How tracking your progress can help you develop stronger skills

There is a truism in business that says “you get what you measure”. This is certainly applicable to learning. Having a plan is great, but it is also extremely important to track your progress. Not only will this keep learning top of mind so that you are less likely to lose sight of it when challenged by other priorities, but it will also provide you with a very important record of your activities. Interviewers love to ask what candidates have learned recently, because a strong answer will demonstrate commitment, proactivity and a dedication to continual improvement. Having that information at your fingertips is invaluable.

We all have lots going on in our lives, and it is very easy to lose track of what learning was completed and when – especially when it is informal learning. Therefore, tracking is absolutely crucial. This can be done quickly and easily.

Start by grabbing a notebook and pencil (or your computer, of course). At the end of each week (consistently applying this habit is important), take 10 minutes to write down the following information:

  • Identify at least one valuable thing you learned in the past week. This could be anything from learning achieved in a course or a new function you figured out how to use in Excel, to discovering a new way to get your kids to happily eat their veggies.
  • Next, identify one very specific new way in which you will apply this learning in the week ahead. Don’t be afraid to be creative! For example, instead of saying you will create a pivot table in Excel, perhaps you’ll decide to teach a colleague how they can use this in their job (a great way of deepening your learning is to teach something to others). Or, if you found a new way of convincing your kids to eat their veggies, perhaps you could apply a similar technique in order to convince a co-worker to help you with a task or project. The point here is to identify how you will apply what you learned, because this is the most important thing you can do to make your learning “stick”.
  • In the following week, make a note of how successful your application plan was. If it didn’t quite hit the mark, adjust your approach and try again.

Regardless of how we learn, it is our ability to transfer what we have learned from one situation into others (even ones that are very different) that ultimately determines our effectiveness as lifelong learners. Remember that learning is a journey with countless possible routes; therefore, don’t be afraid to fail (after all, that’s an important avenue to learning). But if you do fail, try to ‘fail fast’ – in other words, apply your learning, see how well it works, quickly make appropriate adjustments, and try again. By adopting this approach to learning, you will very quickly see yourself moving forward in a positive upward spiral of success – something that any employer will value.

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