Top tips to maximise your training

Training can play a key part in your career and if you have a training budget in these belt-tightening times, you're lucky. But do you make the most of it? Do you return to your daily work after an off-site course inspired, efficient and invigorated? Or do you dread returning to a desk filled with urgent messages, tasks undone, and an over-flowing in-tray? Editor Penny Cottee passes on some tips to help you give training the space it needs to maximise your learning potential

By Penny Cottee

• Take responsibility for your own training plan – don’t let yourself get plonked on any old course with ‘secretary’ or 'administrator' in the title – but think about what you, personally, need. Plan with your boss and look ahead together at what skills you may need in the future. (See Helen Vandevelde's super article in this issue to find out how)

• Choose training carefully – not just by looking at the course title. Don't go with the first flier that lands on your desk or the course your boss's previous PA enjoyed - do some research and check out what's on offer (see our round-up of top courses available now). And when you are deciding on a course, make sure you get a list of contents and learning objectives, and check that at least 80% are relevant to you - doing a course for one element only is a waste of time. And be wary of those which promise to revolutionise your work life in one sitting.

• Book the training in your diary and start to plan around it. Don't schedule key priorities too close to your course, and blank off time on the afternoon before your course and the morning you return to the office. You'll need these slots to get your self organised for your course, to field priorities, and to sort out what's been going on in your absence, so don't commit to a stack of meetings!

• Arrange cover if you can for your time away from your desk. At the very least, leave a voicemail and 'out of office' email response, so people know you're training. Make sure key people around you know you won't be there, and ask them not to leave urgent matters on your desk. If you know something urgent or important is expected while you're training, make sure you organise someone else to deal with it, even if that's your boss. Treat your colleagues' needs professionally, and they'll respect your training time more.

• Don’t just roll up on the day. One of the most important parts of training is the preparation beforehand - don't miss the essential advice from learning expert, Bill Lucas, on opening your mind for the learning experience. Think beforehand and make a list of three priorities you want fulfilled by the end of the course. Most trainers ask at the beginning of their sessions, now, what delegates are hoping to get out of the day - make sure your answer is prepared. If your priorities don’t appear to be forthcoming as the day progresses, speak to the trainer during a break and ask if these areas will be covered. If not, ask where else you may find help – do they have other notes?

• Forget your desk. Give yourself up to the course – concentrate, participate, and learn. Don’t rush out at coffee time to make 10 urgent phone calls. Relax, and you’ll be more open minded and able to make the most of the day.

• Take good, short notes. The act of writing cements the ideas in your mind better than reading handouts. But equally, listen first and digest what’s being said before you begin scribbling. Don’t write down anything you don’t understand – ask! And jot down questions for the trainer as you go along, before you forget them.

• At the end of the course make an action plan of three things you’re going to do differently. Make a real effort to put the course into practice as soon as you get back to your desk. Collect all hand-outs, etc, and fill out the course evaluation forms honestly – you’ll be helping those who take the course after you.

• Give your manager feedback on your return. Explain what you’re going to change and schedule regular updates to see how it’s progressing. The more you involve your manager in your training, and the more they can see a concrete benefit, the more likely you are to be able to go on other courses. Which means you’ll be even more of an asset to the business.

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