• Lifestyle

How to prioritize learning in 2016

This is a guest post originally posted on General Assembly. Redeem your exclusive tuition credit just for Freelancers Union members.

When I made the decision to pursue my side business full time in late 2013, I wasn’t afraid of failing. I had spent two years preparing for the risk financially and emotionally, understanding that these outcomes were simply "part of the game."

What scared me was that I was walking away from an employer who always prioritized my learning -- regularly funding me to attend trainings and conferences. Not to mention, I was leaving a team that taught me something new, every single day.

Over the next few months, my content business ramped up. I found myself with less and less free time -- working 14 hour days, missing out on time with friends, and spending my waking hours on growing my company and not letting my health slide. I was learning on the job but found myself wanting more learning opportunities than the days would enable. It was a tough balance to strike.

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned about growing my business is that it’s important to set up processes early -- to streamline as many initiatives as possible so that the company is always moving forward. Now that I’m a year into my journey, it’s hit me that this same philosophy applies to my personal learning milestones as well. Here are some steps that I have taken to bring learning back into my journey:

1. Let Your Calendar Be Your Sword

Up until recently, my calendar has been perpetually full. My natural inclination is to take meetings with everyone, but I simply can’t anymore. To sanity-check my niceness in scheduling, I’ve actually hired an assistant to be my reinforcer.

She’s helped me carve out more free time -- blocks that I have begun using to learn. I read books, am learning about film and video, and attend classes that fit within that window. This structure helps me sanity-check everything that I have going on, while giving me the space to do what I love most -- learn. It’s the best gift that I could have given myself.

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2. Learn Outside of Your Comfort Zone

As the sole founder of a small-but-mighty company, I live and breathe everything related to business -- especially the things that I don’t enjoy like accounting, legal, and other random bits of paperwork. At first, I wanted to learn about everything and anything by taking classes on these topics, to learn what I didn’t know.

It was mentally exhausting. I burned out. I realized that it was a better use of my time to hire experts in these fields including a CPA and lawyer. I don’t regret the decision.

Now, I try to learn about things that are largely tangential to what I do on a day-to-day basis. I am learning about design and photography. I am learning about data -- the field that I studied in graduate school -- and how to apply these concepts to my storytelling businesses. I feel energized, inspired, and motivated to go to class.

3. Learn with Other People

I’m not going to lie -- my business has made me a bit of a hermit. Video chats and phone calls are core parts of my daily routine, and I find myself chained to my desk.

I miss being with the people I love. I miss meeting new people. I miss the heart-to-heart experiences and discussions of, well, college.

In-person events and classes are what gets me out the door. I love the opportunity to learn with and get to know people as my peers, not as prospective clients or vendors to my company, which is where the bulk of my in-person time goes these days. It’s the wisdom and energy of my peers that inspires me to keep learning -- and growing -- in my business and the world beyond it.

The Punchline

As much as I told myself that I wanted to keep learning, I couldn’t buckle down to do it until I made adjustments to my routine and schedule. There was definitely a learning curve.

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Ritika Puri is a storyteller, business education consultant, and entrepreneur. She founded Storyhackers (a now two-person team) to help companies create stronger relationships with customers through awesome content and copy. Ritika teaches storytelling and content marketing courses for General Assembly in San Francisco and Los Angeles.