The pressure to keep our skills sharp is constant. It’s rarely enough to commit yourself to understanding your craft—it’s also essential that you keep an eye on the horizon, too. The half-life of a professional skill is about five years and, according to some estimates, by next year 35 percent of the skills workers need will have changed within the past few years.
That’s strong motivation to get ahead of the curve to protect your professional edge so you can keep thriving. But it’s also tough to master new skills while protecting the commitments you already have. To do so may mean reevaluating your priorities—and learning to use your time as wisely as possible.
Here are three tips to help you measure your options, future-proof your skillset, and tweak your habits so you can learn as efficiently as possible.
Stay on top of the latest trends
It isn’t hard to feel stuck in a state of information overload, but to anticipate what’s coming down the pipeline it’s important to find a way to stay on top of emerging trends in your industry. How can you do that?
- Read industry publications. This is an obvious starting point: curated content about topics that are top-of-mind for many who work in your area. While these publications may require a subscription, you can often access some content for free.
- Identify thought leaders—then pay attention. Many experts regularly publish content to share their opinions on the latest trends, and it can be easy to follow their updates through a site like Twitter, LinkedIn, or their personal blog.
- Participate in conferences. A conference can be a tremendous opportunity to learn and network, but they also often generate a lot of content that can be followed online—from people capturing key moments on Instagram to attendees having sideline conversations on Twitter.
- Monitor leading companies in your industry as well as your competitors. Whether through company news or their latest content marketing efforts, you can often gain a lot of insight by watching how others respond to new developments in your industry.
- Don’t overlook adjacent skillsets. Maybe the work you do seems to stick to the status quo, but would the professionals you regularly collaborate with say the same thing? Creating a network with a broad cross-section of people can help you stay in the know and spot new opportunities early on.
Keep the amount of information manageable by figuring out what works best for your particular niche, then pick a few different sources so you get a mix of different perspectives. To get a sense of what’s trending now, check out the Q2 2019 Skills Index, a list of the 20 fastest-growing skills on Upwork earlier this year.
Remember that soft skills have a long shelf life
In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Stephen M Kosslyn, president and CEO of Foundry College, considered qualities that can’t be automated. Machine learning and automation have clear strengths, but he noted that there are still areas where bots fall short:
- Emotion. Particularly when we interact with other people, humans can pick up on subtle cues, empathize with someone else’s experience, and quickly adapt to different situations.
- Context. As with our ability to adapt, we’re able to quickly identify what’s happening now and consider all the factors that may shift from one moment to the next.
If we nurture skills that play to these unique strengths, we’ll be less likely to sidelined as technology finds new ways to tackle the repetitive and routine.
“Our ability to manage and utilize emotion and to take into account the effects of context are key ingredients of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, adaptive learning, and good judgment,” he said. “It has proven very difficult to program machines to emulate such human knowledge and skills, and it is not clear when (or whether) today’s fledgling efforts to do so will bear fruit.”
Find smarter ways to learn
“It’s possible to teach yourself difficult and valuable skills in an effective manner,” said Scott H. Young in an interview with Fast Company. Ultralearning is a topic Young explored in a book that reveals nine principles that helped him learn MITs four-year computer science curriculum in under a year. These include metalearning, drilling, feedback, and experimentation.
Speaking with reporter Stephanie Vozza, he explained two principles that people often get wrong:
- Directness. People often learn in one context then struggle to apply that knowledge in new situations (aka real life). Instead, Young suggested jumping in by immersing yourself or tackling a project that uses your new skills.
- Retrieval. Rather than cramming and review, Young recommended challenging yourself early on by trying to recall what you’ve learned—such as through tests—then reviewing to bridge the gaps. “If I don’t have to recall something, I don’t store it in my memory,” he said.
What do you do to stay at the top of your game? Share your tips in the comments below!