How to use your personal time to get better at what you do.

If you aspire to career growth, you can't be complacent. Where you are today is a reflection of the education and skills that got you there. The question is, where do you want to be tomorrow` You won't get there by coasting on what you already know.

The key to your future can be found in an ongoing commitment to learning, also known as professional training and development. By getting better at what you do and expanding the boundaries of what you understand, you become more valuable to your team, customers, and company. In fact, you become a bigger player in your entire industry, which widens your world to new career opportunities as well.

Why is continual learning so important` Because the world is moving so fast now that people who stand still will be passed by. Knowing more than the next person has become a major competitive advantage in every industry. As Joyce A.E. Russell wrote in The Washington Post: "With today's more complex business environment, learning is not just a nice thing to do--it is essential for staying on top of things... None of us can afford to remain stagnant in our knowledge."

Yet despite these realities, many people feel stuck when it comes to increasing their professional knowledge base. They're swamped at work, overwhelmed at home, and unclear on how they might manage to squeeze the extra hours needed out of their already full schedules to make time for additional learning.

The secret lies in realizing two things. First, with the easy accessibility of today's technologies and mobile options, it's no longer necessary to learn in a classroom--you can bring training tools with you wherever you go. Second, because you don't need to carve out a big block of time to learn in a classroom, you can approach learning on your own terms and in your own timeframe.

If you don't have a solid hour to devote to picking up new skills, how about sparing 10 minutes` A couple of shorter stints composed of smaller time units can quickly add up--and mobile technologies make it almost a shame not to learn on the fly or between other activities.

Here are 9 painless ways to train on your own time--picked up from our own customers--that will help grease the wheels for your next big opportunity:

  1. Pick your poison. No matter what industry you're in, you can use online resources to learn on your own schedule. To get started on your professional development, you simply need to choose a platform and gain access to it. The point of a platform is to provide you with easily accessible training materials that allow you to learn a lot in small chunks of time. An online training library of courses can do this.
  2. Shift gears on your breaks. How would you rather spend your work break: catching up on Facebook again, or doing something just as engaging that can help you land your next promotion` Take advantage of your breaks to watch a training video on your smartphone, iPad, or laptop. Devoting a 30-minute lunch break to learning a few times a week can quickly add up to hours of professional training a month, without needing to change your schedule. Even short breaks in the morning or later afternoon can offer enough time to pick up some new skills and ideas.
  3. Capture your commute time. Driving to work presents the perfect setting to absorb a podcast, audiobook, or other training tool that you can listen to while you commute. If you take a bus or train, you can add video to the experience, watching entire courses while you ride. If you travel an hour a day to your job and back, that's potentially 10 hours a week of focused learning time.
  4. Project it on the big screen. Why watch trash TV in the evening when you can use the same equipment to learn` Many online training courses can play through X-Box and Apple TV just as well as videogames can. So crack open a soda, turn up the surround sound, and enjoy the show on your big-screen TV as you get smarter all the while.
  5. Carve out time on weekends. While you don't want to spend your whole weekend on work-related activities, finding moments here and there for professional growth can help break up the workweek while providing inspiration for Monday. Can you find an hour to learn a new technology online or listen to a podcast that can help you solve problems at the office`
  6. Learn while the cat's away. Weekends can be particularly effective times for learning when others in your household are out and about, and you have a quiet moment. Whether your spouse is traveling or your kids are at soccer practice, it's the perfect opportunity to pull up your platform and dig into some educational material.
  7. Park it. There's no rule that says professional training must take place indoors--and with today's technologies, there's no need for it. Get a breath of fresh air and go to a park with your iPad or smartphone, and watch a course while sitting under a tree. Being out in nature will lift your spirits, and the course content will elevate your mind.
  8. Travel smarter. Travel time presents some of the best stretches to enhance your professional skill set. In addition to time during flights or train travel when you're free from everyday interruptions, you may also be able to take advantage of evenings in the hotel and lulls between work events, when you can turn lost time into learning.
  9. Double-dip during downtime. Whether you're home sick, waiting in line, or on the sidelines at a swim meet when your child isn't swimming, you can recoup lost minutes or hours by pulling up your platform of choice on your mobile device. It's the ultimate form of multitasking.

Accessibility has made everything possible when it comes to professional development. Learning platforms have evolved toward online options that transform wasted time into valuable opportunities. If you make the most of mobile technology, you can take 10 minutes several times throughout the day for online learning as opposed to waiting to find the hour you think you need. Tomorrow's best leaders will use the wide range of opportunities that come up in daily life to move their training, and their individual development, continuously forward.


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