11 May Simple Tips To Take Charge of Your Professional Development
In 1959, viewers of The Twilight Zone met Henry Bemis, a bank teller who loves to read but has trouble finding the time to indulge his passion between his responsibilities at work and his nagging wife at home. As fate and Rod Serling would have it, Henry is on his lunch break in the bank vault when a nuclear war destroys everything else around him.
As Henry picks his way through the rubble and dabbles in despair, he discovers that the books of the public library are largely undamaged, and as he is about to sit down and read in uninterrupted bliss, he trips and breaks his glasses. Distraught, he sobs, “There was time now. There was — was all the time I needed! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
If there’s a moral of the story — other than that The Twilight Zone is really disturbing sometimes — it’s that we shouldn’t wait around to have time. We need to make time for the things that matter. So if one of the things you care about is your professional development and career advancement, you need to make the time to learn, rather than waiting for that time to magically find you. If you don’t, your career or even your business are going to get left behind.
Own Your Learning and Thus Your Professional Development
You know that one habit you want someone in your life to change, but no matter how hard you push, nothing happens? That’s because you can only change you — you can’t make anyone else want something just because you want them to want it.
The thing is, that’s also true about you. You need to own your learning. It’s one thing to learn C++ or the finer points of multivariate testing because your boss requires it, or to check out a new software tool because your competitors have implemented it. But to truly own your professional development, you need to believe that this new knowledge, skill, or method can make a meaningful difference not only to you, but to your organization’s business. That’s when you’re going to be committed to learning — when you absolutely know that it can benefit both you and the company that depends on your current knowledge and skill to succeed. If you don’t have that commitment and motivation to learning, you will find ways to make even the smallest obstacles into insurmountable hurdles. On a personal level, think of how many reasons you’ve found not to do your taxes/lose 15 pounds/organize your garage and on a business level, start that podcast/learn how to code/learn a new software system. We humans have a true gift for avoidance.
One of the first things I do in any consulting assignment is to discover the culture and the team’s willingness to learn. I’m more likely to engage and the client will more likely have success if the team is rooted with a growth mindset and has the willingness to learn and adopt new and innovative ideas, strategies, tactics, and tools — which by the way is not always a walk in the park. Active learning is NOT always convenient and easy — and even costly at times — but learning and application of that learning is the basis to developing a professional career that will make you a valued asset in any organization — including your own.
Bearing our amazing abilities in mind, the very first thing you need to do if you want to find time to learn a new skill is to articulate what you want that time for. What do you want to learn — and why? “I want to learn social media because I need it for work” is not a great answer. Get specific. What, precisely, do you want to learn, and how will that information help you and your organization? “I want to know how to use Twitter to engage more effectively with our potential customers so that we can increase our revenue growth” is a lot better. And believe me, that answer goes a long way when it comes to steering your ultimate career path.
The more specific you can be about what you want to learn and what you plan to do with that knowledge, the better off you will be. You need to do your research and hone in on the skills that matter, the skills that will make your organization’s business grow. Be ruthlessly thorough here, because anything less will come back to haunt you later in the form of missed lessons, skipped practice sessions, and a whole lot of wasted time and money.
You also need to consider how much time you need to invest in and plan your professional development. At IN THE KNOW, for example, we try to make it as easy as possible for you by giving you an estimated time of completion for each of our growth marketing learning paths. No doubt, it’s not easy to find an entire hour every day to devote to learning a new skill. But over the course of a week, can you find a way to carve out three or four hours? If something is truly important for growth, you probably can — if you know how to look for that time.
Find Time For Professional Development
It seems basic, but when you want to lose weight, one of the first steps is to track your food. When you want to work on your budget, you have to track your spending. When you want to find time for a learning path in your schedule, you must start with a time log.
Here’s what you don’t do: You don’t start off by saying, “Well, I already work 100 hours a week.” I can tell you that it’s incredibly unlikely that you work 100 hours a week, even if you are absolutely certain that you do.
How can I be so sure? Well, first of all, to work 100 hours a week, you either need to be working 20 hours a day, five days a week, or 14 and a half hours a day, seven days a week. Are you really doing that? Consistently, week after week? That means you’re starting work at 7 in the morning and you don’t come up for air until 9:30 every night? If you’re not the President of the United States, it’s hard to believe that you are. And if this does describe you, then you’re probably working very inefficiently. Study after study has shown that working long hours isn’t just unproductive — it’s counterproductive.
If you’re like most people, you probably sleep somewhere between 5-8 hours a night — so that’s 35-56 hours right there. You most likely work a more reasonable 45-55 hours a week (if you’re shaking your head, just hold on a moment), which leaves 57-88 hours a week for other things. When you think about it, that’s enough time for an entire full-time job. Surely you can find two or three hours from that time — as Dr. Randall Hansen would argue — to invest in yourself by investing in your professional development.
