At the start of 2016, I asked myself one question: “How can I make achieving my professional growth goals effortless?” I found the answer was elegantly simple — by focusing on alignment goals.
Many people fail on their professional development goals for the year because they take on a lot of goals — goals that they feel they “should” do but ultimately don’t energize them. For example, maybe they tell themselves that they need to read a pile of books in order to learn more, keep up with their colleagues, or just stay up-to-date with their industry. But if sitting down to read feels more like a chore, it’s unlikely they’ll make any progress — and they may feel badly for not achieving their goal when the year comes to a close. While the goal itself felt like it was something that fit the needs of their professional role, it didn’t match the individual’s preferences or ambitions.
If you want to succeed with your professional growth goals, choose one or two key areas of focus that align with what really matters to you.
For example, this year, I decided to make writing a book proposal for a new book my primary professional development goal. I knew this was the right direction because I felt a lasting surge of energy behind the idea. It had been on my mind since September 2015, and I couldn’t wait to get started at the beginning of 2016.
Nothing about writing the proposal felt like a “should.” It felt like a “must.” I was excited to move ahead and willing to cut back in other areas of my business to make room for this to happen. This congruence between my internal desires and my external goal made moving ahead relatively effortless.
To begin thinking of your own professional development goals, start by asking yourself three questions:
- If I could accomplish just one major professional development goal in 2017, what would it be?
- When I think about working on this goal, do I get excited about the process as well as the outcome?
- Is my motivation to pursue this goal intrinsic, something coming from within because it is personally interesting and important, or is it extrinsic, something that I feel would please other people?
These three questions will help you identify what really motivates you internally. Also, I’d recommend keeping the number of goals you choose as narrow as possible, so you can give them your full attention.
Selecting what you want to work on, though, can often feel easier than actually moving toward those goals, especially when you’re faced with other work commitments. In order to reach these objectives, you need to ensure you’ve aligned your time with them as well.
I’ve always been a huge fan of time blocking as a way to reserve time for important items. But in the past, time for professional development goals was usually slotted in around other work responsibilities, like coaching calls with my time management clients. Even when I was writing my first two books, I would block out at most half days to get the writing done. Doing so gave me focused time to concentrate, but it also meant that I ended up working longer hours when I was working on special projects.
This year, though, I decided that I wanted to align my time more firmly with my priorities. That meant blocking out an entire day once a week (I chose Wednesdays) to focus on my book proposal and, once that was sold, my book writing. But rather than simply marking it down, I took it a step further: I put up an out-of-office for each Tuesday and Wednesday to let people know I was out for book writing on Wednesday, and would respond to Tuesday and Wednesday e-mails on Thursday.
At first, this felt uncomfortable, and I worried about getting everything done. But after making this a lifestyle since the beginning of the year, I realized that it was not only possible, but it felt amazing! I overcame my limiting belief that when I worked on big projects I had to work longer hours.
Once you decide on your professional development goal or goals for the year, I encourage you to take a similar approach to aligning your time with your goals to make the results effortless. Most people can’t block out an entire day every week, but almost everyone can start to reserve more time for their professional development goals than they do now. It may take some time for your colleagues to adjust to the fact that you are not always available. But typically, you can make a consistent investment to your own growth.
To do so, decide on which days and times you can commit to moving ahead on your goal. You may have the opportunity to do something like I did, where you block out an entire day (maybe to take a training class), or you may need to set aside smaller chunks of time. For example, some of my time coaching clients will set aside two to three hours on a Wednesday morning, come into the office early a couple of days a week, or pick a weeknight or a weekend morning where they can spend an hour of time moving ahead on their goal. Try one strategy and see how it works. If it seems to suit you and your colleagues, stick with it. If not, adjust the days or times until you get something that fits.
If you plan on working on professional development during the day, you may need to discuss with your boss what’s appropriate before making these changes. I also recommend shutting your door, going to a conference room, or working from home. The physical boundary is a great help to avoid the time getting derailed by drive-by meetings.
The exact amount of time you can spend will vary depending on your other responsibilities. But it is important that you’re consistently setting aside the time for your professional development goals. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but in time it will get more natural. This will create alignment between what you say is important to you and where you invest your time.
When you have professional development goals that align with what’s important to you and you align your time with those goals, you’ll find the results can feel effortless in 2017.