When you've been given a task that stretches your skills, or requires knowledge you don't have, how do you get up to speed quickly? (And impress your boss with how well you rose to the challenge?)
I love taking on a new challenge – it gives me a chance to learn something new and break away from the usual things I do every day. It can be overwhelming at times, too, particularly if you're trying to get up to speed with a looming deadline! Here are some tips I've used when tackling a new-to-me project, and I'd love to hear some of your tips, too.
Make sure the project is clear
First off, be clear about how much of a challenge it will be. Will it be a stretch of your skills (a good thing!), or is it a challenge because the task is actually impossible? If you're being asked to take on a new responsibility that requires you to learn new software, for example, you're just facing a learning curve. But if you think your boss is actually being unreasonable in the request (like you're being asked to build a new website by the end of tomorrow), it's important to be clear with him.
Sit down with your boss and go over everything she's expecting. Take detailed notes so you have something to refer to, and don't be afraid to clarify if you have any questions along the way.
- Exactly what are you expected to deliver?
- What resources should you use?
- What are the deadlines?
- What should be included in the final project?
- Is there an order in which you should accomplish the tasks?
Check with an expert
Find someone in your organization who's already doing (or has done) what you're trying to do. Maybe it's someone with whom you already have a mentoring relationship, or maybe it's the person who held your position before you. Maybe it's even someone in a different department, or a friend in a completely different company.
Whoever it is, ask them for a few minutes to go over your new assignment with you. He'll hopefully be able to answer any specific questions you might have, as well as giving you tips that may help you learn faster.
Break down the assignment
Once you've clarified your boss's expectations and gotten advice from an expert, you should have a better idea of what it will take to accomplish the assignment. Make a list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished, and then take special note of what you think you'll have trouble with, or what you need to learn.
For example, your assignment may involve learning a new-to-you software, or drafting a piece of marketing collateral you've never done before. Add any research, learning, or practice time you'll need to your to do list.
Taking detailed notes of your research and your process will help you learn the material – and it will be a huge time saver if you think you may be doing similar projects in the future! Use a dedicated notebook for the project, or use a digital tool like Evernote or OneNote to capture what you're learning.
Include notes on research, the processes you used for specific tasks, and (if you're using a digital note-taking program) screenshots from the programs you're using.
Get regular feedback
Check in regularly with your boss to make sure you're on the right track. Ask her to review your work once you've finished a portion of the assignment – this should hopefully keep you from blundering too far if you're headed in the wrong direction. You can also ask your coworkers, your mentor, or the expert who helped you initially. Take their feedback to heart, and use it as a way to help accelerate your learning process.
If you are headed in the wrong direction, sit down with your boss and review your initial notes about the project. It could be that there's a misunderstanding somewhere.
Give yourself time
It's nearly impossible to retain information when you try to learn it all at once. Pulling an all-nighter right before a big test in college may have helped you pass that test, but be honest – how long did you remember the material once the test was over?
Instead of trying to learn it all in one session, pace yourself to take bite-sized chunks of the new material. If you're learning a new software, for example, practice one skill the first day, then add on a few more skills the next, and so on.