If you’re in a field and thinking of learning some new things, either to be able to work on other areas or change your career completely, you’ll find yourself learning in your free time.
One thing we need to make clear however, is if you’re learning something to be able to do your current job, you need to do it in your working hours. Not in your free time. You’re paid to do a job, yes. But you also need to grow. And when you grow, it’s beneficial for you and the company you’re working for. For you, it makes you professional career grow. For the company, it has someone who can do a different thing now and have a wide perspective.
Learning in your free time needs discipline and planning. Because if you get it wrong, you can hurt yourself more than helping.
When I wanted to switch my career to web development, I’ve chosen to do it on the side as my daily work was on a completely different domain (Cloud operations). I remember I was learning whenever I can. After work, on the weekends, and whenever I can find some free time.
This worked for some time as I was learning all this new knowledge and I was happy. But this was optimized for the short term only. As time passes, I started dedicating more time to learning than my own mental health. To the point when I hated everything and was hit by a burnout.
After some rest and I tried to retry the process. But I repeated the same mistakes. As you may guessed, I was hit by burnout multiple times over and over again. So it was time to stop and reflect on what happened.
I started investing more time on the process itself rather than the quantity. And the results exceeded my expectations in the first few weeks. But I wasn’t sure it’s actually working. I was thinking, maybe it’s just a placebo, and I feel that because it’s a completely new thing and I’m excited about it. But that kept working for a long time. So I started thinking: “Hmmm maybe it’s working”. Then I started seeing the same rise of awareness about mental health and about the process in my Twitter feed from other people writing about the topic and experiencing the same things as me. So, I knew I’m doing it right this time.
I’ve been there, I’ve done that. And I don’t want you to go that path. Falling in burnout is terrible. Not thinking about your mental and physical health is even worse. So I hope my following 3 steps, guide will help you navigate better:
It’s easy to say I’ll start learning every day after work, and in the weekends. Yeah, you just created a cage for yourself.
I wanted to start with this instead of anything else: Rest! If you don’t rest, you’re basically buying a VIP ticket to burnout.
Plan your rest time as you plan your learning time. Don’t think you’re losing time if you’re resting. You’re just making your brain rest and linking all those new information to existing ones. Cramming lot of things in one shot isn’t helpful in the long term.
Rest time need to be chosen by each individual regarding his own schedules. For me it was a mixture of two schedules:
- One hour learning everyday after work. Rest Friday and weekend
- 4 hours in Saturday morning. Rest all week
I used to switch between those two schedules for two reasons: When I start developing a boring routine. Or when I know I’m not free in the weekdays.
Also make sure to plan some long rests. For example, after finishing a part of what you’re learning. A chapter or a chunk. Get some long rest for a week at least. It’s deserved. Reward yourself.
What makes us not miss a doctor appointment, but miss our own schedules and goals? We miss them because we aren’t disciplined if there is no external factor pushing us to be so.
In the case of a doctor appointment, the doctor (an external factor) generally tells you that you need to come in this day and that hour. And if you miss it, you probably need to wait for another appointment. So we tend to stick to it, because we know we’re going to regret it if we don’t.
But when it comes to ourself, and our goals. We just say, I’m going to do it by the end of the week. And for that, I’ll do small tasks each day. But you know, deep in your mind, that if you can’t do it today, you still can do it tomorrow. And you keep thinking like that until the last day. So you cram everything.
This can be changed if we introduce an external factor. For your goals you can just announce them publicly: “I’m going to do X by the end of the month“. And now you have an external factor. There are people who take it a little bit further and pledge X amount of money if they don’t do it. And when it comes to money, people tend to stick so they don’t lose it 🙂
When learning something new, the external factor you can apply is planning. Your calendar is here to plan things for you and play as an external factor.
I also used to plan when exactly I’m going to learn. If I say “after work”. It can mean anything between 7 and 11 PM. So I usually plan for 8 to 9 PM. The time to get some food. Because food is ❤
To make all this work, you need discipline!
Sticking to things is the most challenging part of this plan. Especially when your friends are celebrating something and you’re learning in home. It’s not always easy.
As I said in the first part, you need to rest and make exceptions sometime. Don’t put yourself in a prison. It’s normal to skip some sessions. And you’ll skip some, either you like it or not. But don’t skip a lot to the point of losing that momentum.
My rule was: as long as I don’t skip a whole week worth of learning. Then it’s ok. Skipping one or two sessions in favor of meeting some friends or celebrating something isn’t bad. It’s actually better. And it will give you more energy to push harder.
All this to say, stick to the plan. But when you can’t. Just know it’s normal. Don’t punish yourself. But don’t skip a lot of sessions.
That’s it, that’s the plan you need. You don’t need some crazy things like waking up by 5 AM. Learning until your head explode… Always, quality before quantity.
If I need to summarize the process in an easy to remember quote, I would say:
Pick a schedule. Plan your sessions. And stick to the plan. That’s your polar star. Follow it.
And given I want you to follow the plan to succeed. I also hope you follow this blog for future articles like this one. Just head to the home page and use your email in the subscription box.
And if you have anything to share or any feedback, please let me know using the contact page.