How to Make Time for Your Professional Learning Goals


During the past few summers, I’ve started a little tradition. Since I tend to have the house all to myself in the early morning, I sneak into my office and take some online courses. The daily sessions last about 30 minutes, before I start work for the day.

It’s been very beneficial, as I’ve brushed up on PHP and JavaScript, among other subjects. Not to mention that, unlike my school days, I’ve actually had fun learning new things.

I was looking forward to taking up the tradition again this year. But then the world went and changed. Suddenly, a pandemic meant that bit of extra time for learning just wouldn’t be there in the mornings.

To be blunt, the disruption of my precious routine is nothing compared to what others are experiencing and have lost. But it got me thinking that a lot of web designers have had to put their own goals on hold.

The question is, how do we manage these disruptions and avoid falling behind?

Free Time Has Always Been Hard to Come By

While COVID-19-related quarantines are the biggest disruption web professionals have faced, they’re not the first. Everyday life also has a way to pulling us away from learning and other personal projects. Just the obligations of running a freelance business or working on various client projects can do it – let alone events outside of work.

In this way, the challenge has always been there. You want to level up your skills, but it seems like there’s never enough time in the day.

Meanwhile, the web continues to move at warp speed. Those at the top of the food chain are building incredible UIs with React, while the rest of us try to figure out why our 3-line jQuery script stopped working.

Leveling up sounds great – but just try to get a quiet moment to work on it. Instead, making it through another day is seen a small victory.

A person using a computer on a messy desk.

Why Goals Still Matter

So many of us, regardless of what niche we work in, put off our professional learning goals. Usually for good reason. They can range from raising children, being a caregiver to family or simply trying to make ends meet.

But the longer the delay, the harder it is to get back into the habit of learning. Plus, it could mean falling further behind on the skills we need to serve clients and compete in the marketplace.

Web design and development are fields that really do require a commitment to keep up with the times. The ability to stay with industry trends is of great importance. None of us want to be stuck using antiquated tools and techniques.

Then there is the personal aspect of learning. When you’re behind, you know it. You’re reminded of it in every tutorial for some fancy new tool, framework or CSS technique.

It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out – and that affects confidence. In turn, that impacts your ability to book new clients and build out your portfolio. It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle.

A person with a raised fist.

The Answer? Make Time, Even If It’s Not Perfect

Each of us has our own style of learning. Not only does it include the methods we prefer to use (video, step-by-step tutorials, etc.), it also encompasses the environment around us.

For example, I really feel at my best in the morning. My head isn’t spinning from all the tasks I’ve had to handle nor the inevitable challenges that pop up. Having that uninterrupted quiet time to learn just works for me.

As difficult as it can be to accept, that idyllic situation just doesn’t exist right now. So, the choice is either to forgo learning or make the effort for self-improvement – even in imperfect conditions.

That may mean brushing up on skills at less-desirable times and when others are buzzing about the house. It may also require an uneven schedule. Maybe it’s a matter of fitting in 30 minutes on Monday night, then 45 minutes on Thursday afternoon.

Disjointed as that is, at least it’s progress. And maybe that’s the bigger point. If we wait for the “perfect” time to level up, we may be waiting for a very long time. Perhaps it’s better to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us, even if they don’t fit our narrow definition of ideal.

In the end, the act of having learned something new is all that matters. The rest are just details.

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