Tom Jepson Creative

How to find your learning focus and recover from 'learning burnout’

A creative professional’s inspiration well can have infinite depth; blogs, articles, videos, podcasts… It’s rich and full of potential if we are able to find the value in it.

An advocate for life-long learning, I have always been drawn to the well and the opportunity to experience a new perspective or learn a new skill. However, after many hours (years?) of listening to podcasts and soaking up articles I feel ... done. I burned out on the constant barrage of content. The Instagram slideshows packed with tips; the 'quick read' articles on Medium; the latest conversation threads on Twitter.

It isn’t that I want to learn any less. I stopped being able to see the wood for the trees and find the branches which support me and show the true value of what I was consuming.

I lost my learning focus.

Why ‘consume to learn’ if you don't know why you're learning?

By constantly consuming, constantly seeking new inputs to expand our minds, we might not be as selective as we should be about the specific material we are putting into our heads or the quality of it, either. We want it all and probably want it now!

But what are we doing with this ever-active stream of inputs? As we grow as professionals and as people, our experience teaches us why we want to learn and what we want to do with this newfound knowledge.

It took a significant refocussing of my own outputs to realise what was valuable to me in the content I needed or wanted to consume. Finding the materials which homed in on specific themes became vital, especially given that time is an even more valuable commodity than the willingness and ability to learn!

After redefining what I was contributing - the topics that interest me enough to talk about consistently and grow within - I found myself able to open my mind to the infinite well of content in front of me and unlock its value. I was able to hear and see the points which resonate and contributed to my own thinking and filter out those which didn't. Additionally, I started to find abstract connections and secondary influences in the great-but-not-directly-related content that I might be listening to or reading for enjoyment rather than direct education.

How do you find your learning focus?

Learning is a gift. Many of us are in a position where progress is not just an expectation of the profession but a welcome sidebar to 'doing the job' and getting paid. Being able to make the most of this opportunity and to grow on our own terms is something which shouldn't be taken lightly (but also not so seriously that we can't enjoy every second of the journey!).

Think about the things that really light you up when you write, solve a problem, or have a great conversation. What is it about these subjects or themes that you really latch onto? What do you consider to be the value that you're adding to the conversation? The more you understand your own love for a subject the easier it becomes to expand your knowledge.

Have a healthy scepticism about the quality of all things you consume. After all, the infinite well is open for consumption and also contribution. Have an open mind, be willing and open to coaching, but also take what you see, hear, and read with a pinch of salt. You can learn something without having to copy it verbatim although putting into practice your newfound skills is a surefire way to cement them and truly expand your own sphere of interest. Find a way to make what you learn actionable for you.

Take action: steps to achieving a greater learning focus

Everyone’s learning journey is different however we can set ourselves off on the right track. Consider these steps to frame your own content consumption and find the value in everything you put into your mind. Remember can be be enjoyable, too!

  • Write a list of the topics or themes which you enjoy contributing to: this list might grow or change as you do.
  • Consider which of these are 'authentically you' and are more than a curation of interesting 'stuff' or the things which you are expected to be interested in: this is something which will become clearer with time. Until you've begun in any area and explored what it means to you, it'll be hard to pinpoint exactly which things are 'you’.
  • Look for sources and people who share similar interests and where they contribute. Algorithmic prescription of content - ‘You looked at that so you might like this!’ - can be helpful but can also be a distraction from finding what really matters to you; beware the bots!
  • Look for some secondary sources; the people whom the people you found in the previous step listen to and read. Other's inspiration pools can often be an excellent, abstracted way to find new insights.
  • Consume content with an open mind and don't always listen with a critical or learning ear. Just listen.
  • Note down interesting points or things which you found insightful: a mind-map or heading-content list can be a great way to categorise your collection of thoughts and show the relationships between content.
  • Return to your output with your newly-expanded well of inspiration and insight. Put pen to paper or press record on that microphone and start. Don't wait for the right time; just start. Start to create, learn as you go, iterate, and grow.