How to find time for your professional development

You need to make building capability a priority in your life

Do you want to become more marketable and be able to win that promotion or new job or get selected for the best projects? Then you have to regularly take time to learn a new skill and develop your knowledge.

But do you struggle to make the time for personal development, even though it’s on your ‘to do’ list?

The urgent or important tasks that need to be done crowd out your work day, and beyond! And you want to spend time with your family and friends and have some time for yourself.

It is difficult to avoid being distracted by those urgent things on your list.

You feel guilty about taking time out for personal and professional development – it’s not seen as a priority right now.

You conclude it is just not possible to find time in your schedule for learning. You feel disappointed about not living up to your expectations and feel less positive about your career.

Developing your capability has many benefits. You develop ‘expert’ power and become the go-to person, and be sought after for your opinion. It will also enable you to get on the interesting projects, get that much sought after promotion or even be selected for a new job.

You can get things done quicker and easier because you know what to do, so be more in control of your time. You will feel more competent and confident and less stressed.

We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change – Peter Drucker

So, how can you make this time, build your knowledge, get things done quicker, and increase your capability, both to your current and future career?

Incorporating time into your day for learning can be difficult – it is the importance-urgency dilemma as outlined by Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Plan to Learn

By mapping out where you want to go in your career, you are then in a position to plan your learning. You can identify the skills and knowledge that will assist you achieving the plan and then draw up a learning plan. This means identifying:

  • What you want to learn – ie the desired results
  • Why you want to learn it – ie the purpose
  • What you are going to focus on – ie the priority
  • What specifically you need to do – ie the actions – the what, when, where.

Any good plan will consider the potential challenges you will face, so you are prepared to overcome them.

Block Time

Successful people get things done by blocking out time. It may be an hour or so early in the morning or late at night when you can get some quiet time, or you may take yourself off to a quiet place to get away from distractions.

Your personal development should be a high priority (high importance-but maybe not so urgent), so consider what time is best sited for you to learn, when you have energy and are most alert. No good leaving it till last thing at night if you are too tired and nothing is achieved.

Make time in your schedule – delegate or defer less important important tasks to open up time for you.

You can also achieve a lot by making good use of the short periods of free time, such as waiting for a meeting, or travelling on the bus or train – you can read an article in just 15 minutes.

The Learning Habit

Learning is an ongoing process as Peter Drucker says in the quote earlier. So make it a habit. Schedule regular time to progress your learning. Block out time for that upcoming short course, or set aside a few hours here and there on a regular basis.

Review how you are going every week and see if you are taking the time and making progress.

One strategy is to be held accountable by a mentor, colleague, friend or even you boss – ie make a ‘public’ commitment and then report back on a regular basis. Much harder to skip it if you have to report on progress to someone else.

Finding a study buddy is another key to success. This could be by taking a class or doing a course or learning a skill with others, they also provide you with the opportunity to discuss and clarify what you may be having trouble understanding. Teaching someone else means you learn better.

You learn more when more learning modes are used – ie reading, taking notes, reflection exercise, applying what you have learnt to a problem, presenting what you have learnt to someone else.

Key Points

  • Career success requires continuing professional development
  • Developing your skills and knowledge means you will get things done quicker and easier, and you will feel more in control
  • Set up a learning plan that supports where you see your career going
  • Block time in your schedule on a regular basis for personal development.

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