also ensures your learning time is productive.
Don’t get hung up on making every tiny detail perfect; instead, focus on understanding the key elements and plowing forward.
(Working on open-source projects also has the added benefit of showcasing your work publicly—which can be hard for some programmers when they spend all their time contributing to proprietary software.)
The most important thing when building a new skill is to practice it. As with learning a new language or musical instrument, you have to carve out the time to practice if you actually want to get better. Set a weekly appointment with yourself, just as you would with a language class or piano lessons, and focus on building your new skill.
You know that multitasking is bad for your productivity. Distractions can make it impossible to learn. If you are dedicated to learning something new, then dedicate the time—turn everything else off and focus on just that task. If you only have an hour each week to devote to learning, make that hour count.
Before you start each practice session with your new skill, you should have a plan. What are the steps that you outlined earlier? Which one are you going to tackle this week? When you finish that task, lay out your work for the next week. If you start each session with a clear directive on what you are going to do, it will make the time that much more productive.
Re-Evaluate and Self-Correct
You’ve probably heard that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Well, the reality is that you don’t need to be an expert to leverage a skill or land a job in a particular area; you just need to learn enough to be proficient. Given how many new technologies have only been around a couple of years, even the “experts” have (relatively) limited experience.
If you want to be good, you need to focus on feedback. If you are dedicating the time and focusing on trying a lot of things, being able to evaluate your progress is key.
This can mean enlisting the oversight of an expert such as a mentor or coach, or using a training aide such as a smartphone to video-record your performance. Whatever the tool, you want to constantly evaluate and correct yourself. With this feedback loop, you can see where you need to improve and incorporate it on the next go. Then it will just be a matter of time, and enough practice, before you get pretty good.
When you have a plan for how you’ll tackle new skills, it becomes so much easier to learn on the fly and become productive fast—no matter what the challenge. Once you have a process, you can refine it as new challenges arise.
Becoming someone who is resourceful and adept at learning quickly will make you an incredibly valuable member of any team. This skill, more than any other, can translate across so many different roles and can help take you to the next level at any stage in your career.
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