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From Busy to Productive: How to Make Time for Learning

We all agree: learning in the workplace is fundamental. 

But when it comes to the brass tacks of making sure that learning actually happens, there is one major culprit that always adversely impacts this noble intention – time.

According to a LinkedIn survey, getting employees to make time for learning is the number one challenge facing talent development. It’s not hard to understand how this happens either, “real work” will always take precedence. And I don’t know about you, but any of those ‘you have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyoncé’ quotes do little to help me actually carve out time in my Sisyphean work calendar! 

The gains that consistent learning can bring, both personally and professionally, cannot be ignored. There is nothing more strategic for a company than a solid backbone of L&D. So let’s look into the key areas that can help learning flourish in your organization.

Rule One: Learning Must Take Place in the Flow of Work

The modern employee is busy. According to a Josh Bersin report in HBR, on average, we lose out on about a third of our working day answering emails alone. So trying to find time to consciously include learning in our schedule can be hugely tricky. But it can be done – you just need to be intentional about how you go about planning.

Laura Vanderkam, a renowned productivity expert, says that: 

Time is highly elastic – we cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.

Time is a choice, and when we say things like ‘I don’t have time for learning’ what we really mean is that ‘learning is not a priority.’ It may sound slightly simplistic, but reframing our mindset like this can help us make better choices about what is important to us.

It comes down to prioritization. Do the important things first. Mark Twain once said that: 

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” 

Meaning that if learning is something you want to put more onus on, find time first thing in your calendar for this endeavor. 

And you need to actively designate this. No more to-do lists or flimsy post-it notes stuck to a computer screen – look at your diary and block the time out. There’s an intentionality and accountability about this as well. While not a perfect science, it does become harder to push these blocks aside when the activity is embedded in a calendar and is your first port of call.

Organizations themselves can do a lot to help with this also:

  • Lead by Example: Encourage managers and leaders to be transparent about how they’re incorporating learning into their days. It grants permission to employees to model their behaviors on this.
  • Build in the Time: One sure-fire way to enable more time for L&D is to mandate it! Google has long operated on an 80/20 model where they’re encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on projects or learning of their choice.
  • Foster a Culture of Learning: This is more a high-level goal, but by stitching L&D into the fabric of your company, learning becomes less of a luxury and more of a necessity by design.

Learn more: 6 Ways to Create a Culture of Learning in the Workplace

Rule Two: Learning Must not be Interrupted

According to a recent study, workers are interrupted up to 15-times every hour. From the ping of Slack messages and impromptu meeting requests, to co-workers popping over for a chat on their way to another engagement, the workplace, both in-person and remote, is a minefield of distraction. 

And it’s distractions like these that can take time away from more important tasks – like learning. Employees need to have a control system over interactions in order to find a healthy balance between collaboration and focus. It can be difficult to establish, but the benefits of mapping out your time and limiting interruptions when it comes to L&D are worth it.

One of SocialTalent’s leadership experts, Debbie Danon, has created an infrastructure that is perfectly designed to cater for this called “What Color is Your Time?” in which she uses color to clearly communicate boundaries and set expectations.

Whether you use this in your calendar, as your messenger status, or even create something physical in your office space, it allows you to control your time as needed. Listen to Debbie explain it in full detail below:

Rule Three: Learning Must be Flexible

Learning has to cater to your work schedule and style, not the other way around. Flexibility in how we approach L&D is a huge factor when it comes to people finding time to complete it. There isn’t one approach to learning that triumphs over others, it’s a personal thing. Some prefer to sit down for large chunks of time, others opt for moments of learning, brief spots throughout a day or week that can cater to a hectic schedule. Some people like to make notes, or prefer group settings.

Learning doesn’t have to be sequestered to your laptop or office desk either. In fact, one of the major advantages of e-learning, for example, is the flexibility associated with it. With a smartphone in every hand, it is a constant gateway to L&D. Being able to stay connected to training whenever and wherever you are will absolutely feed into success.

A lot of mobile platforms, like the SocialTalent app, allow you to tap into the training content you need when you’re on your commute, on a coffee break or even when you’re completing daily chores. By embracing micro-learning like this, you can fit it into even the busiest of days. And this goes for remote workers too; an intuitive learning app gives you the freedom to take your training mobile, no matter what your work set-up is like.

Learning on-the-go is also a great way to improve both engagement and
speed. Mobile users tend to complete courses up to 45% faster than those using a computer. And with the ability to undertake training anywhere, it’s perfect for finding quiet corners in your home or office, away from the din of interruption, to dedicate focused time to your learning.

We are also MASSIVE advocates of bite-size learning at SocialTalent. In fact, our golden rule of thumb is 30 minutes of learning each week. That’s only 6 minutes a day! It allows for maximum flexibility, retention, and engagement. And it helps to build an achievable routine if you’re struggling with finding time for L&D. 

The Principles of Time Management

According to the renowned Aimee Bateman, one of SocialTalent’s workplace experts:

Time management isn’t about getting loads of stuff done – it’s about making sure you are working on the right things, the things that really need to be done. It’s about measuring productivity and the output of what you are actually doing.

And here are her top six principles to ensure you make the most of your valuable hours, minutes, and seconds.

1. Say ‘no’ more often: It’s so easy to just say yes to everything, both in work and in our personal lives. Aimee advocates for pushing back a little more or just even taking some time before jumping in to every whim and fancy.

2. Think about why you’re doing things: Look at your calendar and really question the purpose of each activity. Are you just doing some things out of habit? Could that time be better served for something else?

3. Identify your bad habits: We all have time sucks in our days. Identify the things that are causing you to lose precious minutes like overdoing social media or, in a work context, unnecessary meetings.

4. Don’t do other people’s work: A lesson for all the people pleasers! Learn to be a little bit more selfish with your time.

5. Don’t be a perfectionist: Sometimes good enough really is good enough. Wasting that extra time primping and pruning can often lead to little extra gain.

6. Beware of substitute tasks: There is always ‘something else’ to do. Our brains will find and inflate the importance of these activities and keep us from doing what is important.

By becoming more aware of how you spend your time and building in responses like the above to create structure and healthy boundaries, even the busiest calendars can find some slack.


The challenge of integrating learning and development (L&D) into the busy workflows of modern employees is multifaceted, yet not insurmountable. As we’ve explored, the key to making learning a tangible part of our daily routine lies in understanding and redefining our relationship with time. Learning in the workplace is not merely a beneficial add-on but a fundamental element for personal and professional growth, and the success of an organization. By prioritizing learning, embedding it into the flow of work, ensuring it remains uninterrupted, and embracing flexibility, we can overcome the predominant hurdle of time scarcity.

Looking to find more workplace and leadership training? SocialTalent’s learning platform is designed to help you build better workplaces. Chat to us today to learn more.

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