How do you improve your skills or pursue a new career when you still have a full-time job?
By Tobias van Schneider
Many of us begin the new year with intentions to improve ourselves or pursue a dream. Then life gets in the way.
Sharpening our skills or learning new ones can only benefit us as creatives, whether we want to get better at what we do or learn something new entirely. But when your day already feels full of obligations, making time to grow (personally and professionally) feels impossible. Between work, family, errands, doctor appointments and who knows what else, you have a few precious minutes left to yourself each day – if that.
This is especially true for those wanting to pursue a different career. When you don’t have the luxury to just quit your full-time job, when are you supposed to work toward your new future? Who has time for that?
A privileged few might have the time to dive headlong into a new venture or skill. The rest of us feel trapped and quite simply, tired. It’s easy to be consumed by the demands of everyday life, until years pass and you look back wishing you had the chance to do things differently.
The reality is, you likely do have that chance now. Here’s how.
You don’t have to quit your job and abandon all responsibilities to work toward your goal. You don’t need to enroll in a university full-time to pursue a new career (at least not in most creative fields – if you want to become a doctor, this probably isn't the article for you).
Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning and watch a YouTube video. Or do a short daily assignment. Or continue a project from the day before. Spend just 15 minutes on it every day.
15 minutes every day for a year = 5,475 minutes
5,475 minutes = 91.25 hours
That’s nearly 100 hours spent improving a skill, learning a new one or working toward your new career. A lot can happen in 100 hours. And a single year and easily change your life.
Take it one class at a time
For some, making a hard commitment around a pursuit helps them follow through. If that’s you, or you struggle with motivating yourself on your own time, or you prefer to have a formal structure and training around what you’re learning, an online class could be useful.
Signing up for a full course-load seems daunting when you're already working full-time. Signing up for one class at a time is a lot less overwhelming. And thankfully, online remote learning makes that possible.
Continuing & Professional Education at The New School offers short online courses you can take one-off or as part of a certificate program. The following courses start March 1, 2021:
This course is for complete beginners. It will give you an introduction to design and teach you how to create beautiful websites writing HTML and CSS code – the building blocks of any webpage. If you’re interested in getting into any form of web design or coding, this is an excellent place to start. You’ll learn how to develop an effective interface design. You’ll learn about usability. You’ll learn about web typography, about the CSS box model, about the foundational elements of the internet (like hosting, domains and content management systems), about common web terminology and a lot more. Honestly, the list of what you’ll learn seems packed with value for this only being a 9-day course.
Data is useless without meaning. For data to be useful, it needs to be brought to life through storytelling, visual representation and analysis. Especially today as more people become aware and concerned about how their data is being used, it’s important for designers to understand how to communicate information effectively and accurately. This course covers the tools, programs and best practices of data visualization, and serves as a foundation for information design, data analytics, and interactive visualization practices.
Traditional university and its four-year, full-time requirements are not required for success in most creative fields today. One class at a time, you can hone your skills, pick up new ones or work toward your dream job.
Making time for your pursue your goals requires boundaries – for others and for yourself, both metaphorically and physically.
If you’ve decided to take an online course: Block off that time each week and make it known to everyone in your everyday life that you’ve set it aside.
If you’re starting small with 15 minutes a day: Turn off your phone, take out the dog beforehand and let nothing invade those precious 15 minutes.
If you keep finding yourself distracted by the TV or the news: Download browser extensions that block those pages, and/or allow yourself a movie or show only after you've finished your focus-session, as a reward.
If your partner or roommate keeps interrupting you while studying or practicing: Find a private room or office and shut the door. If you've ever worked remotely with others in your home, you know it’s hard for them to remember you're working when you're sitting on the couch where you normally relax together. Physically going in a private room makes it more obvious you are busy and eliminates distractions. It creates a mental barrier for you and for them.
If your family guilts you about how you’re spending your time: Sit down, explain your goal and make a plan that everyone understands and agrees on. (I fully realize balancing your studies with your children is not so easily solved. But hopefully, short, contained periods of focus, perhaps early in the morning or late at night, makes this easier.)
Setting boundaries may be painful at first, but they’re nearly always required to make time for the things you want to do. It’s why the famous writers and presidents awoke before sunrise to do their work. It’s why executives have assistants to field their emails. The most productive people have created barriers in the right places, at the right times, to allow themselves to be productive and do what makes them successful.
Identify the sacrifices you’re willing to make
Most of us feel like our day is already too busy, but if we look closely at our schedule, we can likely make a little more room for our dream. That might mean eliminating some indulgences or other commitments for a time, though.
What are those little sacrifices for you?
Netflix? (Data suggests people spend, on average, two hours and 46 minutes watching TV each day.)
Gaming? (Video gamers spend an average of six hours, 20 minutes each week playing games.)
Scrolling through Instagram or TikTok? (The average Instagram user spent 30 minutes a day on Instagram last year. The average TikTok user spends 53 minutes a day on TikTok. What could you be doing with that time?)
You don’t need to forgo all pleasures, but you can reprioritize for a period of time while you pursue your new dream. Save "Bridgerton" for Sunday evenings. Spend Saturday (or whichever days make sense) to practice, do your classwork, experiment or hone your skill. You might just find your new pursuit is more satisfying and pleasurable than what you sacrificed to do it.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!