You’ve probably come across the idea that seriously successful entrepreneurs spend vast amounts of time reading. The classic example is Bill Gates gets through about one book per week on average.
But then, maybe your grandmother gets through that many mystery-spy-thriller-romance novels in a week too, and it’s not like she’s a billionaire. Well, what this points to is that reading in and of itself isn’t going to be your secret key to success.
So what gives?
The underlying drive which makes Bill Gates consume so many books is probably slightly different from what motivates your granny. One is driven by a genuine intellectual curiosity. The other just wants something to do in the evenings.
There’s nothing wrong with either of these approaches, but it’s the former that’s going to turn you into an entrepreneurial powerhouse. From here on out we’ll be looking at how this works, by exploring how you can improve your productivity by adopting a learner’s lifestyle.
What is a Learner’s Lifestyle?
At its, its core a learner’s lifestyle is pretty much what it sounds like, a focus on continuous learning. It can be tempting to think that the second we graduate we’re ready to take on the world. In reality, even the most prestigious degrees can’t fill us with all the knowledge in the world.
This is especially important, given that in most Western countries these days, we operate in what’s known as the knowledge economy. In short, this means that having more insight than everybody else is likely to be the difference between your business succeeding or failing.
But first, you have to rejig a few of your assumptions.
Usually, when we talk about productivity, we’re thinking about how much we can get done in the short or medium term. This might be the number of tasks we get through in a day or the amount of revenue we generate in a month.
By contrast, the learner’s lifestyle is all about gathering as much insight as possible over the longer term. We’ll go into how this impacts productivity a little later, but for now, the thing to understand is that this involves both insights which are specific to your niche and those that are slightly more general.
The benefits are innumerable. Unsurprisingly, constant and ongoing learning just makes you smarter. Ongoing learning also has numerous mental health benefits, which can help you avoid burnout in a busy career.
How to Find the Time to Learn
You’re no doubt already thinking ‘that’s fine for Bill Gates, but I don’t have the time to sit around reading all day!’ And that’s a fair point. The biggest challenge to adopting a learner’s lifestyle is finding the time.
After all, we want to improve productivity, right?
There are a few schools of thought on this. For example, you might have come across the 5 hour rule, as utilized by people like Warren Buffet or Elon Musk. In short, the idea here is to spend an hour a day reading. You workaholics out there might even try reading on the weekend too, which is sometimes called the 7-hour rule.
This is fine as a goal, but it misses the point somewhat. After all, if there already aren't enough hours in the day, this advice won’t get you far. Luckily, we live in something of a golden age of learning.
Where once you may have had to troll second-hand bookstores, or take a correspondent’s course, today we have edutech, podcasts, and audiobooks instead. This makes it easier to squeeze in your daily hour of learning.
The classic example would be listening to audiobooks on your commute. Putting a small amount of thought into how your day is structured will reveal any number of other passive activities that offer similar learning opportunities. For example, you can set aside time to study and remove distractions using the PomoDone App.
In addition to limited time, you probably also have limited money. Many companies offer their employees a fixed learning budget for each month or year. Doing this on a personal scale will also help you maximize the value you draw from your learning efforts.
Skills vs Knowledge
This leaves us with the question of what we should be learning. If you cast your mind back to your school days, you may remember your careers teacher explaining the difference between skills and knowledge.
One way of thinking about this is that knowledge is information you store in your brain, while skills are the ability to apply this knowledge. Then there are so-called soft skills, like analysis or communication which fit somewhere in between.
To successfully improve productivity by adopting a learner’s lifestyle, you want to work on both, rather than simply amassing knowledge or developing a whole arsenal of skills.
Because each of these types of knowledge has its own bearing on your levels of productivity. For example, improving your bookkeeping skills will reduce the amount of time you spend on your accounts. Greater knowledge of taxation rules could help you lower your overall liability and increase after-tax profits.
Acquiring skills and knowledge is also easier in tandem than trying to do so separately. For most people, knowledge sticks better when you apply it to real world scenarios. On the other hand, it’s easier to wrap your head around new skills when you have more context or background knowledge.
As an additional benefit, many skills can enable you to improve productivity either by automating tasks or spotting where procedures can be greatly simplified. This often crops up in the argument that everybody should be learning to code.
The Importance of Reading Broadly
Speaking of context, it’s time to think about what knowledge is actually helpful. The simple answer is pretty much all of it. Let’s take one of our super rich guy examples from earlier. Do you think Warren Buffet only reads investment manuals?
The author Haruki Murakami said that ‘if you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone is thinking’. If this seems a bit high-flung and literary, try applying the same idea on a smaller scale to your niche.
Your competitors might have massive reserves of knowledge within their own discipline, but someone who has a broad knowledge of a range of topics will spot opportunities that they don’t.
This is because understanding a range of different fields will let you make connections that other people don’t see.
Even more importantly for improving your productivity, a better knowledge of a broader range of topics will enable you to spot a great business development opportunity before your competitors. Then they waste their time on a no-go while you’re busy working on something that’s actually viable.
For example, a coder could spend months working on what they think is a million-dollar fintech silver bullet. It might only take someone with a bit of legal nous a few seconds to spot that it would break every financial regulation in the book.
Often what seems like a massive breakthrough in one field is common sense in another.
The Benefits of Continuous Learning
A learner’s lifestyle naturally opens up new opportunities for you. Businesses naturally want to reward their top performers with promotions and salary hikes, because they have a vested interest in making sure their best staff stay with the company.
Yet you’ll find it’s not just professional work-based opportunities that will open up to you. The interests you follow and activities that you undertake outside of work will also result in new opportunities. This could take the form of new friends, or it might be that you start a side project outside of work.
The benefits of a learner’s lifestyle to your productivity are numerous. Not only will it help you to do more of your existing work, but it will also help you to do so in smarter and more efficient ways. The key to this is constantly working on both skills-based and knowledge-based learning.
While many people think that they are too busy for this kind of personal development, the truth is that it can be squeezed into your day with very little effort. So that’s the productivity case for adopting a learner’s lifestyle. Enjoy yourselves, and who knows, you might just learn a thing or two.
About the author:
Nico Prins is a business consultant and the founder of Launch Space. He helps enterprise-level companies implement digital marketing strategies that increase sales through content marketing, CRO, and email.
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