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May 26: 3 Tactics for Managing Current Obligations while Learning and Building Something New

May 26: 3 Tactics for Managing Current Obligations while Learning and Building Something New
Photo by Sean Sinclair / Unsplash

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Happy Friday and Happy Memorial Day weekend!

We've spent the last several weeks sharpening our conflict management skills because conflict is so frequently encountered when driving change - especially in a team leadership role.  Today we are going to turn our attention to another challenge that you and your team will often face. This is the challenge of constantly learning new things - while managing current obligations.

How often have you heard "We need to be continuous learners!" Everything is changing so fast, we have to be learning new things all the time. Never stop learning. Etc.

You hear a lot about continuous learning. What we don't hear much about is how to do continuous learning while managing your current obligations.

Most of what needs to change in the world will have to go through a thoughtfully planned sometimes complicated transition process. You won't be able to just "pull the plug" on the old stuff - as much as we might like to - and then start with the new.

It would be great to have two teams or two companies running in parallel - one focused on the old, one focused on the new. That rarely works out. Not only is it prohibitively expensive, you actually need old and new disciplines working together.  

So most of us, most of the time, will have to drive change as a transition.  In practical everyday terms, you and I will end up with one foot in both worlds in our day-to-day work. We will have commitments and obligations in current processes and platforms that must be carried out. At the same time we must be learning about and building the next version of those processes and platforms.

Key point: The way you and your team decide to handle this challenge of continuous learning will have a huge impact on the health and the eventual track record of your team. It will make the difference between frustration and burnout vs resilience and ultimate success.

So here are 3 high value tactics you need to learn for yourself and teach your teams. When you apply these 3 tactics consistently, you'll find that you can start setting and achieving more and more aggressive goals.

Tactic #1: Keep reminding yourself you're not proficient yet

When you’re learning something new, be careful of overestimating your ability to complete task in some specific time box. Its so easy to be over aggressive and they will give ourselves some unrealistic timeframe to do something. We don't realize:

We can’t do this in that timeframe YET. Someday we will, but we can't right now. Not yet.  This is still unfamiliar to us.

When we are too aggressive we will often spend that time in valuable learning, but because we didn't finish the unrealistic objective, we get discouraged and feel like we failed. The sound track that starts to play in our head goes something like "There must be something wrong with us. Others were able to do this, but for some reason we couldn't. Maybe this isn't for us." Those are very expensive thoughts - they make company and project budgets bigger without bringing any additional value.

Tactic #2: Focus on consistency not results

We're conditioned to focus on results - which is great - except when we're learning.  

We're better off to say in the beginning, our goal is to actually spend consistent blocks of time learning and working on this new stuff, rather than trying to cram an achievement by some unrealistic deadline. Instead of saying we're doing to do A, B and C in the next month/quarter etc, we should say we're going to spend regular time every day/week learning about and doing our best to go as far as we can buiding or using this new capability. The consistency will get you farther over time, than setting overly aggressive achievement goals.  

Tactic #3: Set aside time to plan out how you'll use your time.

The old saying "it takes money to make money" applies to time. "It takes time to make time". You need to set aside time at the start of each day or week to plan out how you will use the time you have to achieve what is most important to you.

The S3T Timetracker helps you do this. Set precise blocks of time for managing the obligations of today while learning and building for tomorrow. Spend a few minutes each morning or weekend to plan out how you will use the time you have and make time for what's crucial. Remember ...it takes time to make time.


When you embark on a change initiative, where you and your team are leading some kind of important change, you'll often be in a position of needing to work in the present while learning about and building the future. Its a tough place to be, and its very easy for talented team members to get frustrated, and start thinking very expensive thoughts like "maybe we can't actually do this".  

Pay close attention to the mindset of the team: Are we looking for the answers, or are we looking for the exits?  To help guard against this you want to use the 3 tactics you learnd today to set realistic learning pathways. These tactics will help you manage the focus, energy and time of the team so that you can be successful together at driving needed change initiatives. Manage your time so you can meet the needs of today, while laying the groundwork for meeting the needs of tomorrow. Make time for present day operational commitments. And make time for learning and building the future.  

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and make time to reflect on how you can put this into practice in the coming week!


P.S. Another great S3T Sunday Edition is coming - Where will you read and think this weekend?

Enjoyign The View
Photo by Mohammad Bagher Adib Behrooz / Unsplash