I have recently changed jobs and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
Generally, I think I’m a pretty fast learner, probably by training because in the past, my jobs required me to work on multiple new engagements, so I eventually picked up some strategies to help me cope with the process. I’m also generally impatient so I’m always trying to improve the ways I learn in order to be more effective and efficient.
So here are 5 strategies that worked for me, and I hope it will help you too:
1. Ask the right questions (5W 1H)
I usually like to understand the big picture first because this paints a clear picture of where I am at in a grand scheme of things. And a good way to do that is by asking the 5W 1H (or making sure you jot down these in any induction programs that you are a part of).
What? – What is your industry like? What are your department goals? What are your key and final deliverables ? (ie. know your scope well). Knowing what your key outputs are will give you a clear idea of what to prioritise and what you have to spend most of your time mastering.
Why? Why are you doing what you are doing?
To ask ‘What’ is to know, to ask ‘why’ is to understand. Example maybe you are suppose to monitor the sales of a product – why is that important? it’s important so the business knows if the marketing strategies are working or not, does the product meet the demands of the customer. Knowing your why will help keep you on track, to perform tasks that are value adding.
Who? Who are they key teams/people that you have to work with or report to?
These are what corporate speak terms as key stakeholders. Know who you need outputs from, know who you need to provide outputs to. Know who the bosses are. Remember, we never work in silo.
When? – When are your deliverables due? ie. Timeline
This addresses the overall expected timeline. It’s always good to have an idea of how a typical month or year at work would be like so you can identify when are the busiest periods, so that you can plan your work accordingly.
Where? Where can you find the key resources required to do your job? Is it in the system? Is it in a common drive? Is it via email? Knowing where you can find what is crucial in times where you have to be resourceful to problem solve or just to find material to study.
How? How do you go about achieving the goal? ie. process flow and tools
Understanding the process flow and the tools required (maybe system, maybe a report) will help you be clearer on how you ensure your meet the tasks assigned to you and this question bring us to point #2…
2. Walkthrough the process
This builds on top of Tip #1. I like to think of this as the execution level, which truthfully you can apply the same 5W 1H technique too, but at a more granular level. The best way to learn is always to do.
What I mean by this is, example – You are required to prepare a report for the month of July. So, walkthrough the steps/read the report from the previous month. Take note of what were the steps involved in order to achieve that output. For instance in the world of finance, for everything you do, chances are there is a working file, some notes or reports that you are required to refer to. So when you ‘walkthrough the process’ and you stumble upon a number – ask yourself – where is this number from? which file can I refer to in order to get this number? if i calculate based on the advised formula – will I get the same result?
Best of all is to definitely immerse yourself in the upcoming process. If you are fortunate enough to work with a teammate, volunteer to shadow them or help them out.
3. Connect the dots
With a new job, chances are you would be roped into meetings with minimal background context, or given briefings by different focals on different areas of your scope. This process is what I like to call – collecting the jigsaw puzzles, but it’s your job to piece it together.
Do take a step back and try to connect the dots based on the information you have collected. Are the business stories and processes interconnected? Do you notice a particular pattern? Perhaps it’s two similar tasks that you have to perform for different purposes. Drawing connections vs viewing everything in silo, would help you remember your tasks better and organise your work better in the future. The best way to connect the dots is to speak to your teammates or seek clarification in meetings, when you get the opportunity to.
4. Summarise your key takeaways
I find that when people are sharing a lot of information with me, I can feel quite overwhelmed – it’s all just information overload. Naturally I will take tons of notes but practically – it’s a lot of effort to remember everything. So the best way to cement that knowledge is to summarise what are your top 3 takeaways from the session.
This not only forces you to think deeply about the notes that you have taken, it also activates your brain to draw out the key insight of all of the information collected. If you find that there are areas that you struggle to summarise, then this is a gap you need to close. My key takeaways would usually be – an issue/a trend and it’s likely impact (ie. how this bit of information will affect my work/what to look out for.)
Remember, if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
5. Sleep on it!
This is a bit of a paradox and odd one I know. Having read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (short book review here.), I realise that sleep plays an essential part of the knowledge retention process. It’s during a good restful sleep that the brain will do it’s thanggg, transferring all of the knowledge you have learned for ‘long term storage’ and when you dream, that’s your brain creating the dots for you.
Essentially what I’m getting at is, we often try to load ourselves with information in order to learn as fast as possible, but sometimes rest is what we need so that we can absorb more the next day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Fail fast, fail often then learn. Soon you’d be flying!
Good luck! 🙂