Starting something new can be intimidating, especially given how busy our schedules tend to be. But by building learning into your everyday life, you'll wind up reaping the benefits — and it doesn't have to be an overwhelming mission to embark on.
Many of today's most effective leaders use something called the 5-hour rule, which ensures that at least five of your hours each week are spent enriching your mind in some way. At first, a whole five free hours may sound hard to come by. The trick lies in carving aside manageable chunks of learning time throughout the week to the point where it will soon it become a daily habit.
Below are seven simple ways to make learning a part of your day-to-day life (and improve your mental agility as a result).
1. Listen to a podcast
Get more out of your commute by playing podcasts on your way to work. Whether you take mass transit or drive yourself each morning, listening to a podcast is a great way to gain knowledge while performing another task. Any time you have a moment to yourself and a free ear, you have time to learn. You can even plug in while cooking dinner or shopping.
Make a difference in your community and build your own knowledge while doing it! Volunteering one night a week is a great way to acquire new skills and learn new things. Wherever you decide to go, you can pick up the skills required to be successful at what you’re doing. It's an awesome way to connect to your community. You never know who you'll meet, and interacting with people from different walks of life for just a couple of hours a week will teach you a tremendous amount in a short amount of time.
You don’t have to break the bank to expand your mind. Search your local library’s online catalogue to see what books they have. If you’re crunched for time, you can request that the materials you want are placed on a hold shelf, so you can quickly pick them up at your convenience. Then, set aside a little time each day to read. If you need motivation, start by setting a goal of reading one chapter in the evening before allowing yourself to watch TV or use social media. Or if you're more of a morning person, swap out scrolling with your morning coffee for a book!
4. Take a class
Many libraries offer free classes with instruction on anything from computer skills to poetry workshops. You can take a class at a nearby community college one or two nights a week after work, as well. If you have the desire to learn a new skill, there’s likely an affordable way to do it; many classes offer free tuition in exchange for note taking, for instance.
5. Ask for special projects at work
Find chances to learn in your work day by seeking out opportunities to be taught new skills on the job. If you’ve been hoping to learn how to use a specific program or system, an easy way to ensure learning opportunities is to ask for additional projects that require use of that product. Making it known that you’re eager to learn will help elevate your professional brand, too.
6. Watch documentaries
Turn your next Netflix marathon into an educational one. When you unwind with TV, instead of turning on a mindless sitcom, check out one of the many documentaries available through streaming services.
7. Download an app
There are many apps available that can help you pick up new skills during your downtime. If you’re interested in learning a new language, download an app like Duolingo to get started. Interested in developing a mindfulness practice? Apps such as Headspace and Calm teach the basics of mediation. Whatever your goal is, you should be able to find a way to learn the basics through your phone.
All in all, there are many different ways to keep learning without taking too much time out of your day. Where there’s a will to learn, there’s definitely a way.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.