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I find myself lagging behind on new skills, techniques, language features, etc, and I am finding the time to do so is lacking. Between work, professional, personal and family obligations, I'm lucky to find a few stray hours here and there to focus on any new technologies or reading that I want or need to do. I do make it out to relevant local user groups, but even those are sometimes hard to get to?

So I thought I would ask the community, where, or when, do you find the time to focus on honing your skills or learning new ones? Do you schedule time? Forgo some sleep during the week or weekend? Insomnia? Something else?

EDIT I want to thank all of you who took the time to answer and offer up your advice. There were some things I knew or had thought about, and others I hadn't considered as an option until you shed new light on it.

EDIT 2: In trying to find which answer among the many great ones to accept, I went with @Paddyslacker's since it is the one I feel is best suited for my current situation, although everyone had some very good nuggets of wisdom, such as @Elisha @Martin or @dash-tom-bang.

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closed as off topic by Mark Trapp Jan 28 '12 at 2:39

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Something in the back of my head tells me there is another thread on this, though perhaps at SO. –  Mark C Oct 6 '10 at 5:24
    
@Mark C: although not identical these two are relevant: stackoverflow.com/questions/930562/… & stackoverflow.com/questions/76364/… –  Chris Oct 6 '10 at 11:43
    
And careeroverflow.com/questions/1523/… which I answered there. –  Kate Gregory Oct 6 '10 at 12:13
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I am so busy.. I never find the time. –  JD Isaacks Oct 6 '10 at 13:12
    
Try GTD –  bigown Dec 10 '10 at 14:43

9 Answers 9

up vote 61 down vote accepted

Let me start by saying I know where you are coming from. I work for a small company with lots of stuff to do and I am a family man with two kids under the age of five. I have no intention of being an absent father or husband, or doing a poor job for my employers, so it is extremely difficult to find the time for new stuff.

I think the trick is to make your goals extremely small and achievable and go from there. Earlier in the year I wanted to write some blog posts. Instead of setting a generic "write some blog posts" goal, I made a micro target of "write for two hours a week; don't worry about whether it's good enough to post." I didn't worry about the larger goal, but instead made sure I achieved the micro goal that ultimately meant I achieved what I wanted.

Right now, I'm interested in BDD frameworks, but rather than have a goal of learning them, my goal is simply to spend 30 minutes a day on them. Even if the 30 minutes is simply downloading and installing cucumber, I'm okay with that. Ultimately, I will achieve my goal.

Someone much wiser than me once said that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time; similarly the only way to hone your skills is in small chunks of time. Rather than stressing about some larger goal, if you focus on freeing up just two hours a week, over the next year that's 100 hours you've dedicated to something new.

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Awesome advice. This made me realize how overly ambitious I am when making goals. +1 –  Terence Ponce Oct 6 '10 at 13:54
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+1 for "the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time" :). Nice answer btw. –  Chankey Pathak Oct 9 '10 at 13:24
    
@Terence, so you need to make sub-goals or perhaps even sub-sub-goals? –  user1249 Oct 9 '10 at 13:26
  1. Make some major sacrifices. E.g., "I really love to do X, but I'm going to give it up for the next 1/3/6/12 months because I need more time for Y right now."

  2. Try to limit interruptions to your work as much as possible: (a) lock the door to your office; (b) turn off your phone; and (c) if possible, set a few appointed times throughout the day to check your email and limit the time you spend reading/replying to it.

  3. Learn to say "No" more often to things that aren't that important to you. E.g., its hard to say "No" when someone asks for your help, but you could politely refer their request to someone else.

  4. If possible, delegate some of your work to someone else. Hire a cleaning service to do everyday tasks. Ask a trusted co-worker to do some of your work and promise to pay them back later in-kind. Take on a partner to split up work responsibilities. I've even heard of people "off-shoring" their own jobs!

