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I’ve always been somebody who learns best through practical application and hands-on experiences. But that’s not to say that I don’t value the need for learning and skills development.

The way we work will be totally transformed in the future. And having the right skills – both being confident in applying digital skills to technology, and in developing soft skills like creativity and critical thinking – is key to success in the future digital workplace.

The introduction of intelligent technology will make room for more critical tasks. We must ensure, therefore, that we retain our uniquely human skillset and expertise to work alongside technology. By doing so, you’ll be able to achieve more and have much greater impact on real business outcomes – whether that’s improving patient care in healthcare or delivering more personalised customer experiences in retail with technology like chatbots enabling 24/7 support and guidance.

Making time to develop my own skills has been something that’s been central to my own career path. It’s led me from being a potentially over-enthusiastic student at school, to the working world by becoming part of Microsoft’s first apprenticeship cohort back in 2014.

The first Microsoft Uk interns gather for a photo

Apprenticeships have come a long way since I first started my career at Microsoft, with the introduction of higher-level, business degree apprenticeship too. Fast-forward to 2019: I’ve been at Microsoft over five years and have just completed my final academic assignment as part of the first year of my degree apprenticeship with The Open University.

For those completing a degree apprenticeship, it’s now a mandatory requirement to have 20% of your time off the job to allow the time and space to complete the assignments which has been incredibly helpful in maintaining work-life balance throughout the journey. But it’s not been easy, and there’s definitely been bumps in the road.

Here are some tips on how you can prioritise your time to make time for skills development and for yourself based on learnings from my own journey.

 

1. Be intentional about your learning and what you hope to achieve

Screenshot of a Do Not Disturb notice

As with any business, there are times of the year that are busier than others. Managing the stress of looming deadlines at work with the due dates of assignment submissions has been a particular challenge throughout the year, but being strict about when I’m working and when I’m studying has been crucial to keeping me on track and in control of my workload.

Perhaps you can block out a Friday afternoon every couple of months and dedicate that time to learning and development. Put yourself into Do Not Disturb mode. Set yourself some goals. Be specific about what you plan to achieve in that time. Maybe you’re going to read about a certain subject. Or perhaps you’re going to enrol in our AI Business School and complete a particular module that day.

It doesn’t matter what you plan to do; being intentional about what you hope to achieve will make it easier to stay on track.

 

2. Create room for thought by prioritising your personal time

Having time away from work and study is essential to unwind. It gives you room for thought and creativity, helping you think about how you might apply your learnings.

Screenshot of app management toolsIt’s so easy to hop on your work emails and have a sneak peek at what’s coming through – but that can quickly de-rail your focus. In fact, research shows that receiving an email or chat is so distracting, it takes 23 minutes to get back on track.

Suddenly, it’s the end of the day and you’ve not achieved what you set out to do. That creates a vicious cycle, leading you to spend your valuable personal time getting work done instead of spending time with friends and family.

It sounds obvious when you write it down on paper but, from experience, it’s not so easy to see when you’re in the situation, facing deadlines and feeling like your juggling a million plates all at once.

Personally, I find Microsoft Planner to be incredibly useful in managing workloads and prioritising my agenda for the day. It means I can make the most of every working hour and every study day, so I can save my personal time for myself.

 

3. Use technology to help you manage your time better

I still find it difficult to stay off my work email entirely on my study days. As such, I’ve since made use of the screen-time function on my phone, setting all personal apps as ‘always allow’ and applying restrictions to work-based apps.

It’s been quite effective in steering me away from replying to emails after hours, so I’m more intentional about when I’m doing it.

And it also helps to use a different device when I study, otherwise I’ll inevitably end up in my inbox or replying to Teams messages as they pop up.

But it can be a struggle in your personal time too. One moment you’re scrolling through Instagram, checking your Twitter feed, LinkedIn posts – then suddenly, you’re in your work inbox replying to mails that can wait until tomorrow.

Every Monday morning, I get an email to start my week off that summarises how much time I’ve spent working after hours. A personal reminder to start my week with the right intentions and to be present in the moment when I’m outside of work.

Screenshot of Microsoft

Just because you have access to the technology, doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

We get so wrapped up in our own worlds, we sometimes can’t see where we’re going wrong or where adjustments should be made. So, talk to someone – discuss your position with a manager, a colleague, or mentor who can offer a fresh perspective.

I find speaking about workloads and sharing that experience really helps with resetting priorities. Together, you can then apply solutions through the technology you have.

 

Realistically, there are times when you have to make sacrifices or work longer hours. Sometimes there are work commitments that I can’t miss, which fall on my study day, so I need to move it to accommodate.

Whichever way you decide to make time for developing your skillset, the key to success is in the balance. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you manage work and life to get that perfect balance. Join the discussion and leave a comment below.

 

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Read more: 5 ways to work smarter and improve your work-life balance

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About the author

Emma Oxley, Storytelling ManagerEmma is passionate about leading with the customer and ensuring our content resonates and adds value, taking a data-driven approach to storytelling. She runs our blogging champions series as a way to unlock advocacy and influence across the business, so we can tell our story in an authentic way that builds a connection with audiences. Emma has been at Microsoft for over five years, having started as one of the first apprentices in the business back in 2014 and is currently working towards her Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship with The Open University.