The secret of how to learn skills faster is that you have to start slowly and deliberately. It’s like the lumberjack who was given a gas-powered chain saw. He got to work right away with the new tool and was only able to cut one tree down during his shift.
When the foreman asked him why he only cut down one tree, the lumberjack replied, “The cutting edge on this thing is too dull. It’s not working for me.” The foreman picked up the saw, pulled the starting cord, and the saw started right up with a loud roar. “Wow!” exclaimed the lumberjack, “What’s that noise?”
Not a true story, of course, but it illustrates the value of taking time out to learn new skills as well as improving the ones you already have–again, how to learn skills faster.
Your skill set is important
If you turned in a résumé when you applied for your current job, you probably already listed your job skills. Your skills are the foundation of your value to the people who pay your salary, but like our lumberjack friend, you can’t let them stagnate. You’ll also need to learn new ones if you expect to keep up or move up.
Your most important skill set are those so-called hard skills. They are the skills and abilities you need to do competent work. Soft skills–being a team player, getting along well with others, communicating effectively, etc.—are important, especially if you want to get past the first job interview.
So, the right mix of hard and soft skills are what make you a marketable commodity in the workforce. If you aren’t sure what skills you need to improve, just ask yourself about the last time you felt uncomfortable with a professional task or helpless in handling a difficult co-worker or a demanding boss. Your comfort level with anything is usually an indicator on how skilled you are at overcoming challenges.
However, unlike your school days you don’t have an entire semester to learn a new skill that will pump up that résumé or keep a robot from stealing your job. You are now a denizen of the digital age and to stay relevant, you need to find ways to learn fast and adapt to the ever-changing landscape.
Related Article: Will Robots Replace Humans in the Workplace in the Near Future? (And What Should You Do About It?)
10 quick ways you can learn job skills faster
First, forget about everything you’ve heard about learning styles. You know, the stuff how visual learners need pictures, or how tactile learners do best with hands-on learning. The surprising truth that debunks one of academia’s pet premises is that you actually don’t have a learning style.
In fact, four decades of research on learning styles have shown that trying to match teaching styles to perceived learning styles makes no difference in the outcome. How to lern skills faster–or learning in general–is more about meaning, context, motivation, dependent on what skill has to be mastered.
You can gain new skills or upgrade the skills you have by using multiple sources. Nowadays, the material is as close as a button click on Google. The key to learning is to interact efficiently with the information you need in ways that it will sink in. See Dr.Tesia Marshik’s fascinating presentation on why you should abandon the reliance on learning styles on this TedTalk YouTube video.
Even if you are reluctant to abandon the notion that your learning style makes you a unique person, you can learn new job skills faster with the following approaches:
1. Find a mentor.
A mentor who is genuinely interested in your, and by inference the organization’s success, has “been there and done that.” The best mentors are people who tell you what you need to hear, rather than what you want to hear. Everyone has blind spots, and the best mentor will give the honest feedback you need to overcome your weaknesses that will allow you to learn and improve your job skills.
2. Look for learning opportunities.
Seeing an opportunity to learn new skills and actually doing something about it can be as easy as stepping up and volunteering. When a new project arises that aligns with the skills you’re looking to gain, raise your hand.
Also, tell your boss or HR team manager you want to pick up some new job skills. Show what you can contribute to the project and how your current skill set can be the foundation that can increase your value to your organization.
3. Read, study, and read some more while looking for problems to solve.
Find out all you can about your organization’s goals and how it stands out in its field. The more expert and conversant you become in recognizing your company’s chief challenges, the easier it will be to learn new problem-solving skills and pitch your solutions.
4. Network across your organization.
Internal networking and making new friends with people with other departments of your organization can be a valuable resource in building your job skills. Ask your colleagues how their mission fits in with that of the overall goals of the organization. Find out what specific job skills they need and how they got those skills.
5. Look for learning opportunities within the organization.
Find out if your organization has an internal learning system. It could be anything from a company policy and procedures manual to a formal tuition reimbursement package. Check with your human resources reps and talk to them about what you would like to learn and, most importantly, how it can help the company.
6. Remove emotional blocks to learning.
Everyone struggles with emotions daily. At work, it is important not to let emotions affect job performance and block learning. Your emotions need not define you or your behavior. Take ownership of your emotions and control those inevitable struggles with reality and others who rub you the wrong way.
Try meditation as a way to center yourself and make you more aware of your behaviors. Techniques, products, and advice are as close as a Google search. Find the one best for you.
7. Study the masters and practice what they do
While reading and studying greats like Dale Carnegie or Steve Jobs can be inspirational, it is admittedly a passive exercise. The key is to take that study one step further and apply or mimic those gurus in your daily work. As that mimicry becomes your own style, you’ll feel less like a mimic and more like an original.
Related Article: Dale Carnegie Best Books to Inspire and Motivate You
8. Practice most that which you find most difficult.
Say that rather than writing a long report you’d just as soon shave your head with a cheese grater. Writing just isn’t what you do well. That is just the cue you need to spend more time, you know, writing.
You may never be Ernest Hemingway, but you can take his advice and learn to omit the superfluous, and get the point and just write. And the more you write, the more natural it feels. Besides, you’re not writing a sermon for the Pope. It’s just a report, and you can copy the successful style of someone else.
You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and practice what you aren’t good at. Also, you need to concentrate—repeat, concentrate—while practicing difficult skills. One reason Shaquille O’Neal never got any better at free throws was that, as he admitted in one interview, at the free throw line during the game, “My mind’s all over the place.”
9. Be realistic
Your skills acquisition or improvement program should be tangible and realistic. Learning is not like Superman. It doesn’t leap tall buildings with a single bound. The best approach is to recognize that a body of learning is not monolithic, rather it is a bundle of stair-stepped skills that need to be mastered before you get to the top.
So, your goals need to be challenging, but doable. You need to be able to measure how you’re doing. Write them out and cross them off as you complete the steps. The act of writing—not on a laptop, but with actual pen and paper—has a way of imprinting on our brain through the process of writing and hand-to-eye memory.
Finally, one essential element of realism is the self-insight that comes from the advice “know thyself.” Know your strengths and capitalize on them. Know your weaknesses as well and generate the insight you need to learn more effectively.
Related Article: How to Find Your Strengths and Capitalize On Them
10. Don’t just sit there; take action.
Remember that any skill is far more than just theoretical knowledge. Theory may be at the root, but acquiring and mastering new work skills and how to learn skills faster always requires putting theory into practice. Human beings are remarkable when it comes to learning by doing. That action is the perquisite to mastering and honing your skills.