Just in Time Learning: How to Use Learning as a Tool for Business Progress

“It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve bought so many courses and educational resources over the past year… I need to stop learning and start taking action. I’ll come back once I’ve made some business progress.”

This is one of the most common things we hear in exit surveys when our customers cancel their membership. The principle behind these responses is quite sound — in order to build a business that supports your family, you have to balance learning and action.

You’ll never be able to stop learning entirely, but you also cannot focus exclusively on learning. This brings up an important question: when should learning stop and action begin? And what’s the relation between the two?

Why we love learning so much

Before we get into the answer to that question, let’s talk about the reality of why we spend so much time “learning” when we know action is more important. There are two main reasons we torture ourselves with the endless pursuit of knowledge without ever making any real business progress:

#1: Fear

Check your Twitter feed, your blog subscriptions, or the latest cover of your favorite entrepreneurial magazine and you’ll see a definitive proclamation from an expert: “_______________ is the next big thing! Get on it or you’ll miss the boat.”

Trigger the cortisol and fight or flight response built into our animal nature.

“Ah %&#$! Did I miss the boat? What if I don’t act on this RIGHT NOW and everything I’ve worked so hard for comes crumbling down around me? What if my business fails and I end up poor? What if I can’t buy food for my family? What if we have to live in a cardboard box?”

“I better get on Snapchat, I don’t want to live in a cardboard box.”

When Gary V (Hi Gary, we’re big fans!) says you should use Snapchat to grow your business, remember one thing: Gary doesn’t know anything about your business. His advice is completely out of context. It has no relation to your business or personal goals.

In other words, a thought leader makes her living by living on the edge of her field. Her job is to find what’s new, learn everything there is to know, test it, and then share what she knows about a new idea/platform/thing.

Instead of letting thought leaders drive your priorities, your job is to remember to stay focused on your business goals and seek out the advice of thought leaders in the context of those goals. More on that later.

#2: Productivity

There is nothing in business quite so intoxicating as a guaranteed way to check something off your to-do list today. Learning plays into our built-in desire to feel “productive.”

A one-hour video is a one-hour video. It will take you exactly 60 minutes to complete the task (or less if you watch it on 2x speed!). You are guaranteed to finish a thing on your to-do list if you sit in your chair for an hour. Winning!

What we don’t take into account is the opportunity cost of or mental tax from learning productivity. What else could you have achieved in that same hour? What happens if what you learn isn’t immediately actionable, but is now on your mind constantly?

For example, if you take a course on web design, but you don’t have a business idea yet, you might be tempted to start building a website. But what if the best next action you can take is to test a number of business ideas? You’ve just thrown your business progress off track.

Learning might make you feel good today, but if it doesn’t help you move forward in your business, then is it really as helpful as it seems?

The Solution: Just in Time Learning for Business Progress

white and black hearts illustration
Photo by Mel Poole

Let’s be clear: learning itself is not bad. It’s wonderful. It’s the key to unlocking new ideas and making progress. But learning for learning’s sake when you’re trying to get a business off the ground is, at best, a good way to delay progress and, at worst, fatal (for your business).

In other words, learning new skills and concepts should be one of many tools you use to succeed as an entrepreneur. You should never stop learning, but you should always use learning as a part of the process of getting things done.

We call this: just in time learning.

How to Use Learning as a Tool for Business Progress

Learning can and should be an incredible tool for making progress in your business. Let’s make sure it stays that way. Here’s how:

Focus on what’s in front of you, right now

First things first: you have to know where you stand in your business right now.

For starters: what phase of the Fizzle Roadmap are you in?

  • Phase I: I’m an aspiring entrepreneur still looking for a business idea
  • Phase II: I’ve launched my business and I’m working my way up to minimum viable income
  • Phase III: I’m making a minimum viable income and I’m focused on growing my business

Each of these Phases has specific stages, which break the process of building a business down into actionable steps. Knowing exactly where you are on the path to building a business helps you set actionable goals.

Set a Goal for Your Business Progress

Once you know where you are, you need to have a goal for where you want to go next.

For example, if you’re in Stage 5: Audience, your goal might be to grow your audience to 1,000 email subscribers within the next 6 months. Only then will you give yourself permission to build a product.

Alternatively, if you were in Stage 7: Money, your goal might be to define your minimum viable income or earn your minimum viable income for three months in a row.

A goal is great, but it can still be big and scary. After all, if I have zero email subscribers today, how exactly am I supposed to find 1,000 in the next six months?

Unpack the goal

Unpacking the goal is how we decide what projects we might need to execute on to reach that goal.

In other words, a goal is an outcome, which is out of our control. Projects, however, are completely within our control. You can use this project planning process and the CEO vs Worker Bee method to define your projects and the steps to complete each project.

Unpacking the goal gives you actionable steps to take to make progress. Only then can you really understand what you need to learn in order to move forward in your business.

Do you need to learn anything new to see business progress?

love to learn pencil signage on wall near walking man
Photo by Tim Mossholder

As you look at your project steps, you should immediately understand which ones you know how to execute on and which ones you don’t

This is the key to just in time learning. Only once you’ve defined a goal, picked your projects and determined the steps for each project can you really understand whether you need to learn.

Here’s a simple step you can take to put learning in it’s place: for each project step that you know you’ll need to learn something new, split the step into two parts.

In part a) add what you will need to learn. In part b) add the actionable step.

Here’s an example that incorporates everything so far:

Goal: Gain 1,000 Email Subscribers

Project: Setup email marketing account

1. Select email marketing provider

2. Sign up for email marketing account

3. Create email form

4. Install email form on my website

Then, for a given step that requires learning, it might look like this:

1a) Research the top five email marketing providers for ecommerce entrepreneurs

1b) Select email marketing provider

Learn to help you reach your goal, not the other way around

All that’s left at this point is to execute. That sounds easy, but this is actually the hardest part.

Your job is to stop paying attention to all of the advice from all of the experts and thought leaders and gurus and to focus on your business goals.

Your business learning from here on out should always be in the context of your business goals and projects.

Unsubscribe from email lists

Cut your podcast listening back to a small number of shows that inspire you rather than teach you new stuff.

Delete your course playlists on your favorite education sites.

Any learning that’s not on your project lists should be categorized as learning for pleasure or inspiration.

If you decide to learn for pleasure, that’s great. But don’t do it at the expense of your productive time. When you’re an early stage entrepreneur juggling a day job, a family, and a side hustle, every minute of effort counts.

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