Finding Learning Time


By Odette Pollar,

"Now that my company is letting employees invest some of our 401(k)'s, I really ought to learn more about financial matters." Pick up the financial pages in your local paper or listen to radio programs and this sea of new terms washes over you. Stocks, bonds, annualized yield, covered calls, APR, net earnings, options. You are bombarded with language and terms that you not only don't understand, but find truly alien. Your anxiety level rises. How are you supposed to learn all this in order to make intelligent decisions?

Continuous learning is the new trend, whether that is technology, finances, course work, or changing work procedures. When faced with new-to-you issues, it can be difficult to admit to not understanding things that seemingly "everyone else does." Not knowing can feel like being out-of-control. Children love the unknown and find learning new things fun and exciting. They don't mind making mistakes or coming up with a close approximation. Adults, on the other hand, who are concerned with ego, position, and self-respect, often find unfamiliar territory uncomfortable. The issue for others, is simply a time crunch—who has months available to study the new tax code?

Here is a strategy for reducing the anxiety associated with new or complex information. There are ways to break down the "newness" so that you can begin to grasp and internalize the information. The first thing to do is not panic at the volume. Think about your learning as a curve plotted on a graph. Give yourself a time frame for grasping basic concepts. For example, in six months you will have an entry level understanding of what goes into a financial plan. The next chunk to tackle might be how to manage debt/savings/investment.

Begin to read about financial issues. Subscribe to one magazine, journal or newsletter on the subject that you are interested in. Resist the temptation to subscribe to six or eight. Initially, make sure you read one thoroughly and then add more when you are ready. Also, you will be better able to make an informed decision about which additional journals to subscribe.

Each week learn one new piece of information, such as what are stocks and how are they created.

Talk to clients, colleagues and friends about financial matters. Learn what they are interested in and how they invest funds. (This does not mean do what they do! You must make your own decisions.) Ask them for referrals to books or other information that will help you learn and grow. Do not be afraid to ask for definitions of unfamiliar terms they are using.

Plan to read one book each month related to investments. Be sure to chose a book that provides clear and easy-to-understand information in a way that you can grasp. As a beginning learner, you want an introductory overview. As you progress to the fifth or sixth month in this cycle you will understand more and be able to identify where you want more in-depth information.

Most areas of endeavor have hobby groups, investment or users groups or assemblies of interested parties. Join one and you will find yourself learning even more quickly than solo study. Not only do you have an opportunity to meet people with similar interests, you will be provided with a variety of perspectives from which to learn.

Join a mock investment group. There are clubs on the World Wide Web where people buy and sell fictitious stocks. This is a safe and inexpensive way to learn before committing your hard-earned dollars. If you have children, some school teachers run these types of projects in class. Join in. If you have friends who are also interested in learning, get together and create a mock portfolio, and follow the fortunes of the companies. As you become more comfortable you may choose to join a real investment club.

Attend trade shows, conferences or seminars in your interest area. That is a great way to learn about peripheral information, and trade shows often have free admission which can be quite attractive. If your interest is in an area useful to your job, some of these options may be supported or reimbursed by your company.

Keep in mind that you are very capable of learning new things. Take it slow and break it into small easy-to-absorb pieces. When the project becomes too daunting, just concentrate on a smaller portion and keep moving forward. Other people who seem so much more skilled simply started learning before you did but they went through the same steps you are now taking.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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