CAD Manager Self-Improvement, Part 3

9 Oct, 2007 By: Robert Green

Know how to balance getting your training with getting your job done.

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In the previous two issues of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I outlined a method you can use to identify learning resources and get your boss to approve them. I hope you've taken the time to do the research to educate yourself and have now received approval to do so. If not, you should take some time to read the last two issues so you can get going on your learning plan.

In this issue I'll give you some ideas about how you can now balance your training program with the CAD management and production pressures you must deal with each day. My goal is to help you prioritize your time so you can learn while keeping things under control. Here goes.

Lay Out Your Schedule First
Before anything else, you need to know how busy you'll be in the near term as you try to get your learning plan rolling. I highly recommend that you get out a calendar, your Outlook schedule, or whatever time-planning tool you prefer and start laying out all your tasks and commitments for the next three months or so. You may find that you have some very busy periods and learning will have to take a back seat for a short time. Below are some hints for building a good schedule.

Ask your boss what's up. Your boss can give you a "view from the top" that will help you identify large time consumers like budgeting processes, training for branch offices, key vacations, key projects, etc. You'll never know about this stuff unless you ask, so ask! Put whatever you learn from your boss on your calendar.

Ask your IT department what's up. The IT staff should be able to tell you if any disruptive IT activities like new machine installations, operating system updates, server reconfigurations, etc., are upcoming. You know these sorts of things will freak users out and cause a spike in your support levels, so go ahead and ask. Put whatever you learn from IT on your master calendar as well.

Ask project managers what's up. If your company is driven by projects and project managers, they can tell you about any key job deadlines that you should be aware of. Note these deadlines on your calendar.

Note your travel schedule. If you know you're going to travel to a conference, remote office, or even a training session, put that on your calendar as well.

I'm sure there are key personnel at your company whom I haven't noted, so think about anyone you could ask about key jobs or process deadlines and capture that knowledge. Again, my mantra is "ask or you'll never know."

Find the Gaps and Schedule
Now look at your calendar and figure out the dates with no crushing, high-profile deadlines, and you'll know what time frames you'll have to work on acquiring new knowledge and attempting to put it into practice. Now you should look at your learning plan and figure out what you'll learn first, second, and so on. Here are some key tips I'd like to pass along to you:

Match task to time. Have a two-day gap somewhere in your schedule? Great! Now make sure you schedule a learning objective that can be completed in those two days! Makes sense, right?

Be sure you have time to practice. Don't schedule a programming class and then wait a month before you can actually use the skills you've learned. For large learning objectives like programming languages or new software, you have to actually practice what you learn or you'll lose the skills.

Treat learning as you would any other deadline. By scheduling your learning objectives just like a job deadline, you'll make learning a priority. It sounds simple, but it really does work! Put it on your schedule, and you're much more likely to actually accomplish your learning goals.

Find Learning Linkages
Let's say that one of your learning objectives is to learn about customizing your AutoCAD-based tools with some AutoLISP and VBA languages routines. Further, you've got a big new job kicking off in a couple months for a new client that will require you to use their blocks, title frames, and standards.

This is a case where you could accelerate the new project by learning how to automate standards using AutoLISP and VBA routines on the new job. Therefore there is a "learning linkage" between your programming learning and the next job. This would lead to a great way to learn your programming skills on an actual job with measurable financial results.

Believe me when I say your boss wants you to look for these learning linkage opportunities because the cost of you learning is offset by the positive gains you generate on projects.

Maximize Downtime
I'm sure there are a million more ways to optimize your time than I can cite here, but these are things I do to maximize my time that really help me achieve my learning objectives.

Read at lunch. Instead of reading at your desk where people can interrupt you, head out to the car, grab a sandwich, and read on your lunch break while things are quiet and you can concentrate. The key is to reclaim your lunch break for your own use.

Come in earlier, don't stay later. Mornings are quieter, the phone isn't ringing as much, and you're more likely to work on your learning objectives without interruption.

Use travel time to learn and work. If I'm in a shuttle bus, plane, or taxi, chances are the trusty laptop is fired up and I'm doing something. Why not make learning a way to fill up your travel time? It amazes me how many people do nothing while traveling when they could be getting something done.

When all else fails, use home time. Sometimes there's no substitute for using some night time to study at home. You may have to sacrifice some TV viewing, but it is sometimes the only way.

Now Do It
Now it's up to you to figure out your schedule, shuffle it, prioritize it, and wedge your learning objectives in as you would any other task. Remember that your future depends on a better, deeper skill set and that only you can get the knowledge into your head. After all, if you don't build your skills, nobody will!

Summing Up
I hope you've found some value in this series on educating yourself and will take the initiative to build your skills. And feel free to pass along any learning tips you have so I can share them in the next newsletter.

In the next issue of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll give you some information on the CAD management market that I've derived from the CAD Manager's Survey I wrapped up a few weeks ago. I think you'll find it to be an interesting introduction to the survey results I'll publish in November. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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