07/24/2014 12:34 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2014

How to School Yourself at Work

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I didn't have a TV in my room when I was kid. My mom didn't allow it. Video games? No way. Free time was abundant and instead of wasting it she filled those hours, for my sisters and me, with learning. She took responsibility for that, then, but now it's on us.

At some point in our lives, we begin to live within the barriers of society. These walls alter our once inquisitive minds and create boundaries that narrow our ability to think freely. The allotted time for curious learning and imaginative thinking (which was constant, as a kid), in some cases, disappears.

Let's bring it back.

Have you added "learn *insert topic here*" on your to-do list? How about, "try out *insert new thing here*"? When planning my days I realized that I rarely pencil in time to sit back and learn. It feels wrong. Doing work feels right. Dedicated learning rarely makes the list. Why? We can't check that off our list(s). And because of that, we rid ourselves the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary.

Responding to emails, participating on phone calls, and attending meetings are all common tasks that fill our "busy" days. These tasks can be checked off. What if you made time to learn something new? What would it be?

At Spire, our culture is built around a number of core values, and a commitment to learning is one of them. Even though we have that culture, I sometimes find myself fighting a thicket of to-dos that twist and tangle me beyond recovery. Do other people have the same struggle? I asked a handful of people I know, all in different industries. The majority of people laughed at me. You mean do something other than what I'm paid to do? They assume, for the most part, that because learning is personally beneficial, it should be treated like a personal project--only to be completed during personal time, and not on the company's dime. But what about learning that makes you more valuable to your​ company? The stuff that sparks new ideas. The things that shake up your normal way of thinking. Where does that fall?

The power of learning is ineffable. Fifteen minutes out of your week isn't good enough. Pushing yourself to learn requires critical thinking, freedom, and a comfortable cushion of time.

I have a proposal: If you're in charge of managing people, including yourself, and you set a work schedule for your employees, try providing them with a time to learn. Dedicate a day out of the week, or month and give them freedom to explore something new, push them to stretch their minds. A few months ago, Teehan+Lax carved out time for their designers to learn Sketch 3. Although it was directly related to their job, it was still dedicated time to learn something new. Foursquare offers fireside chats to help their employees learn from others. has "Lunch and Learns." Medium provides dedicated time for meditation. Just like working remotely is becoming an accepted thing, let's make dedicated learning the same.

We spend a lot of time heading down a road that we know. This stifles our creativity and growth. Let's help each other change lanes. It's our responsibility to take advantage of the time we have.

Stay curious, and don't ever stop learning. (Thanks, Mom)

If you already do this, cheers to you and your team, I'd love to hear about your experiences (shoot me a note michaelbrooksjr [at] gmail [dot] com). If you don't, or you disagree, I'd also love to hear from you (be gentle).

Michael is CTO and co-founder of Spire, a UX/UI designer, and a soccer player. He writes at Medium.