Why You Need Great Study Habits (Even If You’re Not in School)

(Image from Flickr by kate*)

Maybe you finished school a decade ago. You’re not done with learning yet.

We all learn new things every day of our lives – from the cradle to the grave. And in today’s world, learning is crucial. If you rely on knowledge, ideas and skills that you acquired twenty years ago (or even ten years ago) then you’re behind the curve.

Thursday and I work on projects that simply didn’t exist ten years ago. We’re both paid bloggers – something that would’ve sounded laughable in 2001, and nonsensical (“what’s a blogger?”) in 1991. We can talk for free, even though we live thousands of miles from one another. And, inevitably, we have to keep up with new innovations in the worlds of writing, technology and publishing.

It’s probably the same for you. Whatever your job is today, it almost certainly looks different from that same job (or its nearest equivalent) twenty years ago. You’ve probably got to grips with lots of technologies like email, Skype and text messaging … and perhaps blogging and social media too.

Your industry may well have undergone huge changes – the publishing industry, for instance, has been shaken up by the rapid advance of ebooks.

And you have almost certainly changed. Perhaps, like me and Thursday, you run your own business. Perhaps you have a regular day job but you do some freelancing on the side. If so, you’ve probably learnt a huge amount about marketing, branding and customer service — and unless you have an MBA, I doubt you studied any of those in school.

Drowning in a Sea of Information

If you’re struggling to learn what you need to thrive in your business (or your life more widely) then the problem almost certainly isn’t a lack of information.

Online, you can find out about any topic, however obscure. The difficulties are:

  • Determining what information is worth your time
  • Actually using that information (rather than letting it sit on your hard drive or in your bookmarks)

When it comes to the first, you’ve almost certainly got some tactics for sorting the wheat from the chaff. You know that websites covered in flashing ads probably aren’t worth reading. You know that ebooks or ecourses produced by people with helpful, informative and well-written websites might well be worth your money. You know that books with several one-star reviews on Amazon probably aren’t a good buy.

When it comes to using the information, though … most of us need to brush up your study habits.

Great Study Habits That Work in the Real World

In school, you needed to study to pass exams. That might have meant learning a ton of information by rote – and promptly forgetting it a few weeks later.

That isn’t how things work in the real world. If you fail to study, no-one’s going to give you an F three-hour exam about “marketing” … but you’re going to find that your business struggles to survive.

Great studying is about using the information that you collate. You’ll want to:

#1: Set aside time, regularly, to read and assimilate new information

How many unread ebooks are currently taking up space on your hard drive? How many unread books are sitting on your shelf? How often have you signed up for a virtual workshop or ecourse, only to end up letting the materials pile up in your inbox?

Studying generally doesn’t feel urgent. It is, however, crucially important. That means you need to deliberately make time for it, on a regular basis.

#2: Take notes as you read or listen to the materials

While you’re reading:

  • Underline any sentences which particularly stand out
  • Make a note of anything that seems important – perhaps you want to do further research
  • Write down specific ideas that come up as you read – ideas that relate to your life and your business or career

#3: Do your homework

At the end of a study session, make yourself a task list. Let’s say you’ve been reading a great article about marketing, and it’s given you an idea for your own business: you want to offer a special cut-price package deal for Thanksgiving. Don’t just capture the general idea – break it into individual steps:

  • Work out what products to package together
  • Decide on a price that makes it a great bargain, while maintaining a decent profit margin
  • Write new copy of the sales page

… and so on.

#4: Consider your preferred learning style

I’d highly recommend working through the materials that you’ve already got, before buying new ones. It’s so easy to fall for the lure of a new book or course … when you’d be much better off taking action with what you’ve already got.

Once you’ve made the most of your current books/ebooks/ecourses/podcasts, then consider what you want to work with next. How do you prefer to learn?

Some people – me included – learn best by reading. Others prefer audio (perhaps to listen to while commuting, or when in the gym). And still others find that live events are best.

If you know that you never get round to listening to audio downloads, then start looking for the same information in book (or even transcript) format. If you know that books always sit on your shelf unread, try going to a live event – you’ll have to set aside time to attend.

Have you got any great real-world studying tips to share? Let us know in the comments…


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