Becoming a Better You: A Guide to Self-Learning While Working Full-Time

Working almost any full-time job can be taxing. Finding time to learn a new skill or get a degree while maintaining productivity often seems like a near-impossible goal for those trying to pursue it. And yet, millions of people do it every day – and so can you. Imagine holding down that job while pursuing an AACSB online MBA – not easy, right? Even if you’re engaging in self-directed learning, you’re going to need that same level of discipline and commitment to get the results you’re after. But with determination, good time management, and a vision for what you want, anything is possible.

What do you really want?

That vision bit is key. Taking time out of an already-busy day simply isn’t going to happen if you don’t have a clear idea of why you’re doing it. Forget motivation, willpower, any of that – it’s all for nothing if you’re not working towards a real goal. There are going to be times where you’ll feel burnt out or even hopeless, and the only thing that can keep you going when you’re running on empty is the thought of reaching your real endgame. Before you set yourself down this path, you have to be ready to commit yourself to it one-hundred percent, and that means you really have to know what you want.

And that’s just the beginning.

Finding Time to Make Time

When it comes to executing your vision, time management might be the most important skill you can learn. There are only so many hours in a day, and you’re going to need to be making optimal use of them if you’re going to actually learn anything while maintaining a normal working schedule. Sure, if you were going for a degree, you could crunch before the tests and eek out a passing grade in the first year or two, but even in school, when it comes time to apply all of the accumulated knowledge you should have been gathering up and putting together like one giant puzzle in your later courses, you’re going to come up short if you’re just scraping by.

Self-directed learning is no different. In fact, it might be even more important to have a truly complete knowledge base of whatever skill or subject you’re teaching yourself; after all, with a degree, you have credentials to fall back on, and you can always get a foot in the door. But as a self-learner, you have to be ready and able to prove that you have the knowledge and skills before anyone will even give you the time of day. If you’re going to use self-taught knowledge to compete for credentialed candidates in a job, you’ve got to be ready to come out guns blazing in an interview.

That kind of competence and truly integrated knowledge doesn’t come from cramming in an hour or two of studying here and there. It’s built up over weeks and months and years by taking time out of every single day to keep your knowledge fresh, and to make sure that you’re truly absorbing and synthesizing all of that new knowledge.

Follow the Yes

This is where passion comes in. If you’re not passionate about something, it’s not going to remain part of your long-term vision for your future, and you’re not going to be able to convince yourself to find the time to sink real time into it every day. And finding that passion is no easy task – it takes some people decades to figure out what they’re really energized by. After all, finding a skill that is both energizing and marketable is something that people build whole careers out of – that’s why schools pay good money to make career counseling available to their students. It’s important to be patient with yourself while trying out new skills, exploring different career paths, and engaging in a wide variety of work to ensure that whatever you wind up investing your time in is something you are truly willing to devote yourself to, because you’re going to be learning and doing a lot of it!

Only the Best

To make good use of that precious time, and to ensure that the knowledge you put so much energy into acquiring is actually correct and useful, it’s important to choose the right resources to guide your learning and derive your knowledge. There are plenty of learning tools to choose from – the web is populated with a myriad of online universities, self-learning tools, and vast reserves of accumulated human knowledge. Before you start betting the proverbial farm on one of them, it’s important to do plenty of background research on your source material to make sure you aren’t sinking time into knowledge that isn’t going to produce a return for the time you invest in it.

This is one reason many people choose to pursue education at universities rather than guiding their own learning journey. Any accredited university has to live up to certain standards, and their graduates are guaranteed to have specific knowledge that is relevant to operating in the field of their degree, so it’s always a safe choice for an employer to hire a university graduate over someone who has taught themselves how to do the job. There are definitely high-quality learning resources out there available for free to self-learners – in fact, many universities now open source their curriculum, or even publish lectures on YouTube or for viewing or downloading on their own websites. These resources would be a great place to start if you’re trying to cultivate a knowledge base that you want to turn into a marketable skill someday.

