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Google’s ’20% rule’ shows exactly how much time you should spend learning new skills—and why it works

By | Dorie Clark |

Most people spend every second of their workday trying to keep up with their calendars and to-do lists — attending meetings, responding to emails, racing to meet deadlines.

This makes it difficult to set aside time to explore ideas that interest us or learn new skills. And during a time when it’s impossible to predict how our jobs and industries will evolve, expanding our expertise is what gives us a competitive edge in the long-run.

How can we ensure we make the time to stay ahead?

Enter: Google’s “20% time” rule, a concept made popular when Google went public in 2004.

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google,” founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote in their IPO letter. “This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances [like AdSense and Google News] have happened in this manner.”

Sure, it’s easier said than done, but no one is going to hand you development opportunities on a platter; you need to seek them out proactively.

Here’s how:

1. Clearly identify what you want to learn

The key here is to be as specific as possible about what skill you want to build. So instead of taking 10 courses on 10 different topics, develop mastery in just one.

You’ll see faster improvement over time, which will motivate you to continue. And genuine expertise — for example, in writing great sales copy or programing in a new computer language — may ultimately boost your value to your employer or lead to a side income stream.

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