You know the symptoms—stiff neck, dry eyes, brainpower of a zombie. The telltale signs of another marathon session at your laptop grinding away on a spreadsheet or sitting through the day’s fourth video meeting. You love your job, but you definitely don’t always love your computer.
Even though working with computers is a fact of working life for almost everyone nowadays, even the most devoted techie has to step away from his or her machine sometimes and get some fresh air.
Here are four fun, fast, and virtually free ways you can leave the gadgets behind and still move forward with your learning. Bye bye, chiropractor. Hello, technical talents!
1. Listen to a Podcast
In case you haven’t heard, podcasts are a respectable thing now. And they’re not all crime investigations or comedians horsing around. In fact, tech is one of the most popular topics for podcasts. That means there’s an impressive array of programs to choose from. So, whether you want to get quickly caught up on tech news or dive deep into a certain field, you’ll find one to help you learn more about your interests. For free!
Plus, you can listen right from your phone just about anywhere and anytime—commuting, doing the dishes, working out, or even when taking a shower. (Waterproof phone case highly recommended.)
True story: Podcasts actually inspired me to change my career and go into tech, and they’re still my main source of information about the industry. A few of my favorites include:
2. Reach Out to Colleagues
Another low-cost but high-value way to expand your knowledge of the tech world is to make connections in the real world. Forget the stereotypes of recluse programmers and lone wolf hackers; the tech community thrives on getting together in person.
You can find peers to learn alongside and mentors to learn from at tech meetups. Or you can learn from masters in the field at conferences and industry events. And don’t let being a beginner stand in the way. Everyone loves an enthusiastic newcomer, as long as you come prepared knowing how to network correctly. I proved this theory by becoming a Rails Girls organizer at the very first meeting I ever went to.
Pro tip: When you attend an event, don’t just take part in the planned program. Spending time talking to people about their work, their skill sets, and their start in tech will almost always inspire you in your own career.
3. Explain it to Someone Else
Don’t keep your tech to yourself. Sharing what you’re working on or learning with someone else is an effective way to solidify the concepts you’re using in your own mind. That’s because you’ll need to understand them well yourself if you want to help another person comprehend them down the road.
And you don’t necessarily have to talk to a person about your code or project. You can use the “rubber ducky technique” that many tech professionals use when they need to think through a dilemma. The technique calls for you to explain whatever problem or idea you’re dealing with to one of those cute little bath toys. But you can replace the duck with a teddy bear, your five-year-old niece, a patient friend, a kind houseplant, or a family member.
The less tech-inclined your listener, the better it will be for you because you’ll have to explain the topic without relying on shared knowledge or insider’s jargon. And, in the case of “live listeners,” you’ll have the chance to answer any questions they come up with—an especially demanding task if you’ve chosen the pre-schooler or your grandmother as your audience. (Not so much if you go with the plant.)
4. Do Something Different
Believe it or not, but you can find an offline hobby that will improve your digital skills. Thinking about tech concepts outside of their typical environment forces you to see them in new ways—which ultimately helps you to understand them better. Try painting to refine your sense of color for web design or playing chess to strengthen your logical thinking or tinkering with tools for programming.
Your skills can even benefit from hobbies that aren’t so directly related to tech. My passion is country line dancing (somebody has to do it!), and believe it or not, I’m constantly finding parallels between that and learning to code. (Practice makes perfect, and preparation pays off, to name a couple!)
Also, as you know, being offline for awhile and focusing on something you enjoy is guaranteed to give you more energy when you get back to your desk. Not a bad benefit from having a good time.
So, if you want to get to the next level with your digital skills, try stepping away from your computer every now and then. The time away can still be an investment in your learning, and a fun one at that.