How to Find the Best Balance of Learning and Doing

Ricky Gervais may not be hailed among the world’s business gurus—but we have to say, he’s on to something here:

C’est la startup vie when the whole team is wearing multiple hats and tackling responsibilities outside of their job descriptions.

But it can happen to anyone: Maybe you start a new job, or realize that your skill set is getting outdated, or accept an assignment you’re not totally qualified for.

Mind the Gap


However it happens, it’s not uncommon to be peering over the gap between what you know and what you need to know.

To bridge that gap, you read books, listen to podcasts, search online articles, watch YouTube videos… the list goes on.

The trouble is that many of us tend to get stuck in “learning mode.” We convince ourselves we don’t know enough yet and avoid putting our knowledge into action because we’re afraid of making mistakes. So we consume more and more information, and the balance between learning and doing becomes more and more skewed.

How do I find the right balance between learning and doing?

One approach to help you strike the right balance is to recognize signs that you’re doing too much or too little learning or doing. Here are a few to watch out for:

Too much learning, not enough doing

  • You go in circles, reading the same information from multiple sources
  • You’ve let tangential rabbit holes take time from important tasks
  • You haven’t applied what you’ve learned, so the ideas stay abstract
  • You can’t form a plan and moving forward is overwhelming (because you know what’s required to do it perfectly)
  • Your to-do list is massively overdue and rapidly expanding

Too much doing, not enough learning

  • You keep reinventing the wheel
  • You run into the same problems over and over
  • You don’t see any room for improvement
  • Your extra time that gets spent on low-value activities
  • You’re burned out and feel you’re not making progress

Pay attention to these signs to recognize when you’re over- or under-doing it so you can adjust your focus.

5 Tips for Balancing Learning and Doing

As you evaluate your balance of learning and doing, remember that it’s not just about calculating time use or watching for negative symptoms—it’s a mindset.

These guidelines, adapted from the Startups for the Rest of Us podcast hosted by Rob Walling and Mike Taber, will help you develop the right mindset to effectively balance learning and doing:

  1. Learning is the fun part. Learning is often more fun and easy than doing. But it can also create an illusion of productivity. Learning in and of itself is not productive until you put it into practice.
  2. Embrace “just-in-time” learning. These days, cutting-edge learning has a short shelf life, so if you’re not ready to use that information right away, it’s a waste of time and energy. Instead, focus on the task at hand.
  3. Learning will only get you halfway. Learning and doing aren’t mutually exclusive—you also learn through doing. When you start to see diminishing returns while learning, it’s time to move forward, start executing, and get into the nitty gritty of trial-and-error.
  4. Consciously cap your consumption. Too much information can be confusing, distracting, and exhausting. And while you can always go back and learn more if you need to, you can’t get spent time back if you wasted it on stuff you don’t need to know.
  5. Balance your learning with inspiration. Sometimes your brain needs a break from all the heavy lifting. That’s why it’s great to dramatically change the subject from time to time. It gives your mind time to rest and rebuild, and can get your creative juices flowing to help you solve business problems in new, unexpected ways.

Got some tips or tricks for how you find your balance? Let us know in the comments!