In the next three years, as many as 120 million workers will need to learn new skills to keep up with the rise in artificial intelligence and intelligent automation, according to an IBM study. Individuals who take the time to learn new skills now will find themselves ahead of the pack for the automation roles of the future.
Although that’s easy to say, learning new skills at any point in your career can be frustrating and even a bit intimidating. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Modern education research reveals that going from knowing nothing about a subject to being relatively proficient at a new skill requires significantly less time than once thought. Author and researcher Josh Kaufman suggests that learning a new skill only requires 20 hours of focused learning — which can be achieved in as little as 30 days by committing to 40 minutes of daily practice.
Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferris echoes that sentiment, indicating that one can “mimic the world’s fastest learners to become world-class — in just about anything — in six months or less.”
Consolidating that research on skill acquisition, education, and productivity, the most efficient method to learn something new (building bots, for example) can be broken down into four actionable steps.
Any skill is typically made up of specific subskills you must learn on your way to accomplishing your goal. Researching the skill you’re interested in learning can help you identify those subskills that may be required — and how you might self-correct as you begin your learning process.
Start by identifying and skimming three to five resources on the subject you intend to learn, attempting to find repeated concepts. This is typically a good indicator that those concepts are particularly important. Additionally, consider talking to some subject matter experts who know the skills you want so they can help you pinpoint the most important subskills to begin with.
For learning to build bots, this might include reviewing some Automation Anywhere University RPA courses and bot-building videos on YouTube to discover common topics. This also may mean reaching out to someone you work with or someone you met on LinkedIn to ask his or her advice on the subskills to focus on first.
With the important subskills identified, start breaking them down into components that you can actionably learn and practice. As part of this deconstruction, select the subskills that will produce the greatest result in moving you forward to your goal.
Focus on the subskills that fit the Pareto principle — which specifies that 80% of the results come from 20% of the cause. Additionally, in this deconstruction process, determine the order in which you will learn the subskills and plan how you will practice and apply the subskills as you progress.
For learning to build bots, this might start with reading case studies about bots across different industries that organizations have found particularly useful. In the process, identify the commands that are most used across different bots and recognize common approaches to troubleshooting and error handling.
It’s also important to find use cases you can replicate on your own or that have personal motivation for you. For me, that looked like creating bots to win eBay auctions and bots to help with research about buying a car.
For you, that might mean having a bot that checks the price of an item you’ve been looking to purchase and sending you a daily price update, or checking stock prices and emailing you a daily update on some of your favorite investments. Something that has a personal “why” will help in making the process of learning much more fun.
In your time of daily focused practice at your new skill, make it easy to sit down and actually do the work it takes to practice/learn that skill. Remove outside distractions such as your smartphone or TV. Close browser windows that may tempt you to look away from your task at hand.
The easier you make it to practice, the more you’ll find yourself not having “skip” days. As author James Clear recommends, make it your motto to “never miss twice.” You may miss a day because of unforeseen events, but do your best to get back on track by never missing two days in a row.
In his book, “Atomic Habits,” Clear suggests a process called “habit stacking” — small habits that you can stack together to make meaningful change. In bot building, this might look like taking your laptop out of your bag and turning it on when you get home at night so that it’s out on the table, making your dedicated learning time later in the evening unavoidable.
Clear also advises pairing your new “need to do” habit with something you want to do in order to create a positive association with your new habit. For example, “After I spend 40 minutes taking Automation Anywhere University courses and building and debugging bots, I get to binge-watch on Netflix for the remainder of the evening.”
With this approach, you’ll naturally look forward to doing your focused learning time because it means you get to do something you really like afterward.
Resolve you’re done making excuses for why you haven’t started yet and pre-commit to spending 40 minutes per day for the next 30 days to learn your new skill. This pre-commitment is important for several reasons.
First, the early hours of practice in learning anything new are frustrating, as no one excels at something in the beginning. If you don’t pre-commit time to invest in this new skill, you’re significantly more likely to give up in those early days when it doesn’t feel like it’s working or when things get hard.
Second, to build habits that will last, it’s important to focus on creating a new identity that will, in turn, shift your behavior. Your new habits will come more naturally as a reflection of that new identity. This will feel slightly unnatural at first but, as you begin to identify as a bot builder, for example, a natural behavior of a person with such an identity is to spend time building and troubleshooting bots.
Finally, for new skills and habits to be most effectively reinforced, it’s imperative to surround yourself with people who have the skills you’re looking to acquire. The habits and strategies likely already exhibited by those in this group should help as you attempt to develop the same skills in your life.
In learning to build bots, this could mean identifying the Automation Anywhere University courses you want to take, specifying their order, finding Bot Store bots you want to understand better, and determining the bots you want to build to apply the lessons learned. Network with other bot builders either through local meetup groups or the A-People online community.
One final point on this subject: Even the best bot builders get stumped from time to time or must research how to solve a problem better. As you adopt your new identity, don’t be discouraged when you get stuck — it’s a natural part of solving problems that aren’t always easy to solve.
At the end of your 20 hours of focused practice, you’ll find you have a certain level of skill and have adopted a new identity — likely beyond what you imagined could be accomplished in only one month’s time. At that point, you can decide if you want to commit to another 20 hours of layering practice on top of the lessons learned in the previous month.
Learning something new, such as bot building, doesn’t have to be a daunting task, nor does it have to be intimidating. Focus on why learning to build bots is important to you, what it will enable for you in the future, and how accomplished it will make you feel. Those things can help drive you through the times when your willpower may be low.
If you get stuck, head to A-People to search the forum, ask questions, and get the help you need. If you’re feeling stalled or stumped by a topic, try switching to a different course in Automation Anywhere University and returning to the original topic another time. You can do this.
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Micah Smith is a developer evangelist and lover of all things automation. His background is in Robotic Process Automation, document imaging, and optical character recognition, with a specialized focus in financial services and government sectors.