Watching kids head back to school can make you feel nostalgic for the sense that fall is a time of new beginnings. As an adult, September generally means you’re doing the same thing you did last September. You’re just a year older.
But there are all kinds of ways to adopt the back-to-school mindset, without spending the kind of cash it would cost to actually go back to school. The key is building learning opportunities into your life. Here are 13 ways to do it.
Save mindless pop music for your evening commute. In the morning, commit to listening to new podcasts or audio books that stretch your mind. Since you won’t have time to find them in the morning rush, build in a few minutes on Sunday night to download listening material for the week (check out OpenCulture.com for some free audio versions of classics).
Find an accountability partner who will check in every Friday to find out one “fun fact” you learned during the week. This relationship will probably become competitive, and that’s the point.
If you’ve got 10 minutes, you could mindlessly check social media, or you could watch a Khan Academy video, read a segment of a classic novel via DailyLit, or check out random knowledge via Now I Know.
There are 168 hours in a week. You can dedicate one of those hours weekly to participating in a webinar, attending a lunch-and-learn if your company offers them, or reading something thought-provoking (check out on Twitter for ideas). Once a month, carve out an evening or weekend morning for working on a longer course. Peruse Coursera, CreativeLive, or Lynda for ideas.
I don’t always manage to read The Economist, but when I do, I’m intrigued to learn about the political climate in Azerbaijan, or Gabon, or other places I sometimes forget exist. The weekend edition of a major newspaper could serve the same function, or a publication on industry research. Commit to reading cover to cover for a few weeks, and see what happens.
Even if you don’t have a library card or you don’t buy anything, seeing the titles and flipping through those that sound interesting can expand your frame of reference. Getting out of the office and into someplace stimulating is good for the brain, in any case.
Do you get daily newsletters you don’t remember subscribing to? Unsubscribe from the ones you don’t read, and find a new roundup that you will (I’ve been reading theSkimm to keep up with current events).
Social book clubs are more fun, at least as measured by wine consumption, but herding busy people together one evening a month is often difficult. You have to go to work, so you may as well embrace the possibilities. Choose slightly obscure selections, and you might be able to convince the author to call in.
Then–this is key–actually listen to him or her. Often in conversation, we’re so obsessed with making our points, or plotting our escape, that we miss something that could be interesting. Figure out whatever your conversation partner is fascinated by, and learn what you can about the topic.
In the course of researching itineraries through French wine country, you’ll learn a lot of geography, history, and culture. Of course, you’ll learn even more if you actually take the trip!
As you research and write a longer work in your area of expertise, you’ll reread old resources and find new ones. To motivate yourself to go the distance, try doing a mini version of National Novel Writing Month, the program that has people writing around 1,700 words a day for 30 days to produce a 50,000-word book. All you need to do is notch 170 words a day to produce a 5,000-word white paper in a month (with the bonus option of waving it around come review time).
Do you and your spouse see a movie and then get drinks at the same place every week? Try a one-night cooking class, or brewery tour, or visit an art gallery instead. Besides learning something new, the novelty might bring you closer.
About 80% of people watch television on a given day, so upgrading your selection is an easy win. Peruse Netflix’s documentaries for options—you’ll feel relaxed and smarter.