Tune in every Wednesday for a weekly "small dose" of advice, an explanation, or an interview with a web veteran. Lauren Bacon has mentored and coached many web professionals as they were starting out and loves sharing all that she's learned from her 15-year career as a designer, front-end developer, and agency principal.
Skill Level Beginner
- Hi, I'm Lauren Bacon, and welcome to this week's edition of the Web Career Clinic where I explore how to build a career you love making good stuff on the web. This week in Web Career Clinic we're answering a question from one of our members. This member writes: How much of my time on average should I allot to learning and development in relation to project work and business tasks? I'm guessing that you're a freelancer asking this question since it seems like you have some control over your time and how you spend it.
And of course, one of the upsides of being a freelancer is that you have that autonomy but on the flip side it can be hard to make time for things that don't always seem as urgent as client work, or business tasks like writing proposals, or invoicing people. It's easy to let learning and professional development slip when you're self-employed which is why I personally prefer to schedule it in. Now, I kind of hate giving this kind of advice because everybody is different, and in order to come up with a solution that works for you, you need to think about what motivates you, what's going to keep you on track in the long run, and how to structure your time around other work priorities.
So, rather than giving you a step-by-step guide to the perfect technique, I'm just going to share some principles and examples of how other people make this work. Let's start with the principles. BJ Fogg, one of the preeminent experts on behavioral change, teaches that if you want to create a new habit, you need to consider three things: Your motivation, your ability, and a trigger. Motivation, he says, is actually the least important of the three. Of course, you have to want to change your behavior, and, it always helps to articulate exactly why you're making it a priority, but the other two elements are more critical to sustaining a habit in the long term.
So let's talk about ability. Ability is anything you need in order to perform the task easily and well. It might include a financial cost like if you want to pay for courses or a subscription. It might be the physical ability to get somewhere and do something. It might be working through any psychological hurdles that are standing in the way. You get the idea. Think hard about all the things that currently get in the way of you carving out time for learning and development. What stops you from doing it now? Make a list.
It might look something like this one. Now, work your way down the list and figure out how you can overcome those obstacles. If client work seems more urgent then maybe you need to schedule your learning time for a time in the day or week when you don't feel as pressured, like first thing in the morning or Friday afternoons. You could even choose to dedicate a longer chunk of time to learning. Like, a week every quarter. Or a couple of weeks every summer, if that feels easier to do.
If one of your obstacles is forgetting to bring a book along, put a stack of books you want to read right next to your front door. You might want to even set one down on the floor right by the door, so you trip over it if you don't pick it up in the morning. Play with different solutions until you find one that works. In Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit, she describes leaving her gym bag next to her bed for this very reason. It makes it that much harder to ignore and that much easier to get to the gym first thing in the morning. If you find yourself too distracted by your phone to use your commute time for learning, make a habit of putting your phone into airplane mode before you commute.
Now, obviously, your list is going to be unique to you, but if you get creative, I guarantee you'll figure out solutions that will work for you. If you get stuck, try working together with a friend who is also interested in developing new habits. Just about everyone I know has something they want to get better at. Okay, let's talk about the trigger. The trigger is something that reminds you to do whatever it is you're trying to do. For example, when I decided that I had to start flossing my teeth more regularly, I chose to set my floss right in front of where I store my toothbrush.
That way I had to reach past the dental floss to pick up my toothbrush and I couldn't miss the visual reminder. If you're trying to get in the habit of carving out time of learning, you need to think about how you structure your weeks and how you might be able to build in a trigger. For instance, I spend some time every Friday afternoon plotting out the next week's activities and priorities and a rough schedule. And I have a checklist I use that reminds me to make time for certain weekly activities. So that's one example of a trigger that you could create.
But your trigger could be different. Maybe you want to set aside half an hour a day for learning, in which case you could think about something that you already do everyday and see if you can add learning onto it. Maybe you can make your daily outing to the coffee shop your learning time. Maybe your daily commute home could become a time when you listen to work-related podcasts or read articles about something you are learning about. Now, your question was specifically about how much time you should be spending on learning and development.
I hesitate to give you a number because, again, the best way to make this work for you is to figure out where it fits in terms of your priorities. But I will say that when I first heard about Google giving their employees 20 percent time which was dedicated to experimenting with new ideas, I thought that was a wonderful and generous guideline. Now, that is a bit different from what you're talking about here, because most of the Googlers weren't working on side projects during that time. But I think it's relevant because I suspect that that 20 percent time was very learning-oriented.
It's worth saying that Google doesn't do 20 percent time any more, at least not in the way that they used to, but in my previous company we gave our staff 10 percent time. Half a day a week to try out new ideas, explore new frameworks, and so on. We decided as a company to allocate Friday afternoons to 10 percent time because Friday afternoons seemed like a good time to be a little more playful and we wanted team members to be able to collaborate on side projects. So, if you want a hard number, something in the 10- 20 percent range might be a good place to start.
That's it for this week's Web Career Clinic. Do you have questions about your web career? If so, I'd love to hear them. Drop me a line on Twitter at @laurenbacon using the #ProWebClinic and tune in next time as I explore another topic for web professionals. See you next week.