Taking charge of your own professional development is one of the hallmarks of successful professionals.
It’s really up to you to make sure you are always on top of the latest developments in your field, which means that having a schedule or list of things to learn every year is crucial. You don’t want any surprises when asked about certain topics or skills at work!
And if there are new trends popping up, it’s important that you know about them so that you can be ahead of the curve and not left behind.
Below are a few simple tips to create your own professional development plan:
Tip #1: Keep it Simple
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.Albert Einstein
The first principle for creating your own professional development plan is to keep it simple. There’s no need for advanced project planning software or subscribing to multiple tools.
All you need is a pen and paper. You can also use Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
A simple 1-pager is better than having none at all.
You already know the basics—make it SMART.
Setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goals is key. A multi-year plan for switching industries might sound awesome. But if this is your first time planning or you’re not very well-versed in project management, then you’ll just procrastinate. You’ll just put it off. Three years later, you’re still stuck where you were before.
If you still don’t know where to start, focus on…
Tip #2: Quick Wins First
Start with your short-term goals and work your way backward. This will help you determine what skills or courses you need to take in order to achieve those goals.
Maybe you are constantly frustrated at work because no one seems to listen to your ideas when you present them. Then your colleague says the same thing in a different way and everyone praises her for her contribution.
This is a sign that your communication skills need some improvement. More specifically, you need better persuasion skills.
Find articles, resources, courses, or workshops that will help you be more persuasive.
Even if you think you need to become better at copywriting or making better presentation slides, if you can’t get other people to buy in your idea, then you need to work on that first.
Even if you think your colleagues and boss should listen to you because of your own merit, you have to accept the reality that the world doesn’t work that way. This is particularly true for those in technical industries like programming.
Even if you think you need to take up courses on advanced python or swift or java, if you are stuck because you can’t persuade other people, start there first. No amount of coding skills will help you get past that hurdle since you will always work with other people.
Focus on developing skills that will give you quick wins and make an immediate impact in your professional life.
Tip #3: Be Realistic About the Timeline
After deciding what you want to put in your plan, think about the timeline. Consider events that may affect the completion of that plan from both the personal and professional aspects.
Don’t just rush through the process of creating your plan. Take your time to come up with a realistic timeline that you can stick to and complete without feeling overwhelmed or stressed out about it.
- A two-week vacation coming up that has been planned for over a year ago
- A month-long calendar of events as your company celebrates it’s 50th year anniversary
- A conference that your team need to attend next week
Take a look at your calendar as you develop your professional development plan.
Tip #4: Set Milestones
One way to measure your success and progress is to set milestones along the way. This will help keep you motivated and on track. Celebrate each milestone as you reach them.
For example, if your goal is to become a project manager in three years and you need to get certified before that, then set milestones for each course or certification exam, and most importantly, when should you achieve those in order to stay on track?
You can’t complete the 5 certifications you need in your 35th month after creating your plan. Some certifications aren’t available year-round. Life may intervene and you need to put in extra work or you may get sick. Before you know it, 3 years have passed and you still haven’t made any progress towards becoming a project manager.
Make sure you spread out your milestones.
Going back to the example above, you want to be more persuasive and get your ideas implemented. What milestones should you make?
- Establish baselines — how many ideas or projects do you pitch that get rejected; how many are totally not implemented, and how many are implemented because someone else presented it in a different way?
- Identify workshops or resources you need to complete
- Monitor the same metrics after 1 month, 2 months, etc. for improvements
Tip #5: Leverage Available Resources at Work
Some companies offer tuition reimbursement benefits or may provide you with a training budget as long as it’s going to be beneficial to them as well. Talk to your manager once you identified a skill that you want to improve at.
Also, your company’s HR department may also be able to help you identify resources and connect you with other professionals who can provide guidance and support. Maybe the company has already done those types of training in the past but stopped recently. They may still have contacts or materials that can be of use to you.
If your job doesn’t offer any of those benefits, see if there are any professional organizations related to your field that offers discounted rates for members.
Tip #6: Review and Evaluate
Make sure to review your development plan regularly and make changes when necessary. Never forget that life happens, which is why you must be flexible with these plans especially if something unexpected pops up along the way.
Learning new skills and taking courses should never stop no matter what stage of your career you’re currently in or how successful you are. The key is to always be learning and growing as a professional.
Tip #7: Pick One and Just Do It
Can’t decide which skill to work on first or don’t know whether it’s going to be helpful in the future or not?
Don’t stress about it.
Just pick one.
Follow the tips above like setting a timeline, milestones, then work your plan. After, review and evaluate yourself against your plan.
In most cases, you will be in a better place now than you were before. In some cases, you will pick something that will be irrelevant or wrong. That’s okay.
Learn from it, adjust, and pick another one.
Whether you’re a solopreneur, a freelancer, or working in corporate, Professional development is a life-long journey you need to pursue if you want to succeed. The moment you stop learning new skills is the moment you stop growing.
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