  5. Try adopting some new time management skills. For an overview, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_management

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+1 for learning to say no –  user2567 Oct 6 '10 at 7:27
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Wouldn't off-shoring your own job make you redundant? –  configurator Oct 6 '10 at 9:53
    
Oh, and +1 for major sacrifices, but they don't have to be done like that. It's rather easy to find something you dislike about doing that favourite thing of yours and forcing yourself to concentrate on that when you do it. Then, you'll suddenly have a lesser desire to do it for a while until one day you'll try it again and be surprised how good it is. –  configurator Oct 6 '10 at 9:54
    
Be careful with off-shorting your own work... make sure you are allowed to do this under your employment contract. Good answers either way! –  Chris Oct 6 '10 at 11:41

You might find some time during actual work hours. Learning new skills and how to use them in our job is part of the job, me thinks. At least it should be part of the job, and if a business fails to understand that, then that business will have a hard time keeping its people.

Other than that, learn when you can catch up on the latest stuff. What do you do during commuting? Sleep or read the latest blog posts / books? And during the evening - watch tv or read something while keeping the tv on? Etc.

Also, I think learning to say no is a part of it - however, this comes with a disadvantage if used often - you'll be seen as a no-sayer and at last no body wants to deal with you.

Best way to start, however, is to keep it simple and manageable.

And - how loveable ain't this profession? We look for time to actually learn more. That's a great thing and out of that great things will come, given some time!

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+1 for utilizing commute time. I used to take a bus 100mi to work each day: read a lot of books. Then there are these statistics: "Americans spend more than 100 hours commuting to work each year, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. This exceeds the two weeks of vacation time (80 hours) frequently taken by workers over the course of a year. For the nation as a whole, the average daily commute to work lasted about 24.3 minutes in 2003." See census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/… –  A. N. Other Oct 6 '10 at 23:35
    
That's really interesting facts, Elisha. Now imagine what can be done during those 80 hours! –  Martin Söderlund Oct 7 '10 at 6:51

You do not find time. You take time.

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The other school thinks more akin to this. –  Mark C Oct 6 '10 at 22:58

There are 24 hours in a day, every day. You need to decide what you want to do, and you need to prioritize these things versus the other things that you're doing.

Where is the time going? Answering this question may be very sobering. While it may be hard to say you want to cut the hours you spend with loved ones, it may well be here that changes need to be made if doing some "work related" study is important enough to you.

If you do not find that this study is more important than the other things, though, then that's ok (inasmuch as it does not affect your employment). If you value the time you spend doing whatever you do then that's great.

I struggle with this, too, though. Many nights I do "nothing," when in fact I could be writing software, blog posts, books. I struggle with this to be sure, but it's not about finding the time as much as it is putting the things into that time that matter most.

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  • Prioritize. This is actually the hardest part. Are you ready to forgo that trek with your friends to start learning Ruby this Saturday? If not, the trek is your priority, and not learning Ruby.
  • Manage your time well, and strictly. Remember, you have one life. Don't let somebody else manage it for you.
  • It's easy to lose focus when trying to learn new skills when the time you have for learning is interspersed with other, pressing things - like your day job. Having small reachable goals in the near future, say 4 weeks from now, with weekly reviews help you stay on track.

For long term planning, something like this might be helpful - http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/how-to-conduct-your-own-annual-review/

Good Luck!

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Here is what I realized -

"I have tons of time"

Don't waste time taking lunch with people who don't add any value to you, read a blog or something you want to study while taking lunch. = +30mins

If you want to study something, buy an audiobook for it and listen while you commute = +30mins.

I know this will sound silly, but - Time your shower & getting ready routine. I learnt I saved 15 minutes in the morning, if I consciously got ready, without letting my head wander. = +15mins

If you sleep at 10:30, start reading a book at 10:00 sharp, it'll not only help you sleep, but will end your day peacefully.

Keep one weekend day(Sat or Sunday, I prefer Saturday) to not meet anyone till 19:00. Then have fun as much as you can.
Without the regular pressure of the day, you can get the work of 12 hours completed in 6 on a saturday.

Hope this helps you 8-)

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Eh... don't underestimate the value of social capital. Those people who "don't add any value" now might well turn out to be important later. –  Aaronaught Oct 7 '10 at 17:14
    
Wow, I dislike this answer, but I'm not sure why. –  Jonathan Sterling Oct 9 '10 at 16:18

Organization! That's all you need.

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I make it necessary by choosing new platforms/techniques/technologies for projects. Nothing like necessity to make you learn fast . . .

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