With all that’s been going on in the world as of late, many students and recent graduates have found themselves with some newfound time on their hands. With all this extra time, the natural inclination is to wonder how you’re going to choose to spend it.

The circumstances in which this question has arisen are obviously far from ideal but there is still plenty you can get out of this. Plenty you can do to make this productive, purposeful time — even if the situation is not completely in your control.

Step 2 in our 4-Pillar Programme looks at the importance of upskilling and how you can leverage online courses to help set yourself apart from other candidates for jobs who have a similar amount of experience as you.

While we’re most definitely not members of the ‘Getting up at 6 am to meditate, do a 5k run and have an ice bath before breakfast’ club that you see purported on social media, we do believe that this extra time represents a great opportunity to try and either improve your pre-existing skills or learn new ones by doing online courses.

When we talk to students we work with about this, we generally run into two main roadblocks.

  1. I don’t know where to start.
  2. I don’t have the time.

Knowing where to start 💡

The Paradox of Choice

Ok, so you’ve decided to try and upskill. The next question then becomes, where to start? Therein lies the problem. With all the great resources out there, it’s normal to find yourself looking through the options and not even knowing where to begin.

The Paradox of Choice is a term coined by Barry Schwartz that examines how the abundance of choice has made us not freer but more paralysed, not happier but more dissatisfied. With so many options to choose from, people find it extremely difficult to make a choice at all and a consequence of this is paralysis — you do nothing.

Even if we make a choice, we end up less satisfied than what we would have been if we had fewer options to choose from. After finishing a course, it’s easy to imagine that you could have done a different one that would have been a more beneficial way to spend your time.

In economic terms, this introduces the idea of opportunity cost whereby knowing we missed out on doing alternative courses, we lose the satisfaction we get out of doing the course we did — even if we loved it.

Furthermore, there is an escalation of expectations inherently built into this whole process where you assume that with so many choices, surely one of them has to be perfect for you — and then it isn’t.

Overcoming The Paradox of Choice

When choosing what to learn, you have to think deeply about whether the courses that you’re learning are suited to you. If you’re barely interested and find yourself more excited at the prospect of doing something else, then most likely you have not found a course that engages you.

Think about the topics out there that stir your curiosity. The industry you’re in or the degree you’ve done has to in some way stir your interest and make you excited about the future.

Finding the time ⌚

Award-winning author Robert Greene views time through two distinct lenses: alive time and dead time. The former where you are in control when you make every second count and are learning, improving, and growing. The latter being when you sit around and wait until things happen to you.

Greene has learned a lot about alive time and dead time through lived experience. Although he is widely regarded as an incredibly accomplished writer of well-known books such as The 48 Laws of Power and Mastery, the vast majority of people don’t know about the 20 years he spent in obscurity, working nearly 100 different jobs — most of which he despised.

He posits that our level of focus will determine the depth of our learning and if we multiply such deep concentration over enough time, we can master anything.

Put simply, the more time you spend actively trying to get better and improve and less time you spend sitting around — the better you’ll get at whatever it is. This aligns closely with the more well-known 10,000-Hour Rule that Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his book Outliers.

To apply yourself to a field or to a problem for that long a time means there will inevitably be moments of boredom and tedium. Practice, particularly in the beginning, is never exciting. To persist past these moments you have to feel love for the field, you have to feel passionately excited by the prospect of discovering or inventing something new.

Execute 🎯

The decisions you take on how you spend your time in this period will have an influence on your career moving forward. There is a litany of choices out there and although “you don’t feel like it” or “couldn’t be arsed right now” there are plenty of other people out with the same degree, as you, who are.

If you’re really serious about getting somewhere, you need to make the process of learning and upskilling a priority. Irrespective of the career path you want to pursue, there are countless online resources and courses both free and paid for that will provide you value.

We think the future is something that happens, rather than something we make.

Assess where you are and where any potential skill gaps exist, hone in on a small number of courses, and set aside an allotted amount of time on a regular basis where you can make a concentrated effort to learn and improve.