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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How to Keep Learning When You Already Have a Busy Schedule

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Let's face it, once life hits—when your career is on a roll and you've got a few hobbies (and maybe even a family)—time becomes a hot commodity. You can barely make it to the office on time in the morning, let alone do much for yourself before or after work.

When that happens, things that used to be important wind up on the back burner. Among them: learning and development to grow your knowledge base and skills.

It's not that employers are leaving us in the lurch. According to ClearCompany, an HR software provider, U.S. employers spent $70 billion on training and development in 2016. But what about the things you actually want to learn, not just the things you need to learn for work?

We've got you covered. Below, we've outlined super easy ways to keep learning no matter how packed your schedule.

Get Lost on YouTube

We all wind up on YouTube for one reason or another. But, next time you go down a rabbit hole, do it on a subject that interests you (rather than the cash me outside girl). Fitness, fashion, astrophysics—there are countless knowledgeable people sharing their expertise for free. And, for the record, countless not-so-knowledgeable people, so look for signs of credibility like academic credentials, professional certifications, a big following, or just a general air of competence.

Don't write it all off as fluff. There are real, hard skills you can learn. For example, there are entire channels dedicated to Excel, Photoshop and other programs that can give you a leg up at work or take your hobby to the next level. How seriously you take the instruction is entirely up to you.

Spend Your Work Education Dollars

Bigger employers with deeper pockets usually offer some kind of employee education perk. Every employer has their own rules for how the money should be spent, but generally it's doled out on an annual basis, has to be related to your job in some way, and, of course, requires sign-off from the boss.

Regardless of how it works, make a point of spending it. If the obvious options seem boring—a software or data analysis class—get creative. How about a vocal coach to brush up on your presentation skills? A design class to build the branded collateral your department's been needing?

If you're too busy to spend it on anything outside of work, try to use it for a conference or summit that takes place during the workday. And, don't count out online courses from accredited institutions for certifications that can bolster your resume and your knowledge base.

Build Audiobooks Into Your Routine

Most learning requires reading, but who has the time? Audiobooks and podcasts can be a hack that make it easy to digest new material. All you need is your phone, headphones and a commute, some gym time, or another listening-friendly point in your day.

Audiobooks have never been easier to access. Ditto podcasts, which you can find on Spotify, Apple Music or countless other places online. The subjects available are almost endless and a ton of them are free. So, there's no excuse not to get your listening and learning on!

Find a Mentor

A work mentor that you can turn to on the fly for advice and guidance is an invaluable way to keep growing in your personal and professional life, without carving out too much conventional “learning" time. Mentors can transfer valuable knowledge accumulated through experience, and if they know you, and your strengths and weaknesses, they can push you to grow in ways you might otherwise stagnate.

The best mentor-mentee relationships happen naturally and even informally. That said, some workplaces set up formal mentor programs based on career track and other factors. If you don't already have one, these tips can help you begin your search. Easy places to start: the senior people in your division at work, industry networking events and meet-ups, alumni groups, and LinkedIn.

Embed in Culture

Museums, documentaries, and TED talks—all fair game to keep your learning up. And, the best part is they can serve double duty as entertainment. You can save them for weekends and go/watch/listen with friends or family and no one's the wiser that you're actually trying to learn something new about art, history, or whatever the subject happens to be.

To get in the habit of paying better attention to culture, sign up for newsletters and opt-in to notifications for events in your area, and subscribe to the news outlets and websites that interest you.

Learning doesn't have to be about going back to school or taking classes. Truth is, most people don't have time for that. But that's not an excuse to stop learning. Follow these tips to keep your mind and skills fresh without a major time commitment.