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The 10% Time Rule

A good manager has the ability to inspire their staff. They know it's mandatory to keep people learning new things in order to keep them interested in what they're doing. Without growth, people become stagnant and complacent. And if there's no need or motivation to improve, people won't improve. It's that simple. In order to improve, people must learn new things.

I know for myself that if I'm not learning something new, I will eventually start to feel lazy. So I've tried to force myself to learn something new at all times. In my personal life, sometimes it's as simple as reading a book or watching an educational television show. I might take a class at the local community college. I often try to get involved in a new hobby that's related to a subject I'm interested in. In any case, I know my mind is happiest when I'm learning something new.

Frankly speaking, it is easy to go a little overboard with this concept. Learning new things is addictive. When I'm extremely interested in a new subject, I tend to become obsessed with what I'm studying and let everything else fall by the wayside. The lawn doesn't get mowed, the car doesn't get washed, and my normal chores don't get done. I know from past experience that I've got to limit the time I spend learning new things.

I apply the same thinking to my work. I know that if I stop learning new work-related things, my work will become stagnant. I know that in order to stay current, I've got to keep honing my skills. This might mean learning new computer software, reading trade journals, surfing the Internet to see what's become available, and anything else that helps me do my job better.

But as in my personal life, I know I must balance the time I spend learning something new with the time I spend performing my normal duties. I know I cannot become obsessed with learning or nothing else will get done. So I've come up with what I call the 10% time rule.

About 10% of my time at work will be spent learning new things. This equates to about forty-five minutes per eight-hour work day, four hours a week, 16 hours a month, or 200 hours per year. While I don't adhere to a strict schedule, I try to maintain the 10% rule over the long term.

I happen to be in a position that allows me to apply the 10% rule. Since I own my own company, I can decide what I'm working on (to a certain extent at least). As managers, you may also be in this position. And if you're not already doing so, I urge you to apply the 10% time rule for yourself. If you've never done so, I guarantee that this will help you stay fresh in your work. You may even want to increase it to 15% or 20% to start - especially if you have a lot of catching up to do.

As a manager, you also have the ability, if not the responsibility, to apply the 10% rule for your staff. Your people probably don't have the authority to apply the 10% rule for themselves. So make sure you do it for them.

Consider, for example, a CNC operator. This person's normal responsibilities will keep them busy 100% of the time - if you let it. They cannot, on their own, take time out to learn something new during working hours. You must provide the time, and just as importantly - the learning material, they need to improve.

We've said time and time again that the single-largest way to improve productivity in any area is to improve the proficiency of the people involved. The 10% time rule provides you with a way to gain the needed time to improve productivity.

Keep in mind that the new material being learned doesn't always have to apply directly to what a person is doing in their job. Again, the goal is to keep them fresh. And learning something new always helps - regardless of the topic. While you may be tempted to target improving productivity right from the start, you may actually see a better long-term improvement if you vary the topics you provide for your people.

Admittedly, the 10% time rule does take quite a commitment on the part of your company. While you may not be able to provide all of the time needed to help your people learn new work-related things, at least provide the materials. Even if you expect your people to study on their own (with materials you provide), at least the most motivated people on your staff will have the chance to apply the 10% rule in their own personal lives - on their own time.

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