19 Jun 2016

Learning Regularly Despite a Busy Schedule

Learning on busy schedules is actually possible.

Below are some of the most useful methods I’ve come across for learning without devoting too much time to doing so.

They’re listed in order from the least to most time intensive. The idea is to point out that anyone, a CEO or a waitress working three jobs can employ at least the top few in her life. There are so many unexploited pockets of time in our days that can easily be flipped into learning opportunities.

1. Pocket

We’ve all found articles or have been emailed articles at entirely random times or times when we couldn’t actually sit down and read the article. And we’ve also all been bored on a bus, train or car. Pocket solves these inefficiencies.

Pocket allows you to save articles via a Google Chrome/Safari extension and download those articles to your phone/device for offline reading. That way, in those pockets of awkward time, in line to get food, on the subway, or at the doctor’s office, you can easily read the articles you’ve saved to Pocket, which will automatically appear downloaded for you even if you’re off wifi.

Usually, when I’m doing work on my desktop and come across articles, I’ll save them to Pocket. After about a month of doing this, I’ve effectively created a perfectly curated magazine for myself.

On top of that, Pocket now serves as my article storage and organization system — any articles I particularly like, I’ll save them in Pocket and refer back to my Favorites category if I ever need to retrieve them. Pocket’s archive also lets you see all the articles you’ve previously saved and read.

On top of that, the app analyzes your selections and, based on similar users, suggests articles you’d like which tend to actually match your preferences.

Setup Time Required

Takes 5-10 minutes to create an account and download the web extension here and save a few articles for later.

2. Podcasts

What are podcasts?

Podcasts are radio stations with episodes of content. Each podcast has different episodes, and there are podcasts of all different genres – education, comedy, arts, business, science, health, Spanish etc. So whether you’re interested in learning about history (Revisionist History), learning about Meditation (10% Happier), listening to TED talks (Ted Radio Hour), or listening to a science-comedy show (The Infinite Monkey Cage), there’s a podcast for you.

Podcasts are the perfect time-creators, because you can easily do them while doing mindless or physical tasks — while driving, running errands, standing in line, etc.

They’re bit-sized (30 minutes – 1 hour long) and vary across topics so you can select which podcast you’re in the mood for.

Setup Time Required

After the initial setup and subscribing of your favorite podcasts, occasional ‘podcast maintenance’ – i.e. switching to iTunes, making sure the ones you want are downloaded to your device, etc. is very low.

How to Start

Time to Setup: ~ 30 min

For iOS listeners, this guide will get you going in about 30 minutes. Podcasts integrate seamlessly with the iTunes store and the Apple podcasts app, so listening to podcasts is a simple matter of downloading the podcast in the iTunes store and syncing your device, much like iTunes music.

For Android listeners, there are a number of apps to choose from – some paid, some free. A popular free app is Stitcher, with a guide on getting started here.

3. Listen to Audiobooks

Audiobooks are quite simply, books read aloud - better suited for longer commutes and uninterrupted listening sessions. Always wanted to read Steve Jobs’ biography? Or Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers? You can, without the downtime of sitting down and physically reading the book.

This works best with books that are engaging – I’ve listened to a number of books that simply weren’t and the overall effect led to some serious mind wandering. So if the book you’re listening to happens to be particularly dull, skip it and move on.

Audiobooks work best for lighter books – books that don’t require heavy pondering or note-taking. Sometimes it’s hard to figure that out in advance but when I get it wrong (i.e. read a book chock full of ideas I should be taking notes on), I usually grab a copy and read it the old-fashioned way.

Setup Time Required

The time to listen to audiobooks usually involves the time to find it, buy it, and download it to your device. If you intend to buy your audiobooks or use Audible or Audiobooks.com, it can get a bit pricey, unlike podcasts, which are free. However, you get the benefit of listening to well crafted and well developed books – from Harry Potter if you choose, to virtually any modern book in existence.

How to Start

My recommendation would be to:

  1. Think of the books you’ve most wanted to read. If you don’t have one in mind, you can search a subject you’re interested in on Amazon (“raising kids”) and find books that are highly rated and start there.
  2. Find the audiobook version (here are some free audiobook links).
  3. Download to your device. Use this guide for iOS devices and this guide for Android.

4. Learning from Others

I include this here because I think, at a loss of all the tech-y stuff above, you can still prioritize learning in daily life via other people. For me, this is normally in the form of starting a conversation with someone and aiming to walk away having learned at least 1 new thing from that conversation.

It could be anything – learning a fact from that person or analyzing that person, conversation, or situation to learn something about human nature, yourself, your preferences in others, etc.

With earnest questioning and by asking about things I’m genuinely interested in (which also helps to avoid superficial small talk), I’m usually able to walk away having learned at least one thing. And if it doesn’t work out (say it ends up being fairly superficial or I lose my courage and become shy), I try again with another person in another coffee line or at the subway.

Setup Time Required

I think here, the more relevant unit is ‘courage required’.

For me, it takes a lot of courage to get out of my comfort zone (and off my phone) to start up a conversation with someone next to me. Sometimes even that isn’t enough. For that reason, sometimes I incorporate it into my personal habits list, or in other words, aim to have a conversation with X number of new people per week, and checkmark and tally the number of times I do so. Either way, it pays off.

5. Maintaining a Things I Learned List

By reflecting at the end of the day, what you’ve learned earlier, you’ll force yourself to remember and notice ‘learned lessons’ of the day - both when writing it down and during the day.

Setup Time Required

10 minutes a day and the ability to keep doing it and make it a long-standing habit – that’s the hardest part. A good way of making it a long-standing habit is to pair it with another routine – for example, pairing it with your bedtime routine.

6. eBooks

And last but not least, eBooks! Otherwise known as books on the go, or at home, or really anywhere, because they’re eBooks! Once these are downloaded, reading it on the go becomes a preference and not an obligation.

Setup Time Required

In this case you need to dedicate time to actually reading – but this can be on the go if you don’t have time otherwise.

How to Start

As with audiobooks, you should:

  1. Think of the books you’ve most wanted to read. If you don’t have one in mind, you can search a subject you’re interested in on Amazon (“how to build charisma”) and find books that are highly rated and start there.

  2. Find the eBook version (either posted free online or in Amazon via the Kindle app) and download to your device.