How to stop wasting time on learning new stuff.

learning too muchIf I look back over the last 10 years, I can’t even imagine the number of things I have learned. For the sake of argument, let’s say I have learned 10,000 different things that might be useful to my work.

I have learned from articles and posts, from books I have read, from conversations I have had, and so on.

Now let’s say, out of those 10,000 things I have learned, I was smart enough to identify10 things which, if I applied them, could actually have a significant impact on my success. Those were 10 moments of learning that had the potential to transform my business in some meaningful way.

But out of those 10, how many did I actually apply? And of those lessons I have applied, did I work at them hard enough to achieve some positive change?

Those numbers are made up. I have no idea what they really are. But the point I’m trying to make is that while we may be very good at soaking up information and learning things that are new to us, we are generally very bad at identifying the good stuff and then taking action and persevering until positive change takes place.

In part, this is because with access to the web we find ourselves positively deluged with new information. It’s like we learn something new every minute. It becomes impossible for us to absorb, let alone act on, all the information that comes our way.

The trouble is, amongst all that noise lie some nuggets of gold. But their importance is lost within the distracting noise of too much information.

The first thing you should do

Cut back on the noise. If you have been reading a particular website or blog for a while and it has failed to deliver any lessons that you feel could truly transform your business, stop reading it.

If you want to be able to isolate the good stuff, you have to cut away all the bad and mediocre stuff. Turn the firehose into a trickle.

The second thing you should do

Think hard about the core of your freelance business. What is at the center of your skill set or business?

Transformative change doesn’t come about through tinkering around the edges, it occurs at the center.

For example, if most of your work involves writing sales pages for ecommerce companies, you probably shouldn’t get distracted by learning how to write case studies or white papers.

And if you most of your clients come to you through a strong and robust business network and word of mouth, you probably don’t have to invest a ton of time learning about the finer points of Pinterest. It’s not at the core of how you attract new clients.

Always focus on learning those lessons that drive your core.

The third thing you should do

When you have cut back on the noise, have learned to focus on what really matters to your business, and have identified something truly worth learning…take action.

Mark some time on your calendar. Commit to learning that new skill, or internalizing that new information. Learn it formally, as if you were at school.

Now, armed with new knowledge or expertise, apply what you have learned and keep applying it until you achieve positive results.

This may sound obvious, but I know many freelancers who have invested time and money in learning something new…and then they have failed to act on what they have learned.

Wrapping it up

Learning new stuff is easy. Too easy. Being more self-disciplined with your time and attention is a lot harder. But it’s worth it. Stop cramming your head with new information that will do nothing to help move you forward.

When you find something worth learning, get serious about it, as if you were studying for an exam.

And finally, once you have finished learning, apply what you have learned vigorously until you achieve the change you are looking for.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach. 

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9 thoughts on “How to stop wasting time on learning new stuff.

  1. Great piece, Nick — excellent advice, as always! “Cutting back on the noise” is often a challenge, but with disciplined focus you describe, it is possible, isn’t it? In my observation, the ‘learning’ part, as well as ‘building’ (a biz), are 2 activities folks most often over-emphasize.

    Keeping the core biz idea in the forefront, with established target market in mind, definitely keeps perspective — with forward motion. When attending a conference or program, I find it helpful to identify/list key areas or ideas I want to review/possibly incorporate, and schedule time to follow-up on them to learn more, consider implementation or ditch.

    Your point RE: the current shiny object or darling of the moment (such as Pinterest) not being for “everyone” resonates! There are many platforms, tools and ways to connect, communicate and promote, with more to come… Selecting the appropriate means for marketing as well as the message, maximizes any effort through effective communication — saving valuable (billable) time.

  2. So true Nick…there is such easy access to all kinds of “interesting” information and so many rabbit holes to go down, that I often get lost in them and discover my most valuable resource, time, has slipped by. Your article strikes at the core of my personal weakness…efficiently extracting the pearls that will move my business forward and taking immediate action steps to install them into my business. Time to shake the knowledge out of my head and actually apply it.

  3. Wow, Nick, you hit me right where it hurts! I have been overwhelmed with learning new stuff. I’ve found that I’m not doing one thing well. In fact, I just turned down a job because I was feeling I couldn’t commit fully due to the “noise” in my life. It was a smart choice. One of my goals for this year was to take one thing at a time and do it well. I’m printing out this article to keep in my planner so I can look at it and remind myself to cut back on the noise. Well done! Thanks!

  4. Shawn, hi

    Great idea to print it out on paper. Otherwise you nod at the online post a few times, and 3 days later it’s all forgotten! : )


  5. I’ve developed the habit of turning off the internet for a couple of days every so often. No email. No Twitter. No Facebook. No deluge of must-read information. Funnily enough the world doesn’t end and I feel so much more clear-headed after the break. A spa-day for the mind!

  6. Yep, that’s me. Always wanting to learn something new, the next new thing will be the ONE to really get going. Just one more thing. One more report. And you said it: I forget. I too will print this out and not forget.

    It’s good to read the comments from the other writers who have the same problem I do.

    Thank you Nick.

  7. When you learn what you need, do what you’ve learned.
    This is wonderful advice, Nick.

    In the past, I found myself floating from program to program.
    My thinking was that as long as I was doing something, it was
    better than doing nothing.

    Well, it’s not about doing some thing. It’s about doing the right thing.
    And the right things are those activities that move your business
    forward. Otherwise, you’re not being productive. You’re just being
    active and spinning your wheels.

    I’m happy to report that I’m now doing the right things in my business.
    And I no longer waste time on things that don’t matter.

    Thanks again, Nick!!!

  8. As I read this post, it was as if you had been describing how I spend far too much of my day. It certainly touches a nerve!

    The problem I have is that I don’t want to fall behind with the ‘lessons’ and it was reassuring to read all the comments and know I’m not alone.

    But I know I have to restrict the amount of time spent learning new stuff as it is not a substitute for being productive.

    Thanks for the reminder Nick!

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