Creative Tools to Stay in School—Even at Work

As promised in our last posting, here are some strategies that you can use to stay in school while at work:

Become an Expert

It may not be stated as a literal responsibility in your job description, but your company pays you to be an expert. Learning new things and bringing them to your co-workers and clients is part of your unspoken job duties. But you need to be proactive to excel in this area. Look for areas in which to increase your expertise.

Is there something that the boss keeps complaining about? Research ways to solve it. Do you feel that you and your team could benefit from more background about a particular client before diving into working on their business? Take the lead in boning up to learn more, and share what you've learned with everyone who could benefit from the knowledge.

Get Senioritis

It may have been a while since high school, but you can practice a more grown-up form of "senioritis" now. No matter what your level in your organization, you're probably more senior than some of the other employees in the company—and if you're a manager, this one's a no-brainer. Take advantage of your seniority to delegate when you can, and use junior employees to help keep you up to speed on various aspects of your business or industry.

If you have direct reports, try assigning each an area of focus to monitor and become an expert in, and have them present their findings to you every month. If you're not a manager, ask around to find out if support staff are available to take on tasks during downtime. If so, request that they research areas of interest, and send you links or PDFs based on their findings.

Read Your Way to the Top

 Reading is the essence of learning. Got downtime? Keep business books, trade journals, and industry articles on hand to skim during free moments. You can also consider subscribing to a "summary service" like MBA Depot or Get Abstract that provides summarized versions distilled from the lessons in business books. And don't underestimate the power of using a search engine like Google to help point you toward resources and publications that can help you learn more about your industry.

Take the Time

We all know that what gets scheduled gets done. Don't wait for time to free up in your schedule to devote to learning. Instead, dedicate 20 minutes every day to scour three sources of your choice that will help you become smarter, better, and faster at your job. It helps if the time you choose for your scanning is the same time every day, to help create a habit—for example, 20 minutes riding the bus to work, at lunch, or before bed. Commit to this schedule as you would any other appointment: add it into your calendar as a repeated event.

Become a Techie

When you're in school, though you're responsible for taking an active role in your learning, you don't have to do all of the work yourself. You have tools to help you, and increasingly, those tools are based on technology. In the workplace as well, there's an ever-expanding array of tech-based tools and apps that aren't just for geeks anymore—they're for anyone who's looking for opportunities to increase their life-long learning.

Curating applications allow you to expand your information-gathering potential and synthesizing ability. Some apps can even send you alerts on what's happening in your business and industry to save you the trouble of conducting or assigning research tasks.

Apps like Roambi Analytics Visualizer can help you extend your learning reach by giving you a business intelligence view of corporate data and key performance indicators. This app, for example, uses dashboard-style analytics to allow you to analyze and share up-to-the-minute company information on your iPhone or iPad, and lets you view and interact with your company's latest information.

So don't use graduation as an excuse to stop learning. To be the best that you can be in your career, prioritize learning for life.
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