So, how do you track your time? You get yourself a time log — Laura Vanderkam makes this 15 minute 168 hour timesheet available and gives excellent instructions on just how to record and manage your time — and for at least one full week, you record what you’re doing all day long. In the beginning, you might find it helpful to set a timer to remind you to record what you’re doing every 30-60 minutes.
Slot in Professional Development Time
Once you’ve actually tracked your time for a week, you can assess your time log and figure out ways to work within the constraints of your particular situation.
For example, if you have a certain amount of autonomy at work, and the skill you want to learn is relevant to your job, like Data Science for example, you may be able to carve out time during the workday for professional development and learning. By grouping some similar tasks together — for example, batching all of your weekly administrative tasks into one 45-minute session on Fridays instead of constantly switching gears during the workday to handle things as they crop up — you may be able to reclaim a few minutes each day and apply them to a learning path that moves you closer to your professional development and personal goals. Using an app such as RescueTime can give you a breakdown of your computer-based use time.
Here are some other ideas you might be able to use or tweak to batch your tasks at work to create the time you need for professional development:
- Research and write your blog posts for the week all at once instead of each day
- Manage your social media accounts during specific blocks of time with a tool like Buffer
- Run and review your analytic reports at set intervals instead of on the fly
- Set aside a dedicated time to return phone calls each day
- Have a designated weekly meeting day so that you’re not constantly interrupting your schedule
Once you start batching your tasks, you may be able to simply block off time on your calendar and establish that as your professional development time. It’s not hard to justify using work time when you are confident the skills you are learning will grow your mind and grow your business.
Sadly, many in the corporate world see their time dictated by the whims of managers, who may not be committed to professional development for employees. Heck, you may be that manager dictating your subordinates’ times! Whether you are the CEO, manager, or frontline employee, if you are wasting your time in meetings where you have nothing to contribute, you may need to rethink your job — but that’s a topic for another post. The point is that you may have to look for ways to consolidate your after-work-hours time, but even that doesn’t mean that you don’t have time to learn a new skill. It’s not just about productivity, it’s about priorities, choices, and being honest with yourself.
For example, do you wind up shopping for groceries at peak hours or spend 45 minutes in traffic after picking up your dry cleaning? Get creative: can you order groceries online and have them delivered? Could you find a dry cleaner that offers pick up and delivery? You’re already streamlining tasks to make your business run at peak efficiency. So why not do the same at home?
Eliminate Wasted Time Better Spent on Learning
Sometimes, it’s easy to find “wasted” time on your log.
Those 2 hours spent sorting through scores of emails that in no way benefit you or your business? I mean seriously, how many of you have opened up or refreshed your email client on your mobile device over and over again waiting for something to change even though you know it’s not that time sensitive or important? Time wasters. A little bit of strategy can go a long way in reducing these time wasters in your professional life, which makes it easier to make time for professional development.
But what about your personal life? Only you can decide which activities are important part of how you relax. If you want to build that kind of downtime into your schedule, you can. But if you routinely find yourself regretting the lost sleep, the missed time with friends and family, or the lack of time to read for pleasure, consider carefully how you spend those evening hours.
Then there are the one-offs. The 4 hours you spent with your laptop in the shop, because your hard drive crashed. It happens, and frankly, when you start tracking your time, you find that almost every week contains something that makes it “atypical” — a trip to the ER, a flat tire, an ATM that won’t accept your deposit — all of these things happen more regularly than we generally acknowledge.
The more insidious time wasters are the entries that disguise themselves as something else. Two hours spent on the phone with a client looks good on paper, but if you spent the majority of your time half-listening and half-doing work on your computer, is that really time well spent? Remember that morning you spent “drafting a client proposal”? Might your Facebook updates during that time indicate something else? If you’ve set aside a precious chunk of time for a specific task, you need to be fully engaged and make that time count as part of your professional development plan.
How about time spent redoing work that someone else already did? Sure, you might have done it differently, but you delegated it for a reason, didn’t you? This is most common in business owners and entrepreneurs, but it happens to new managers in large companies as well. Every time you pull this stunt, you’re frustrating your employees — and you’re building up your time debt.
When you are deliberate with your professional and personal time, you can make choices that positively affect your overall happiness — as well as your business’ bottom line.
Apply Found Time To An Ongoing Professional Development Plan
Ultimately you, like every other human on the planet, have 168 hours to work with each week. How you use that time is up to you. Yes, even if your job requires certain commitments, you still have a fair amount of time left over every week. Why not invest it in keeping yourself and your business ahead of the curve? And don’t quit — ever. When you make time to invest in your professional development and grow relevant and applicable skills, you make time to grow you and grow your business — and that kind of progress is never a waste of time.