How much importance do you place on learning new things?

I’m guessing you consider learning to have some importance, since you’re reading my site.

But my follow-up question is: Are you really giving yourself the space you need to learn?

That time I…

I’ve considered other job opportunities during the course of running my own business.

I’ve even tried out a few, and one consistency I found among them all was that learning was stated to be a value, but I was never actually given the space to do any learning.

[Tweet “They said they valued learning but they showed they valued output”]

Oh yes, I was expected to keep up on the latest technologies so the company could stay abreast of the field and we could offer up-to-date services to clients.

I was also expected to bill 35 – 38 hours a week on client work, which is entirely unrealistic unless I actually spent 10 hours a day in the office trying to get all that time in. Remember coffee breaks and bathroom breaks and the online/chat interruptions from colleagues aren’t actually billable time for your projects. All of that time would have been ‘work’ time for a traditional on-site employee.

Each time I’ve left a job, I’ve left feeling like the leadership talked a mean game around education and learning but didn’t actually value it at all.

What they valued was output.

No matter what the leadership said, the priority for every employee was expected to be billable hours. Nothing else mattered as much as that.

Broken effort based billing

Part of this disconnect between what was said was valued and what was shown to be valued was the result of the broken effort based billing model.

That means hourly billing or billing based on how long something should take.

Time is irrelevant to the cost and your client doesn’t care how long something will take you.

How I show I value learning

I take every Friday off from direct client work and instead devote that day to personal development.

I spend the morning in a meeting with my mastermind group and in calls with business owners I coach.

I spend the afternoon doing something like riding my bike, running, reading, hiking — any activity that feels like it’s going to relax me and interest me.

Right now it’s 3 p.m. on a Monday and I’m writing. Just before this I was reading through my Instapaper queue which is mainly focused on business articles.

I spent my hour-long lunch reading a book. It’s not uncommon for me to read 8 books a month. Not all  of these are business books, because I enjoy a variety of genres. And, I’m of the opinion that our minds need a rest just as much as they need to charge ahead with new information.

[Tweet “I demonstrate the value I place on learning by actually spending ‘work time’ learning.”]

I don’t obsess over billing 8 hours each work day. I aim for 4 – 5, but when it comes to setting targets, I focus on my average over a month as opposed to getting bogged down in weekly totals.

I’m sure you value learning as well, but what are some specific actions you take, or habits you’ve developed, that demonstrate that value?

How about taking Friday afternoon to read a topic you identify as the biggest problem in your business?

If you can’t afford a whole afternoon, then spend the first hour of your day on Tuesday and Thursday learning something new.

Put this time on your calendar so that you don’t book over it — this way you show that you value learning as well.

photo credit: pedrovezini cc

4 responses to “Do you pay lip service to learning?”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    Hi Curtis:
    This post resonated deeply with me. All the reasons you stated here is a large part of why I’m staying solo, and not looking to work for someone else in a permanent agency setting.

    I am fully convinced there are agencies out there that value learning, but none that I’ve encountered around here.

    Client work is amazing. I love client work, but it seems like it all does become about billable hours in many firms. It scares me to see how tightly the schedules are packed for many agency workers. Even if they wanted to learn something, or work on personal development, there’s no freaking way. It’s true. I have seen places where 10 hours a day is pretty much what you can expect. And that’s for the people in office.

    The higher-end agencies will truly invest in their employees, and make sure that they have ample time in a resource to personally develop. The middle and lower tier firms look for employees who will fit a certain price here and have a reasonable level of competence. But I am not sure that those employees every progress beyond a certain point.

    Maybe that’s the whole point. When you treat employees like “Parts is parts” (old US TV commercial reference), then the frame as a whole stays stuck in the whatever tier they are at. Thus the need to charge more billable hours.

    I preferred being able to pick and choose clients, do my best work, stretch my limits, and not feel burned out every single day. It’s better for me, it’s better for my clients, it’s better for everyone.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I don’t think it has to be this way at agencies though. I’m going to be expanding in 2015 and I am determined to charge enough that I can give my staff Friday’s off to learn and rest.

      I’m not planning on tracking hours either (to get away from the broken effort based billing system).

      1. John Locke Avatar

        I don’t think it has to be that way either, and I’m glad you’re making something that follows this philosophy. I have indeed noticed the topic of the blog heading more towards managing others.

        100% agree measuring units of effort instead of total value is a broken billing system that benefits no one.

        Here’s to 2015.

        1. Curtis McHale Avatar
          Curtis McHale

          Don’t worry it’s not going 100% to managing others, just where I’ve been thinking lately. Already have content mapped out for 2015 that is not managing others at all.