No matter what industry you’re in, to move forward in your career, you’ll need to learn about new topics and master new skills. At some point, you may even be asked to master an unfamiliar subject in short order to help launch an initiative, complete a special project, become eligible for a promotion or for other reasons.
When this happens, frantically trying to absorb all that you can about the skill, topic or process in order to preserve your job security can actually hinder learning. How can you stay calm and focus so that you can effectively digest the information you need?
Don’t let the pressure get to you. Instead, follow these 15 tips Forbes Coaches Council members shared to master a difficult subject at work in a short amount of time. You’ll be adding that new practice area or technical skill to your resume before you know it.
1. Define A Target Performance Milestone
Ask yourself, “What, precisely, do I want to be able to do?” The more specific your goal, the quicker your mastery. For example, instead of setting a goal that you want to learn a whole new accounting program in two weeks, set a performance-level goal of being able to run specific monthly reports. Then, focus your initial practice on getting to that point. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC
2. Teach What You Learn
A lot of research has been done in the field of education about the power of learning by teaching. When we teach a subject, it forces our brains to retrieve the information stored during learning. When learning a new topic, think about how you would teach it to others, or take it a step further and prepare a presentation or tutorial for colleagues on the subject. – Lisa Coleman, Lisa Coleman Advisory Services, LLC
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3. Hire An Expert
The self-education industry, where experts create digital courses and master classes to rapidly teach clients difficult but essential subjects, is exploding. Such experts may already offer what you need, and you can learn in a few hours. If they’re available, and you prefer one-on-one, hire them for an hour, and you’ll go from novice to intermediate quickly. Expert level will take longer if needed. – Steven Pfrenzinger, Executive Coaching for the Highly Ambitious
4. Consolidate Your Research And Resources
Pretend you are a PhD candidate in research mode. Gather various pieces of content and the contact info of people you can talk to all in one place where you can build and annotate your notes. I recommend using the knowledge management tool Diigo.com for that very purpose; there, you can keep notes from various sources in one place and create a space to gather insights and trends. – Mike Ambassador Bruny, No More Reasonable Doubt
5. Understand Your Personal Learning Style
Do you learn best by reading, listening, watching or doing? One major advantage of technology is that it makes information available to us in a variety of formats. Once you understand how you learn best, you can seek out resources that align with your unique way of processing information. – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC
6. Engage In Socialized Learning
Innovation and new understanding or solutions are socially constructed. Therefore, to absorb knowledge faster, you must engage in socialized learning across all boundaries of the organization, both internal and external. – Brad Cousins, Ingage Human Capital Strategies
7. Practice Active Recall
The secret to enhancing learning and knowledge absorption is to use active recall. When you read or learn something new, immediately recall that material and reflect on it, actively applying it throughout the day for greater assimilation and retention. During the week, continue the active recall by teaching yourself or others about the knowledge you have acquired. – Jedidiah Alex Koh, Coaching Changes Lives
8. Teach Your Brain To Enjoy Learning
Learning fast is a habit, and you need to teach your brain good habits instead of bad ones. Improve your concentration by solving complex tasks without a break. Set a time and place for learning and keep to them strictly. The most important thing is to find out how you could enjoy learning. This will make your brain want to learn more, and it will cause you less trouble. – Cristian Hofmann, Empowering Executives | SUPERGROUP LTD
9. Identify Results You Will Need To Produce
To learn a difficult subject quickly, start by considering what results you will be required to produce. Beginning with the end in mind gives you key focus areas as well as a clear direction to pursue. Once you are comfortable and know that you are able to perform at the required level, then you could explore the subject matter on a deeper level to broaden your application. – Linda Aiyer, InfinitU Consulting
10. Follow Research With Targeted Learning
I highly recommend the book The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman and the method he outlines there. It takes research up front, followed by targeted learning. Prioritize what you want to learn first, and then go after it methodically. The exception to the exception is good to know in case you run into that particular issue, but there’s a reason it’s obscure. Focus on the 80% that you use most often. – Dhru Beeharilal, Nayan Leadership, LLC
11. Confirm Your Online Learning With An Expert
The easiest hack I’ve found to learn a new subject quickly is to take an online course and concurrently confirm what you are learning and understanding with an expert. Too often, people miss key ingredients when they are unable to connect with someone to test their thinking. Doing this doesn’t make you “less than;” it makes you smart. – Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
12. Find A Mentor To Give You A Crash Course
If you need to learn something quickly, the best thing you can do is find someone who has been there before to mentor you through the current situation. Have them give you a crash course and explain the mistakes that they’ve made so that you can avoid the same. Having the right mentor can get you up to speed fast so that you can jump into your task even quicker. – Jon Dwoskin, The Jon Dwoskin Experience
13. Believe That You Can Do It
To master any difficult subject, we must first believe that we can do it. If we have a fixed mindset about our ability to learn a new topic, then we may unconsciously resist the change and sabotage our efforts. To lessen the inner resistance to change, ask yourself, “What is important to me about this?” and “What would it take to achieve this goal?” Then, create a plan, get support and stay accountable. – Vered Kogan, Momentum Institute™
14. Don’t Overlook Free Resources
Don’t overlook the wealth of free resources out there to learn almost anything. Regardless of the new knowledge or skill you may need to stay at the top of your game, there are freely available resources that can get you where you want to go with a little discipline and determination. Ideally, find a mentor who can help curate the most helpful resources, and then get to work! – Jonathan H. Westover, Utah Valley University & Human Capital Innovations, LLC
15. Borrow A Subject Matter Expert
I cannot tell you how many times I have reached out to my network for advice from a known SME to help me handle a client question or another key question that I could not effectively answer. To augment my capacity to do my job, I often bring in speakers and share their words or let my client know what I have learned from the SMEs to help solve their problem. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smartsets.
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