Have you ever looked up and wondered where you are professionally and how you got there?
Many business leaders realize at some point in their career that they’re drifting, moving in their careers without intention. They may be seen as a high performer who’s great at customer service and even admired by team members, but that doesn’t mean they’re where they should be, doing what they should be doing.
Why personal development matters
If you just keep working without critically evaluating what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, you may find that you’re either consistently doing something poorly or spending your time on tasks that don’t challenge or interest you.
If you aren’t interested and challenged, you’ll likely plateau in your professional growth. As humans, it’s easy for us to get lazy or complacent in our work without even realizing it. Growth takes time, effort and attention.
Prioritizing personal development at work
1) Be intentional
Life is hectic. Work is often a flurry of emails and meetings with barely a break for lunch. For many people, this means they don’t have or take the time to sit down and consider what they really want out of their career.
When you pair that busy-ness with the inertia that can settle into a career, it’s easy for someone to completely lose sight of career planning and professional growth. Directing your career requires intentionality and dedication.
2) Start with a Life Plan
If you want to experience career growth and focused learning experiences, it’s important that you first identify what you want from your career and your life so that you can communicate it to others.
You must evaluate new opportunities and even how you spend your daily work life through the lens of who you really want to be. If you invest 40, 50, even 60 or more hours a week working toward goals, those goals should support who you ultimately want to be and the life you ultimately want to lead. You can start by creating a Life Plan.
3) Stay focused on your professional growth
Have you ever set goals as part of an annual review process, then promptly forgotten about them until right before the next review session? That’s because new information rapidly escapes our brain unless we intentionally work to cement it. And the grind of daily work can quite effectively distract us from these broader efforts. Goals must be visible regularly to be real to us. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a famous saying for a reason.
Dedication to career goals requires regular, consistent review of your plan. This may be a daily exercise for a significant period of time, followed by a weekly review. This isn’t just about reading through a document, however. This is about looking at how you’re spending your days, what you’re saying yes to, and where you’re currently headed so you can determine if your actions are in line with your intended career growth.
If during this review you find you’re not spending your work life in a way that aligns with your goals, it’s time to do some serious thinking and have a discussion with your manager to help you make the necessary adjustments.
4) Recognize that things change
One of the most important aspects of goal setting is knowing when goals should change. There are myriad reasons for changing goals, from changes in the business or industry, to the discovery of a new area of interest, to a change in your own personal circumstances.
Blindly pursuing career goals without carefully thinking through them on a regular basis means you may get exactly what you worked for only to find you don’t really want it anymore. An annual plan review can help you make sure you end up where you want to be.
5) Say No
Most people describe themselves as good multi-taskers in the same way most people think they’re good drivers. Unfortunately, neither of those scenarios is accurate.
The evidence is clear that multitasking doesn’t actually exist. It’s something we tell ourselves to justify checking email in meetings, texting while driving, and being on work calls during our kids’ weekend games and activities. While your brain can indeed shift back and forth between tasks, it takes time and energy to do so, which negatively impacts productivity and efficiency.
When we learn to say no to tasks which are not great uses of our time, we’re better able to focus on what’s critical and actually achieve more. So whether for you that means checking email far less frequently, limiting the meetings you attend, or having a strict “no work on weekends” rule, you’ll find that by refusing to be at the beck and call of every real or perceived emergency, you can become a more effective and happy team—and family—member.
6) Stop Working
Work has managed to creep into what used to be “off hours” for people, blurring the line between home life and work life. Many workers find themselves checking and responding to emails at night and on weekends or even doing work on personal time on a regular basis.
Research has shown there’s one simple thing people can do to maintain a positive attitude: shut it down. By leaving work when you leave work, you can enhance your quality of life, health, and happiness.
It’s so easy to allow work to creep into personal time, preventing us from being in the moment in our personal lives and from being able to fully rest and recharge. Studies have shown that drawing a line between work and personal time is beneficial to employees and employers, but internal and external pressures can make it hard to initiate this practice.
If you need to, start slow and build. Set certain hours or an evening or two as “work-free” times. Then build on that. Or let your team know that you won’t be checking email and that they should call you with any true emergencies. People are less likely to call you on your personal time than send you an email, so they are more likely to deal with the issue themselves or determine it truly can wait. And don’t forget to encourage this practice of “work-free” times for your team as well. It will serve them as well as you.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let your career just happen. Decide what you want from life and your career, then invest your time and energy to ensure that your personal development ultimately drives those goals.