Having trouble getting started on learning a new skill?

Working on the same kind of project with the same old technologies you’ve already mastered is easy and comfortable. You’ve been telling yourself that you should move on to a more modern web development stack or learn a new library for a while, but you’re having trouble just getting started. It’s easier to dream about how cool it would be to learn that skill, or to keep debating which skill to learn next. Meanwhile, your pile of brand-new books is starting to collect dust…

Most people go through this phase when it’s hard to start moving at one point or another in their life. I wrote previously about planning your learning, and I believe it’s important to know where you want to go. But on the other hand, sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and just do it. I don’t believe in waiting forever and leaving a ton of ideas pile up on my bucket list. If something is really important to you, you need to find a way to learn it right now and not when you magically have more free time.

Just do it!

When you feel stuck, the best strategy is to just throw yourself in it and get started on learn that new skill you wanted to master. Just pick a book, a course or a small project and get going to build momentum, even if you feel like you suck at first. The planning can come in later once you’ve broken the ice. You can’t learn everything for book and lectures: as an avid reader, I’m very familiar with the drive to collect a lot of information before getting started, but you need to avoid paralysis by analysis.

Give yourself no choice to learn: volunteer for those new projects at work, start a new project with a friend or share it with the world. Even if it’s not exactly what you wanted to learn, you’ll get into the habit of regularly learning new things, and you can use this to learn skills that are more important to you.

If volunteering for large projects using skills you don’t master yet is uncomfortable to you, start with smaller steps. You can instead volunteer to fix a small bug in an area of the software you’re unfamiliar with, or try to improve your own tools and procedures. You’ll grow more confident and you’ll be able to tackle larger and more impressive learning challenges with time.

Prioritizing your goal

If you don’t have the chance to learn new skills at work, you need to find the time to do it during your limited free time. Even if you want to learn many skills, you can’t work on all your goals at the same time, scattering your time and energy on too many pursuits.

Adding sometime new to your schedule requires prioritizing it over other commitments and habits. You can do a lot with only a little bit of time every day, but you need to find it. Maybe you’ll be more quiet on social media for a while, or will need to give up some gaming time or nights out for your project. Take a deep look at your current routine to see where you could find a bit of extra time.

This strategy is best used on goals that really matter to you, otherwise they’ll be hard to prioritize. There are many skills on my bucket list that I know I’ll need to learn at some point, but those are not a priority at the moment. I pushed them aside since I can always learn them later, or as it becomes an emergency. As you grow more confident in your ability to learn, you’ll be less worried about having to learn some skills just in time, and you’ll be able to focus on skills that bring in more long-term benefits. Just make sure you keep learning once so you don’t have to start over and get the learning habit going again.