Thoughts on quality & productivity, in and out of the office.

Learning: A step into the unknown


We know how important learning is and how even a small investment can yield impressive compounding results in the long term. So, what steers us away from making the effort?

Irrational resistance

Whether you are working to build a learning culture within your team, or trying to spur on a static colleague, the defensive responses you’ll stumble across will run along the following lines:

“I don’t have time”
“My boss hasn’t sent me on any courses”
“I’m a practical learner”
“I can’t afford it”

Inconvenient truths

Boil the above excuses down and we uncover two key underlying reasons:


Learning something new can be daunting. It’s a step into the unknown, where we invariably uncover more unknowns. It’s easy to worry about whether we’ll be up to the challenge and fear the negative feelings we’ll have to face if we fall short. This is particularly evident in situations where we might expose failures to others, even though they are unlikely to eventuate.

Neophobia is natural but very limiting automatic response to change. We can either hide from it, or harness it as a tool to help propel us toward our goal. Framing it as a motivator or a fear makes all the difference.


We’ve all been there, running around in a flurry of activity, battling our way through a long to-do list of tasks that upon honest reflection aren’t important at all. Small matters that, when completed, trigger a sense of accomplishment but aren’t truly productive or important. The reward that the busyness trap brings is habit forming and the longer it goes on the harder the habit is to break.

15 minutes of reading time per day adds up to nearly 100 hours over a year.

Taking a step back we can see that we’re the ones responsible for our time, our priorities and our productivity. A good, honest look at our schedules will quickly identify opportunities to free up time. Whether it be a simple as repurposing our commute, switching those brunch meetings out for more conveniently timed breakfast ones, or just getting up earlier. All the little adjustments and resulting pockets of time add up. And that’s before we start removing less fruitful commitments from our lives.

Time doesn’t allocate itself, and letting others allocate it for us will ensure we never find time for the important.

Beginning something new

There are metaphorical cliffs standing between us and anything that is new or unknown. Once traversed, these mental mountains never stand as tall as they appeared from below.

Starting is the hardest part.

  1. Start small and make it a habit:
    Block out a small amount of time per day. Add a little more time each week. See where it takes you. It’s not a race and there is no finish line. Progress is all that matters and a sustainable routine will deliver the best results.
  2. Leverage personal passions:
    Study what interests you even if it seems irrelevant to your current situation, job, life. It’s surprising how seemingly unrelated topics come to overlap. These unexpected intersections often present the most valuable and exciting opportunities.
  3. Challenge traditional mediums:
    Thick textbooks surely contain a lot of information, but they are designed fit a certification focussed learning model that rewards endurance over learning outcomes. Branch out; consider not just traditional books but a mix of podcasts, blog articles, online video courses, audio books, meet ups, discussion forums. Invent experiments to get your hands dirty and learn through practical experience. Variety keeps it fun and exposes a wealth of different perspectives for a fraction of the cost of traditional tertiary education.
  4. Track progress:
    Keep a list of ideas you have in the form of learning opportunities. Set achievable goals and chip away at them, setting aside time for a regular reflection session to review your progress and what you’ve learned.

We often believe we can’t afford the time it takes, but the opposite is true: None of us can afford not to learn.

Thoughts on quality & productivity, in and out of the office.

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