AMA: How do I make time to learn?

Ryan asks:

How would you recommend one “makes time” to learn powershell? I own your 2 “lunch” books but I’ve never really made any progress. By the time I get home from work and deal with “life” I’m not really ‘excited’ to sit down and study. I’ve slowly started forcing myself to use PoSH but I’m doing “one-liners” but I know I could become much more versatile. I guess my question would be, how do I get motivated!

I hope you’ll ask a question, too! And here’s the list of everything asked so far. 

Discipline is really nothing more than the ability to remember why you’re doing something. Motivation comes from the same thing. Look, if you’re happy in your job, it has no requirement for automation, and you’re not expecting to ever need to move into a different job, then maybe that’s why there’s no motivation.
But that’s probably not you. You probably know perfectly well why PowerShell is important to your career, if not your current job. You’ve probably read the stores of people who’ve learned it, and then moved on to much better jobs. Heck, our scholarship recipient at PowerShell Summit has moved to a better job. That’s where your motivation should come from. If you’ve got a family, you’re doing it for them. But that motivation has to be paired with some determination, too. It’s no good to just learn PowerShell; you have to be willing to use that new skill to get a better position, or a better job. Most people hate job-hunting, which is why so many companies can be so crappy to their employees. But if you’re thinking, “no, if only I could find the time to learn this stuff, I’m absolutely willing to go find an employer who’ll pay me for that skill,” then we can work with that. You’re motivated. 
So now it’s a matter of finding the time. In the case of PowerShell, the key is in the title of the books. You’re really and truly supposed to do a chapter a day, during lunchtime. Yes, that means pressing the issue with work: this is my lunch time, not your time. It’s my time. I specifically wrote the book based on average adult reading speeds, meaning you can read a chapter in under an hour. The exercises might run a bit over, so just do a chapter in two days, if needed. Yes, it’ll mean not going out with colleagues to grab a bite, but you don’t make improvements in your life without some companion sacrifices.
And one-liners are a great place to start with PowerShell. It’s where we all start. Right at the end of Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches there’s a chapter that takes a one-liner and makes a very basic script from it. That’s the next step, because it automates the automation, so to speak. So take it one step at a time. That’s literally why the books were written the way they were – they’re designed for people with very little time, who don’t want to drag work home with them. You just have to put a fence around your lunch hour and dedicate yourself. Take whatever else you’re doing in that time – Facebook, Google News, whatever – and set that aside to make the time you need to learn.
Think about what investment means. When I invest money, say in the stock market, I take money away from myself. I lose access to it, because I’ve done this other thing with it. My hope, of course, is that the investment will “pay off,” and that I’ll get back more money than I put in. What you’re talking about here, with “making time,” is the same thing. You’re going to have to sacrifice, take time away from something else. You have to; you can’t literally “make” time, after all. But the investment should be worth it: you’ll get back more than you put in, if you keep at it.
And you know, it’s possible that the PowerShell books aren’t the ones to start with. It’s possible Be the Master is where you need to start. The whole point of that book is to help you really think about what you want, document it, make your tradeoffs consciously, and then keep you on track toward whatever you’re trying to achieve. Getting that process in your mind might be a better place to start, so that your PowerShell efforts have a structure to fit into.
But in the meantime:

  • You can’t “make time.” Nobody can. We get 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds in a day, no more.
  • You can “free up time,” though, by actively decided to not do something else. This is the investment. If the end of the day isn’t the time when your brain wants to learn (it isn’t for me), then you’re going to have to free up another time slot someplace else. I guarantee you have some dead time floating around the day. Find it and use it. “But I don’t have any dead time in the day!” is not correct. Everyone does. Be brutal in your analysis of where your time goes.
  • Nobody can motivate you but you. If you’re just learning PowerShell because you think you “should,” that’s not very motivating. PowerShell is just a tool. What’s it a tool for, in your world? A tool to a better position, or a different job? Let that outcome motivate you. Hammers don’t motivate people, but completing a new house for yourself can be pretty motivating. It’s the outcomes we go after, not the tools.
  • Focus on the why. Be disciplined, and remember the why every day. Why are you learning this? Write the why down, so you can see it every day. I’m doing this so I can get a better job and provide a better life for my family. Get the hell off Facebook and read the damn chapter. Or whatever. And then follow through with whatever that motivation is.

Anyway… I hope all that helps a little. Know that what you’re trying to do is very possible, because I know thousands who’ve done it. They’re no smarter than you. Hopefully, some of them will read this and drop a comment, and tell you how they did it.
You can make it. You just have to decide to do the work, and always remember why you’re doing it.

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The motivation part is critical. If being comfortable is good for someone, that's fine, hard to motivate someone out of a comfortable routine. The passion for what I do has kept me motivated. I'm not going to suggest I'm an uber-energetic dynamo 24/7/365, but having a passion for teaching and my industry keeps me wanting to learn the next "thing". Learning PowerShell so I could teach it had a HUGE impact on my motivation and my energy for my work. I've been in IT-Ops since the mid 90s and still have the same passion...well, simlar passion for my career as I did when I was young and didn't know better. Learning PowerShell several years ago accelerated my career again and moved me from a "comfortable" position as an IT instructor at a technical college (17 years) to a full-time author for Pluralsight (new kid on the block). I'm still teaching, but now, I get to teach to a broader audience and learn some awesome new tech. Yes, the change was a bit jarring, but extremely worth it...all by finding time to learn something new...again. 😀


Personally, I cut down my YouTube and Twitch watching and instead used the time to watch CBTNuggets, PluralSight and Channel9 videos. Then I found any and every opportunity I could to use PowerShell during my work day. I mentioned it to coworkers and helped them with projects.
That's the beautiful thing about it ... I don't have to know how to be a SharePoint admin, VMWare admin or SQL admin to help those teammates out. They can show me in the GUI what they are trying to accomplish and I can help them explore PowerShell to find it how we could script that annoying bit of their job away.
That being said - get Be The Master and read it! I've totally drank the Kool aid on this one. This book helped me fully realize how much joy I get out mentoring those around me and presenting at conferences.
Thanks Don.


I actually learnt PowerShell through the lunches book - and in my lunch hours!
If you know after work is not the best time for you, maybe look at early morning, or at the weekend. However, lunchtime worked best for me.
1. Set aside the time in your calendar - mark it as out-of-office, Training.
2. Take a packed lunch to work.
3. Find a quiet place to study. The workplace cafe is not the best place I found though. Even if you get a table to yourself there's always some colleague who wanders by and says 'mind if I sit with you' - and you'd have to be pretty hardnosed to tell them to go away! My solution was to use my local library, but check out if there is somewhere nearby where you can sit undisturbed. A set of noise cancelling earphones help too.
4. If you fill in a timesheet, check with you boss if you can assign at least some of your lunchtime to 'training', that way you won't have a backlog of time to make up each week.
Good luck Ryan. Stick with it, it'll be worth it.