Co-authored by Nick Kelly
My wife is a photographer and recently, she created a picture based on the quote “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”. Do you remember that quote? I certainly do. More so recently, as I am studying for a certification exam, wrapping up the end of our fiscal year (at the time of this writing), being a dad, husband, and bass player. Let’s not forget that I do have a day job, too.
Never Enough Time in the Day?
This all got me thinking about not just time, but how fast time goes by, especially in technology. One of the biggest challenges any Systems Engineer faces is keeping up with the latest trends in the industry. Along with that, we need to keep our skills well-honed. Both soft-skills like presenting and technical skills. Unfortunately, this an area that is often over-looked. Nick Kelly and I wrote a blog recently about work/life balance and we all know how important that is. We need to still take the time out of our day occasionally to keep ourselves up to date, relevant, and gainfully employed.
Prioritization of Education
It’s so important for most of us to try to react to things as quickly as possible. However, as SEs, we often forget that we are not saving lives, we’re just selling stuff. There is nothing in our daily jobs so urgent that we must stop everything else and panic. If an email doesn’t get responded to, or that phone call doesn’t get answered immediately, Earth will still keep turning. There’s no scenario where everything falls apart. This is not say that we ignore things for the sake of ignoring things, but make sure we address items by level of importance. That includes our own learning plans.
The 7thhabit in Stephen R. Covey’s famous book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is to sharpen the saw. Covey defines this as “having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.”  We block time on our calendars for conference calls, for meetings, and for other appointments. Why don’t we do this for keeping our skills (the saw) sharp?
Equally important to blocking this time off is keeping it blocked off. Make it as important as other calls or meetings. I have the time put aside on my calendar for Friday afternoons and will admit that I am guilty of letting things get in the way of that. That is why it has taking me so long to sit down and start preparing for a certification exam. Now that I have, I am not letting things interfere with that time and intend to keep the practice going long after I pass the test.
Planning to Learn
Along the idea of making that time set aside precious, create a plan. What are you going to do with that time set aside for sharpening the saw? Learn about the latest firmware release? Watch a webinar? Work on a lab? Practice your guitar or golf swing? If you know what you want to do when that time comes up, you will be more likely to stick to using the time appropriately and less time doing things that may be less beneficial to you.
Time and Time Again
It’s not that we don’t have the time to put aside for learning. It’s that we don’t think of it as a priority when it should be one of the highest on the list. A sharp saw cuts better and faster. It’s more efficient and gets utilized more effectively. Put the time on the calendar. Don’t let things interfere with it. Know what you will use that time for each and every week. If you take a little time in making sure the saw is kept sharp, it won’t rust!
 Covey, S. R. (2016). The 7 habits of highly effective people. San Francisco, CA: FranklinCovey.