Location, location, location

Now that you’ve set aside time in your schedule to learn something that you’re passionate about from a trustworthy resource, your next step is to ensure that you have an environment that’s conducive to learning. That means different things for different people: some learn best in a classroom, others can hop on a laptop in a cafe and plug away; still others need to be in a secluded, quiet place to truly absorb whatever it is they’re focused on. Whatever that means for you, you’ve got to find it and cultivate it.

This is another step that can take some time to establish. It makes sense to try out everything available to you. Learning at home is a great place to start: it’s convenient, it’s free, and you probably have everything you need already! For some people, it’s as simple as curling up on the couch or in bed with a laptop or book, and just getting down to business.

If you’ve tried learning at home but it isn’t working out, it’s good to remember that there are always free spaces available. And if that’s what you have to do, that’s ok: maybe you have video games, roommates, or a partner and kids at home that wind up distracting you. If that’s the case, it’s time to branch out and explore new venues. Public libraries can be a great place to focus if you can’t carve out a niche at home: they’re usually quiet, most offer free wifi, and there’s usually plenty of seating and different nooks and crannies available to pick a cozy spot to study from.

Distractions are dangerous, but some people need a bit of activity around them to focus. For whatever reason, it’s just tough for some people to focus when it’s too quiet. If that’s you, you might find it beneficial to study in a cafe or restaurant. Having a bit of a buzz around you can be relaxing for extroverts who require a healthy dose of socializing to feel their best. More of us than would care to admit it actually enjoy being seen as productive and engaging in our intellectual pursuits – sometimes just that subtle feeling of social expectation can be enough to help some people focus better. Vanity may be a vice, but if it’s something that actually helps you study, there’s no shame in harnessing your instincts to get the job done. Sometimes knowing yourself is half the battle.

Find your People

When it’s not, knowing others can be just as useful. It really pays to be in touch with people who know your subject cold. This might be the single most important asset of a university: there’s no replacement for being surrounded by experts in your field and other people going through exactly the same learning journey that you are, enduring your same struggles, and doing it all in the same environment and using the same tools that are available to you. But school isn’t accessible or helpful for everyone, and if you’re committed to self-directed learning it’s no less important to engage a knowledge community if you want to learn your subject well enough to turn it into a marketable skill.

This is where the internet really shines for self-directed learning. For any skills you could ever want to learn, there are a million and one resources: apps, websites, forums, subReddits; the list goes on. Never forget that you stand on the shoulders of giants, and some of them are still alive and posting on the internet. You might be surprised how many of them are willing to answer your questions, or, if you’re lucky, maybe even take on a mentorship role for you. The point is, they’re out there – go find them!

Just Do It

Whether you wind up curled up in the library reading a book by yourself or are lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a captain of industry, never stop taking notes. Even when you’re re-learning something you already know, never underestimate the value of writing it down over and over and over again. It’s a simple but time-tested method that many of us become frustrated or impatient with during school, but it is well and truly one of the best, most universal ways to absorb the knowledge you need to remember and integrate it into your understanding of the subject.

Carrots and Sticks

Last but not least, remember to reinforce your learning process. Hold yourself accountable and stick to that schedule. If you’re committing to studying something every day, and you’re investing time and energy into acquiring a new skill, you shouldn’t let yourself off the hook if you come up short. That doesn’t mean you have to obsess over every shortcoming or self-flagellate for missing a single study session, but discipline isn’t free – you need to hold yourself accountable.

You need to celebrate your wins too, though. You can’t just harass yourself and feel bad for not being good enough. Positive reinforcement is the best way to keep yourself motivated and ensure that you can push through the hard times. Rewarding yourself for success will help give you the drive to keep coming back for more and more, and that’s how you truly build a useful skill.

Learning on your own can be a real challenge, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, anyone can do it! The resources available to us on the internet today, even for free, would make our ancestors green with envy. Imagine, the entire accumulated knowledge of humanity, at your fingertips: that’s what you hold every time you hold your smartphone or sit down at a computer. Don’t underestimate the power it gives you; learn to use it to accomplish your goals, and you’ll never take it for granted again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *