How to make time, when you “don’t have time”

Feb 12, 2021

Life can feel so busy sometimes, which is especially frustrating when there are skills you’d like to develop or things you’d like to learn — but it just feels like you “don’t have the time.”

For all of my fellow Friends friends, that was not a Joey Tribbiani use of quotation marks. The placement of those quotation marks was informed and intentional.

I’ve tried to rid my life of the phrase “I don’t have time,” instead rephrasing it to be “I haven’t made the time” or “I didn’t prioritize that.” Being relatively averse to lying, I appreciate that those statements are actually true — however difficult it is to admit it. Possibly more importantly, they’re a good reminder that in the absence of an emergency, some things only get done if we’re extremely intentional about making time for them.

In my last post I talked about the need to clarify what you want to learn, why, and how you’ll go about it. (I also included a handy Professional Development Planner that you’re welcome to grab.) In that post I particularly emphasized the importance of integrating the learning into your daily work life, since for most professional development to happen, you need to apply what you learn in the professional realm. 

However, there are some things that you need to learn in a more formal setting and/or outside of typical work time, so that you can then work on integrating what you learn into your workday. But how do you make time for that?

It is more possible than you realize. You can absolutely do this!

How to Make Time

Below are ten ideas for how to fit additional learning time into your life:

  1. Literally make time on your calendar for when you’re going to study. Plan your day (and ideally your week!) ahead of time, blocking out the necessary time on your calendar for when you’re going to focus on your professional development.
  2. Negotiate work release time with your manager. Depending on your work and what you’re learning, it may be beneficial to use 30 minutes of work time a day, or possibly just taking one full work day to focus on what you plan to study. 
  3. Use your lunch break — and take it seriously. Don’t look at work messages or answer work calls during that time.
  4. Pull time from other activities by making them more efficient. For instance, plan your meals in advance. Double a recipe or make more simple meals to cut down on cook time, or plan ahead to get food from a restaurant to eliminate shopping, prepping, and clean-up time on a few meals. I’m an avid meal-prepper, so this is the example that has best helped me save time week by week. There are many other areas in your life from which you can borrow some time by increasing their efficiency, even if in the short term.
  5. Find an accountability partner, ideally someone who will learn with you. By setting time to work with them, you’ll be more likely to show up and ready to learn. In fact, the Center for Creative Leadership reports that you have an 85% likelihood of achieving your goals when you enlist a colleague to help hold you accountable to your goals, as compared to a 6-8% likelihood when you just have a goal in your head without writing it down or sharing it with others.
  6. Reduce addictive habits like social media, news consumption, or video games. Use an app on your phone to help you track and/or block usage. RescueTime and Zenith both report that the average person in the U.S. uses mobile internet more than three hours a day, and in many cases well above that, so simply stopping your social media usage for a week could be the only adjustment you need to complete a course that greatly contributes to your professional development.
  7. Be aware of your natural body clock. Wake up early or study late, depending on your natural rhythms. Take the path of least resistance!
  8. Be aware of your learning preferences. Depending on your learning style and what you’re trying to learn, block off a large chunk of time to dive in or break it up into smaller blocks of time. 
  9. Reduce your set-up for learning. You don’t necessarily have to have a full desk setup, your laptop connected to a monitor, hot coffee on hand, proper lighting, etc. If you only have half an hour a day to dedicate to your studies, spending 15 minutes setting up your study space just won’t work. You can also have a bag or a tray with all the books, notebooks, etc., that you will need for that course so that you can quickly get set up, whether it’s after swapping out your work materials or if you need a quick set up at your kitchen table. 
  10. Set yourself up to learn on the go. If you’re out and about a lot, whether it’s traveling, commuting, waiting for your kids in the school pick up line, or other situations, set yourself up for success. For instance, sign up for a course that you can access from an app on your smartphone. Little bits here and there add up significantly. 

Example Schedules

Below are a few examples of ways that you could fit ten hours worth of study into a short period of time:

  • Over the course of ten weekdays: 30 minutes at lunch + 30 minutes each night
  • Over the course of five weekdays: 45 minutes at lunch + 45 minutes of when you would’ve been watching TV + 30 minutes of when you would’ve been on social media or reading the news  
  • Over a weekend: 5 hours each day (9am-12pm and 2pm-4pm)

As you can see, most of these are not sustainable long term, but they are very do-able for a short burst of time when you’re focused on something that you actually care about learning. 

My Professional Development Planner, which I have linked at the bottom of my last post about how to budget your professional development, will help you identify not only what you want to learn, but also WHY you want to learn it. Keeping that WHY top of mind will help you power through a weekend that you’re “sacrificing” to learn something new. 

Again, that was a non-Tribbiani use of quotation marks. Whenever you’re learning to develop yourself professionally, the time that you’re using is an investment, not a sacrifice. It’s for you. Know your WHY, and you’ll find it much easier to make the time and prioritize your professional development learning. 


Would you like to chat about some of these strategies? Let me know!


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