If you’re anything like me, these past few years have created habits of overwork.
Both growing a small business and being a leader have become so all-encompassing that I’ve been dropping the ball on an essential part: continuous growth.
I used to be really consistent with reading leadership books, business books. I used to attend webinars, take courses, regularly meet with people and then, somehow, operational aspects of the businesses took over.
Realizing this, I ensured to still make time for strategy by forcing recurring meetings which would, in turn, push me back out to planning strategically. But that did not address the growth part. Unless you count overcoming challenges but that is more unintentional growth. And I’m talking about controlled, intentional growth.
So what can we do to get back on the learning track when operational requirements have taken over?
One thing that you can do is join a book club. Now, to be fair, when I told my husband that I joined a business book club, he looked at me incredulously and said: “You added one more thing to your plate? You're supposed to be removing things.”
But here's the thing: I love to read.
And like I mentioned, I used to read all the time. Every day, I used to carve out time to read, to learn new concepts, to open up my mind, to educate myself on various topics. And I can't really explain how, but somehow, some way, I just stop doing that. Sure, I read articles, I read LinkedIn posts, that kind of thing. But I wasn't actually reading books, full-length deep-dive books. And that's something that I used to do before that disappeared over time. And so I started more and more developing bad overwork habits.
In fact, it was so gradual that I didn't really notice it until I was asked what I was reading. I'm always talking to other entrepreneurs or other leaders in my coaching business. I'm always talking to individuals and helping them navigate their own businesses. And one of the questions that comes up is “What are you reading?” Usually I would say, well, I'm reading this and I'm learning about this topic. Which also shows that, even though I have a lot of experience, I too am still continuously learning. But the last time somebody asked me that, my answer was: “I'm actually not reading anything.” Well, that's not good! So I joined a business book club. And one of the things about that is that it created a lot of accountability. And what I found is that it actually was not adding things to my plate because I replaced the time that I used to just read whatever to intentionally reading these business books.
What I realized is that I was reading a lot of articles, but it wasn't particularly relevant to me. It was pretty much whatever is showing up in my feed, whatever, anybody sends my way, whatever is popping up in my email, “Okay, I guess I'll read that”. Well, that's not intentional. I'm not deepening my knowledge on something. Well, I guess, a little bit. But let's face it, the articles are usually very quick. And they are more something to help you perhaps think about a topic so that you can go and learn more about that particular thing. It's usually more the surface of an idea that will inspire you to go deeper on a particular topic.
I notice that I'm doing less of that and now I'm actually reading books. I'm going much more in depth on particular topics and it's much more cohesive because it's a book. This has really helped in continuing that growth and it's much more intentional. And so I find that even though on the surface it may seem like it's taking more time, it's actually replacing time.
Another benefit of the business book club is that it creates accountability. By doing it by yourself, and simply decide, “Okay, I'm going to read now”, guess what's likely to happen if you haven't stuck to a reading schedule for a while? You're highly likely going to struggle to stick to that schedule. But if you have a meeting, what are you going to do? Show up not having read it? Maybe you could, but I can't. I can't show up without having read the book. I have to have read the book. What if they ask me questions, my opinion, or there is discussion with other people. I want to be able to contribute. So this has really forced me to do that. And so it creates that accountability, which is really, really great. And so now, again, I'm less skimming miscellaneous articles that happen to pop up and I am slowly recreating the habit of continuous deep learning. And at some point, maybe I'll even propose some books that I'm itching to read!
To help with intentional growth, another thing could be to supplement with implementation-style courses or workbooks. Let's say you have a particular task that you need to do, but you feel that you could master this better. Well, what if you took an implementational course? What if you found a workbook on it? And then you actually do your task, but you're learning while doing. And so if there's a way where you can implement the learning as you go along, moving a project at the same time that you're moving your learning forward, then it's like killing two birds with one stone. That is a really great way because not only are you learning new things, but by doing them immediately you are actually integrating the material that much better because you are figuring out the things that you thought you understood when you read it or watched a video. Then you're realizing, wait a minute, I don't quite understand what that was about. And then you can go back. Also, perhaps your questions are going to be more specific because you have actually done the implementation part at the same time as the learning part.
Let's say you have another task, and it's not so much about deepening the knowledge, but it's about learning something new. Then again, by doing, then you really deepen that knowledge and you accelerate the learning because you're learning all these new concepts and you're doing immediately. And so right away you're figuring it out and putting together pieces much more quickly because you're doing it. Concepts that on the surface may appear unrelated will make sense more quickly. And so you're going to be exponentially learning because you're doing while you're gathering the new information. Of course, if you're completely, completely new at something, it may take a few more hours than it would if you didn't take the course. But, if you're completely new at it, having someone guide you should actually make you go faster. If you're going to be just looking at everything trying to figure it out as you go may end up taking you more time than if you actually watch the video and have the guidance to get it done.
On the surface it may feel like it will slow you down. But no, it is more likely to make it go faster. And I'm going to say probably avoiding mistakes that we all do when we're learning something new and we make these common rookie mistakes. Following a course would probably help you avoid those.
Another thing that can really help with that growth mindset and that intentional learning is creating content. Like this right here. But it can also be writing a workbook for one of your clients, something for the team, etc.
Having to consistently – and that is key if you're trying to rebuild that habit and you have fallen into overwork habits – create content is going to force you to think about concepts. When I do these things, I am constantly thinking, “Okay, how do I feel about this? What's my experience on this? What have I learned about these things? What could I pass along that would be helpful to someone who hasn't gone through these experiences?”
In going through and thinking about my own learnings, thinking about my past experiences, thinking about the good, the bad, and the really, really bad, and thinking about the challenges, it forces this regularly-scheduled introspection. It provides an opportunity to constantly be learning from these events because I'm constantly growing and I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago. I'm not even the same person I was a year ago!
At the end of the day, doing this really forces you to think about your experience. And you may be concerned about doing “one more thing”. But if you want to continue to be intentionally learning, intentionally growing, you have to figure out where you are and you have to figure out what your strengths are and what you could use more help with. And creating content will help you do that.
Also, it helps you view things through a different lens. For instance, when I think back to some situations that happened maybe 15 years ago and I start analyzing them with the knowledge that I have now, I view them differently because I have so much more experience. So, I am still learning from situations that happened a decade ago because I am looking at them through the lens of who I am today with the experience that I have today. And so that is a great way to continue to grow through that reflection. And it's actually a combination of the reflection and the explanation that is really magical. And it's how I convey the information in such a way that it will be beneficial to others – or at least I try! It’s that effort that can really provide new insights.
As an aside to give you a little bit of context, working as the CEO of a software company called Corgibytes, I was introduced to a concept called rubber ducking. It was a developer that asked to have a rubber duck. And I was like: “What are you talking about?” I was told that it was from a story in the book called The Pragmatic Programmer. The general idea being that when a developer became stuck and needed to debug their code, they would force themselves to explain it to the rubber duck, line by line. And so there's something in having to explain things that creates a new perspective even within ourselves. And they usually would come up with the solution in just having to verbalize it. There is something that happens that unlocks new insight in that exercise.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Deciding that we’re going to break those bad overwork habits instantly just because we decided is highly unlikely to happen.
And if you can do that… Good for you! It takes me a few tries before it sticks.
If your first attempt fails, that’s fine. Find the one thing you did right and cling onto that and build from there.
Maybe you read a chapter of a book. Better than last month when you didn’t read a chapter.
Focus on the progress, one step at a time. Keep coming back. Keep trying. Keep being intentional. In time, those healthy work habits will become just that. Habits.