How High Performers Keep Learning (Even When They’re Busy)

Traditionally, our collective view on learning and development has been somewhat narrow- blocked out time specifically dedicated to improving the skills you need for your current job.

But when people are tired and busy…that view just doesn’t work.

According to LinkedIn data, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career, yet the #1 reason employees feel held back from learning is because they don’t have time.

Enter: Learning in the flow of work. Learning in the flow of work means learning while you’re actually doing your job

It’s a practice embodied in high achievers and something I suggest to my (often overwhelmed) executive coaching clients. Instead of learning being a ‘to-do’ that always gets pushed to next week’s list, it’s a daily habit, that happens in hundreds of small moments.

Here are three strategies you can use to learn in the flow of work:

Ask for feedback (from people beyond your manager)

High performers are often frustrated by “feedback” that consists of nothing more than- “looks good thanks!” If you’re tired and overbooked, your manager probably is too. In a virtual environment, work tends to become more utilitarian and less collaborative.

It helps to seek feedback from a more diverse perspective- people on other teams, from different backgrounds, and with different levels of tenure with the organization. Even if you decide not to act on specific pieces of feedback, the collection of viewpoints will ultimately make your work product better (And you’ll be more confident in it).

Take on stretch projects

Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. One tactic high achievers use to stay learning is to take on projects or initiatives that feel like a bit of a stretch. This also acts as a forcing function, because when you volunteer to lead a project (unlike participating in a webinar) it’s impossible to just skip it and lie to yourself that you’ll listen to the recording later.

Agreeing to work on initiatives like onboarding, researching a new customer base, or developing sustainability practices enable you to learn and produce something of value. Through the project, you’ll be challenged to research, think deeply, and collaborate with people whom you may not ordinarily. It also makes for a great “exceeds expectations” talking point for a performance review.

Make peace with passive consumption

High achievers don’t wait for ‘perfect’ conditions to learn. They squeeze it in, knowing an imperfect attempt is better than none at all.

You can do this by listening to podcasts, webinars, or LinkedIn Learning courses in the background. Now, is passively listening to a podcast as you format reports as good as undivided attention for a webinar? No. But it’s better than nothing. Even if you don’t catch every word, you will still absorb the key takeaways.

If you need an easy way to get started on this, I’m hosting a LinkedIn Live Audio series- Monday Motivation. My coauthor Elizabeth Lotardo and I are talking about the key takeaways from our most possible LinkedIn Learning courses (like Leading without Formal Authority) and answering questions from listeners. It’s really casual; you can half-pay attention and still learn something.

Give yourself some credit here. You’re likely already doing these things. The vast majority of us have learned over the last 6 months how to innovate, pivot our skills, and adapt to new conditions. The YouTube video you watched about setting up a home office? The article you ready about virtual meetings? The research you did on return-to-office safety protocols? That stuff counts.

When you change your mindset around learning and shift from a ‘to-do’ to a conscious daily practice, you change the trajectory of your professional development. Your learning becomes faster, more relevant, and more enjoyable, which is exactly what all of us need in 2022.