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The best question to ask yourself each night


(MoneyWatch) Like many parents, I try to engage my kids at the dinner table by asking "what did you learn today?" I always hope the answer is something. That's the point of school, right?

As I was asking this the other day, though, it occurred to me that I'd find it strange if my kids asked me the same question: "Mom, what did you learn at work today?" I don't come to dinner with an answer prepared. I usually haven't thought through my major take aways from the day. I seldom go into a workday thinking "What am I going to learn over the next 8 hours?"

But I probably should. It's a cliche to say that the world is changing ever more rapidly. But there are all sorts of skills that I use daily that not only did I not know about when I first started working years ago, no one knew about them. What kind of content works best on Facebook? How can you convert Twitter followers into regular readers? What's the right length for an ebook? In such a world, one's pre-existing knowledge and experiences are helpful, but ultimately, what's most helpful is a capacity to learn.

When I was writing a short book, recently, on how successful people spend their workdays, I kept hearing from people about developing this capacity to learn. Successful people make a point of adding to their career capital accounts every day. One key way to "pay in" to this account is to learn something new. When you come across an unfamiliar concept in a professional journal, you write it down and research it. You try to grab lunch, occasionally, with someone in a different functional area from you just to learn about what goes on. If there's a skill that's helpful in your line of work, you think about how to develop it and how to get better at it. When you need a break at work, you watch a video clip on a topic you find fascinating.

Ideally, looking back on your day, you'll find it easy to answer the question "What did I learn today?" because you'll have multiple ideas to pick from. And as a side benefit, learning something new every day keeps you engaged at work -- and in life as well.

What did you learn today?

Photo courtesy flickr user alamosbasement

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