The Job Hunt

How to Learn Professional Skills More Quickly

Deryk Makgill
October 2019

I’m going to write about learning.

No, not classroom learning and not intellectual learning. This post is about highly-practical, professional learning and how to accelerate it.

It assumes a few things:

  1. You don’t have time to spend four years studying to see the results you want.
  2. Money is on the line–you need results now.
  3. Years of schooling have killed your love of learning and your knowledge of how to do it.

If you’re in marketing and sales (like me), or you’re an operations person, or a designer, a developer, a creative type, or anything else, you need to be able to take in knowledge and turn it into something valuable quickly.

So here goes. This is just what I’ve learned in the last few years about learning.

Read Less, Observe More

It’s like this: you settle on developing a new skill—maybe you want to be a better email marketer. You go to Amazon and order dozens of books or Google “the best marketing blogs”.

You learn a lot, but you find quickly you reach a cap, and you still feel helpless to take that knowledge and turn it into something useful.

You’ve probably never been told, “You’re reading too much,” but you are. Reading about professional skills can only get you so far. It’s a much slower process than the alternative, which is observe what others do.

How does this observing work?

Suppose you want to learn to build an email campaign for an online course launch. There are probably some great books out there that can give you a general framework to follow, and they might be worth reading. But a better way to learn this would be to sign up for an online course launch.

When I launched a course for a company I was working with, I did exactly that. I signed up for Ramit Sethi’s “Zero to Launch” email list and archived every email he sent during the three-week reopening period.

This taught me far more about successful course launches than any book could have.

You can do this for almost anything.

If your first question is, “How do I learn X?”, your second question should be, “Whom can I observe doing X?” 

Find a company or an individual whom you know has the knowledge you want, and watch what they do by signing up for their sales funnels, studying their website, watching their speeches, reading their writing. Then reverse engineer that.

Artists have done this for hundreds of years. During the Renaissance, an artist-in-training would regularly reproduce works from other masters as a study in how they did their craft.

You can do the same for most professional skills today.

Learn Just in Time

Tim Ferriss first introduced me to “just in time” learning in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. The idea is simple: study can become your enemy when it’s done without defined timelines and outcomes. This is for two reasons:

  1. It distracts you from other essential learning you need.
  2. You’ll probably have to relearn much of it when it’s time to apply it.

The solution he suggests? Learn to the task. Rather than trying to cram your head with professional skills you might use one day, find creative tasks and learn the essential skills you need to deliver on that task.

For example, if you want to design a graphic, it makes far more sense to learn the exact tools you need in Adobe Creative Cloud during the process of designing that graphic than to spend months studying the software suite in full. By the time you finish, you’ll forget much of it and likely still won’t have a graphic.

Just-in-time learning gives you the graphic and the essential knowledge you need to move forward. Once you’ve completed a project, take on another, then another. You can learn email marketing when you need to build out your first email campaign. You can learn Facebook ads when you need to run your first ads.

Go Directly to the Source of Knowledge and Experience

In most cases, you’ll be better served by asking questions than doing research on your own. It might take me hours to find a solution to a technical problem. But emailing or calling someone who has already done it can teach me the same thing in a few minutes.

I’ve become a regular at this and even spent around $800 for a phone call with Ryan Holiday.

If you have a particular learning goal, try to find someone you can talk to about it. Clarity is a good platform for this (you can pay experts for their time), but you can often just email people as well.

When I wanted to learn how a particular video I saw on YouTube was color-graded, I just emailed the producer. I got my question answered, saved myself hours of research, and made a new connection.

Create Every Day

One of my philosophies–and the philosophy of many successful people–is that you should create something every day.

When I wanted to learn web design, I did a new test site every day for a few weeks and regularly tweaked my blog. When young people in a program like Praxis want to become better writers, they blog every day for thirty days.

If you want to become a great marketer, the best way to do it is to put yourself in a situation in which you have to do it every single day.

Apprenticeships, internships, and free work are all low-barrier ways to do this, but you can start now without approval as well. You can create a product and try to sell it. Build a Webflow site. Set up a Shopify store. Write an ebook.

If you don’t know what you want to learn, that’s fine, too. Find a project that excites you, and learn everything you need to build that project.

This is how true professional learning happens. It doesn’t happen in the classroom, and it doesn’t even happen on its own through study. You need a constant process of active participation in the particular skills you’re trying to learn.

This post was originally published at by Derek Magill.

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