20 Minutes of Learning

small boy with mouth open astounded on black background

Various studies have been done the last several years on how much time employees waste on social media in the workplace. One recently from a “staffing firm” found that workers waste an average of 56 minutes per day using their mobile devices for non-work activities. I am sure that you and I do not have this problem, but what about our organizations? (Note the sarcasm intended in the previous statement).

I question all kinds of waste – plastic parts on the floor, time spent on social media, and extended periods on screens (now called “binging,” which points out how unhealthy it is!). But, I also cannot stand excuse making, and excuses are what I often hear from leaders when I ask them how much they are reading.

“I don’t have time,” they tell me, or, “I am not a reader” or, “reading was boring in high school” (despite the fact that high school was probably three plus decades ago!). All of these are weak excuses.

You might be wondering what social media and time wasted at the workplace has to do with reading as a leader. If it is not already obvious, why don’t you get off your smartphone, your email, and even silence your calls, so that you can learn from spending 20 minutes a day at the office? This is the office place equivalent of “don’t eat that, eat this,” leadership development, because 20 minutes of learning will provide the nourishment you need to become smarter, wiser, and possibly worth following.

Still unconvinced? Do you have that nagging urge to check to see if your last post received more likes? Here are 3 reasons to spend 20 minutes each day learning at the office….

Learning: Duh, that is what this is all about, but hang with me here. Instead of catching up on the latest sporting news, or what your uncle’s cousin thinks about the President, why not dig into a leadership or history book? Notice that I am not suggesting that you read the secret book your grandmother used to read about the estranged lovers. Rather, I am suggesting you read the kind of book that will help you get better at your job or gain perspective about the world. Imagine for a second if everyone in your company read 5 leadership and 5 history books per year. Would your company be better than it is today? I’d wager that it would be.

Slowing: 20 minutes of learning forces you to slow down and stop reacting to the constant bombardment of activity present in the modern workplace. Who among us has made poor decisions because you were reacting through the day and firing off email after email, stopping to fire a few texts, and even reacting harshly to an annoyed customer? 20 minutes of learning is like an adult “time-out” of sorts. Or, if you prefer, call it “halftime.” Like professional athletes, we need to take a break to think. The gift of 20 minutes of learning is that it not only gives us a much needed break, but also replenishes our mind with useful information and perspective, the kind that will propel us to better performance for the remainder of the day.

Subconscious Power: I always spend 20 minutes of learning with an open notepad beside me because when my conscious brain is freed to rest, the subconscious often kicks in with good ideas or answers to problems in the workplace. I am not smart enough to tell you how this happens, but it is why some people say that their best ideas come in the shower or in other areas where they are not thinking about a specific problem. Reading is another activity that turns off the problem-solving portion of our brain and allows the subconscious to go to work. To that end, do not be surprised if 20 minutes of learning leads to better ideas.

These are only three reasons to spend 20 minutes learning at the office each day – there are surely more! But, what happens if the boss catches you blowing off work to read the latest John Maxwell leadership book?

I’ll bet she walks away thinking, “I should promote so and so. I caught Alex checking Facebook the other day. He’s an employee who should really spend more time learning through substantiative reading.”

The fact of the matter is that we all should.

My challenge to you is to start spending at least 20 minutes learning through reading and let me know how it goes.

You have the time – stop making excuses!