As an entrepreneur, you’re chest-deep in the day-to-day operations of your business, keeping one eye on sales and one on your team while somehow also planning the company’s next move. It’s all important, and it’s a lot. It may seem to you that spending time on your own professional growth is a low priority, or even unnecessary.
But the world is changing at a breakneck pace. You need to keep up with technology, culture, and the business environment. You need to hone existing skills and learn new ones. Maybe you need insight into a technical skill, like web design, or experience with a more intangible concept, like leadership.
So whether you call it professional development, continuing education, or sharpening the saw, you need to invest in self-improvement. Unfortunately, time is limited.
Fortunately, professional development is not limited to those with the leisure to attend expensive week-long off-site courses. Consider the ideas below, and find the ones that work for you.
1. Books or Audiobooks
Reading a book may seem like a significant time investment, depending on how fast you read. But you don’t have to read it all at once — or even at all. Sneak in a chapter each night, or listen to an audiobook while you eat lunch. You’ll get a bucketful of insight, one spoonful at a time.
It only takes a moment to find a book. Check out lists like these from Inc., Business Insider, and Forbes. Scan the lists to see what resonates, or, to condense the process, look for commonalities between lists. Which titles show up over and over?
Is checking the lists too much trouble? Ask for recommendations from friends or colleagues, or start with Superconnector, by YEC founders Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh.
2. Articles or Podcasts
No time for a whole book? Read or listen to a shorter piece.
There is a wealth of knowledge in other entrepreneurs' experiences. You can start by reading some of the articles published by YEC members on Forbes and Inc., or subscribe to a series of blogs and business podcasts so that there’s always something in your queue. Podcasts are especially easy to slip in during your commute, your evening run, or even while you’re in the shower. You can even start with one by a YEC member, like Art of Likability, Arel Moodie; Community Made, Jayson Gaignard; or Powderkeg, Matt Hunckler.
3. Webinars or Videos
Take a half hour when you are tired or overwhelmed by a business conundrum to focus on something entirely different. Whether it’s a TED talk, a training video, or a pre-recorded webinar, changing your focus will not only refresh and reset your brain, it could introduce the seed of a new idea. Bonus: this approach often has the welcome side effect of triggering your unconscious brain to cough up a solution to the problem that was bothering you before. It’s not lost time; it enables your brain to work in the background.
4. Conventions and Events
If you’re representing your company at a convention or other event, see if there’s a workshop or panel you can slip into. You’re there anyway; take an hour or two to open your mind to an outside perspective. There’s nothing more inspirational than hearing someone who is passionate about their area of expertise demonstrate what works for them. You may come away with a fantastic business strategy brainstorm, and you did it all on a quick break from your regular convention itinerary.
5. Short Courses
Maybe there’s a particular topic that is so interesting to you or essential to your business that you’d really like to attend a course. This option does require dedicated time, but how much is up to you. Multiple-day workshops and semester-long college courses can really offer great information — if you’ve got the time and money. But if you don’t, look into shorter or more flexible online courses on sites like edX, Coursera, or any of several others. With these sites, you can cherry-pick the best subjects for you, and (in most cases) sneak them in on your own schedule.
6. Entrepreneur Groups
Join a group of like-minded professionals like YEC. Connecting with other intelligent, motivated individuals who face challenges similar to yours is an excellent way to open yourself to new ideas. Attend member gatherings and events to connect in person, or access members-only form whenever you have a moment to benefit from the wisdom of your peers, solve specific problems, and share your knowledge with others.
Learning new things and exposing yourself to new ideas prevents stagnation. It gives you and your company a competitive advantage. And it’s good for your brain. So whether you listen to a podcast during your commute or dig in to a substantial business book while you’re unwinding in the evening, find a way to sneak in some professional development and learn something new. Every skill you master and idea you uncover will pay dividends in the form of your company’s success.
As YEC member Sohin Shah says, “The moment you stop learning is also the one in which you will stop leading.”