How Much Time Do You Spend Doing Your Job versus Learning Your Job?

I spoke with a new manager, Drew, the other day. His days are full. He’s got tons of meetings. He tries to provide feedback and coaching to his team members, but he has crises up the wazoo.

Drew asked for coaching: “I have way too much to do. I need to learn how to manage all of it.”

I asked, “Should you be doing all the work you are doing? Maybe the problem is that you are working on things that you shouldn’t be.”

“Nah, I’m pretty sure I should do it all. My manager expects me to do it all,” Drew said.

I tried another tack. “Have you learned how you should manage?”

There was a pause at the other end of the phone. “Uh, do you mean training?”

“Training would be nice. But I meant something even more basic than training. Have you ever seen great management?”

This time Drew’s pause was longer. “You know, I’m not sure I have. I’ve seen things I don’t want to do. I’m not sure I’ve seen things I want to do. I don’t have a management template. Is that what you mean by learning?” Drew was curious.

I did a little happy dance in my chair. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. You might be doing things in ways that take longer because you have never seen them done in ways that work. You might not be doing the work you should, and you might be doing work you shouldn’t. If your managers have never been the kind to be consistent with their management actions, you might not have learned from watching them.”

We discussed his situation more and developed some actions for him to use as experiments.

This is a situation I often see. It isn’t a manager-specific problem—I’ve seen developers, testers, and business analysts have the same issue. Everyone is so busy doing their jobs they have no time to learn their jobs.

When was the most recent time you decided to learn something specific about your job? It could be about the tools or technology you need to do your job. It could be about the job functions. It could be product domain expertise. It might even be about your industry in general.

Many organizations do not build time in for learning in the workday. Everyone I meet is so busy, they think, “I don’t have time to learn.”

Instead of thinking you don’t have time to learn, ask yourself if you can incorporate learning into everything you do. Are you working the same way you did last year, five years ago, or even ten years ago? If so, maybe it’s time to learn or relearn your job.

I know I don’t do the same things I did two years ago. I use my tools differently. I develop different products, and I develop them differently. I continue to learn as I work.

What would it take for you to learn as you work? Are you spending time learning your job as you do it? Or do you separate the learning from the job?

Learning is too important to leave for “when you have time.” You will never make the time. Instead, decide how you will integrate learning into your workday. Who knows—you might realize you are more capable than you thought before.

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