When it comes to furthering your studies, getting in some extra reading time or building a new skill set, the thought of the process can be enough to put you off. 

The mindset shift you need to make is that this goal doesn’t have to dominate your days; it is about being creative with the time available to you.

You just need to know how to mine this precious resource of time in your existing schedule.

I recently completed a 100-hour coaching specialisation in three months.

This certification wasn’t a course you could listen to while driving, and hope to take everything in. It required complete focus with no multi-tasking on the side. Here is how I achieved this goal while being a full-time mom and entrepreneur:

Ditch all or nothing thinking.

When I looked at the course curriculum, it was pretty petrifying. There was so much content; it felt like I would never reach the end. Rather than get discouraged about the volume, I decided to adopt a microburst strategy and tackle it in very short increments of time.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need 3 hours straight in your calendar to make progress on your personal growth goals. Of course, long stretches of interrupted time are ideal, but realistically, they will not happen as much as you would like. Adopting a microburst approach allows you to make progress immediately. You remove the barrier of time as an excuse not to get going.

Every 15 minutes of content I did with a complete focus was a micro win. It was the starting block for the next burst of content. With this approach, I was measuring my progress rather than what still needed to be done.

The success of the microburst strategy is based on consistent action. Consistency compounds over time, so if you only do a 20-minute micro burst once a week, you will never meet your deadline. However, when you can regularly apply some creative thinking to your time, you can make significant progress.

Use your gaps wisely.

I started to use my kid’s extramural activities as bonus time for my course. Being Covid, I wasn’t allowed into the dance studio or swimming area, so I didn’t need to feel any guilt about not watching them participate.

I knew I had 30 minutes to myself, and I refrained from even opening my Outlook or social media feeds. I had the course on my phone through the Kajabi app and could log in from anywhere.

Using these little gifts of time, I added a few hours of study time to my week. I would make notes in my Notes app on my phone and transfer them onto my PC when I got home. In this way, I never had an excuse not to use the time available to me.

Think about where in your schedule you can maximise existing waiting time?

Use found time.

If you want to be a calendar whisperer, you need to know what to do with found time. This is bonus time that appears in your day unexpectedly, like a meeting that cancels at the last minute.

Never underestimate how much you can accomplish in a twenty or thirty-minute time period. Sometimes we dismiss those gaps because it feels like ‘only 20 minutes, so I may as well scroll my socials’. When you know what you need to do and have it ready to go at all times, you will be astounded by the progress you can make in twenty minutes.

I use this same approach for my writing. I often use a twenty-minute gap to start a blog or at least get the main headings down. Any progress you make is a micro win to continue in the next window of time.

Plan ahead.

At the end of each day, spend a few minutes going over your calendar for the next day. Have a look if you have any existing gaps in your day that you can plan around. What will you do in that gap, and do you have everything ready such as the website and login details. Can you keep a notebook handy in your car?

I would also recommend doing this exercise on a Sunday and looking at your calendar for the whole week to get a holistic view of what gaps are available. This practice gives you peace of mind that you will be able to make progress over your week, no matter how small.

Planning is so important because if you inherit an unexpected block of time, you need to know precisely how you would like to spend it. By the time you think what you ‘should’ be doing, it’s probably too late, and by then, you have escaped into the land of cat videos.

Time block your week.

When you commit to furthering your studies or building a new skill set, you cannot leave your progress in the hands of a cancelled meeting or a few short bursts of time here and there.

You need to carve out dedicated slots for your personal growth goals. When you go through your calendar on a Sunday, insert dedicated blocks of time for this goal — unapologetically. Label the slots, ‘meeting with EXCO’ because you are the executive committee, after all.

Busy is a decision. You are always going to feel like it’s the wrong time to start something new. The only way to make serious progress is to block out time in advance to prevent anyone else from taking this precious time away.

If you don’t prioritise your time, everyone else is going to. Be aware of giving up what matters most to you to please others. It is not a sustainable strategy for your happiness.

Don’t multi-task.

Whether you are studying, doing creative work or building on a skill, never multi-task. Perhaps you can walk and listen to something simultaneously, but I am talking about being on a conference call with the camera off and trying to study simultaneously. You are fighting for the same cognitive bandwidth and will never do yourself or your material any justice.

I know it feels like this is your only option to manage it all, but if you use your time wisely, you will be much further ahead by focused periods of short bursts rather than multi-tasking. The aim isn’t just to get through the material but benefit along the way and internalise your growth.

Give yourself permission.

Beware of a time scarcity mindset when making time for your growth goals. It’s that feeling of not having enough time, and of course, this generates anxiety around anything that is not directly related to work.

I am talking about the mental challenge you face when a meeting cancels, and now you have that precious 30-minute gap of found time.

Suddenly, you find yourself in a mental tug of war. The inner critic is telling you to fill that gap with work, and your inner coach is telling you to use the time for your studying, writing, skill development — you fill in the blank.

It is in these moments that you have to permit yourself to let the inner coach win. Consider the cost of inaction if you continue to delay your personal growth goals?

The truth is that wasn’t going to be your time anyway, so you may as well use it to make progress on your mastery goals.

Place value on your future self.

It can feel futile to invest so much time and energy into furthering your studies or building a new skillset because you are comfortable with the status quo. The real motivation to change begins when you see the effort for your future self rather than present-day you.

Any mastery is about setting your future self up for success. To be the coach I want to be, I have to take steps today to achieve that.

When you make time for something not directly related to your day-to-day work, it can feel challenging to justify the time spent. Focusing on the benefit for your future self will release you of any guilt at the moment.

It’s choosing the long term gain rather than the instant gratification of a cat video. It probably feels more fun in the moment, but what is the compound interest of delaying your goals over time?

Focus on the process, not the outcome.

It is easy to let the volume of the task drown out the enjoyment of the process; you begin to feel like you just want to finish and get through it so you can have your piece of paper. The point isn’t just the piece of paper but to truly internalise the skill set and incorporate the growth with the journey.

Rather than multi-task through the program or course, focus on the person you are becoming through the process. Enjoy each module, do the exercises, apply the lessons to your life to maximise the benefits.

The joy is in the day to day activities, the piece of paper is the symbol of your hard work and effort. You want to be equal to that piece of paper on the inside when you complete it. If you sail through to the endpoint, you may find imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head.

Final thoughts.

“Your future self is watching you right now through your memories.” — ― Aubrey de Grey

Choose to make your future self proud by putting them first. You will never regret your decision.

Whatever your mastery goals are, I hope these tools have given you the confidence to progress your personal development.

· Ditch all or nothing thinking.

· Use your gaps wisely.

· Use found time.

· Plan ahead.

· Time block your week.

· Don’t multi-task.

· Give yourself permission.

· Place value on your future self.

· focus on the process, not the outcome.

Here’s to mastery,

Warm wishes