We all have those times when it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Between juggling work responsibilities, being there for the family, and maintaining relationships with friends, life stretches us thin. Spending time on personal and professional development can feel like a luxury that we simply cannot afford.
But in reality, most of us know that some luxuries can be worth the cost. Time spent in support of our personal and professional growth is not wasted, but rather an investment. Doing something you love is good for your emotional well-being. Plus, having a breadth of skills and interests can open professional doors, too.
The good news is that you can drive your personal and professional development, no matter how crunched for time you may be. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Whatever you’re doing, commit to it.
You’re the person that cares the most about your own development and growth. So, if you really want it to happen, you must be committed. No one else is going to do it for you.
It’s easy to spend your time worrying about failing to develop, instead of using that time to invest in getting started. Take a small step today and see how you feel.
- Make a small goal to start off and build momentum, or it’ll quickly become overwhelming.
- Use a habit-tracking app like coach.me to help you manage your daily goals. By checking in daily and using reminders, it’s easy to stay on course.
- Use a public commitment app where you create a commitment contract — and put your own cash on the line if you quit. Try Stikk, the app which lets you create a commitment journal and share your progress with friends.
Prioritize and plan
Some development activities are just for fun. Others will be more professionally focused, and might even be a prerequisite for your job. To stay motivated, you need to understand what you’re getting from each experience.
If professional development is your goal, talk to your boss and others in your field for ideas of the activities and qualifications that really count in your industry. Prioritize these for greatest effect.
- Balance personal and professional projects to keep it interesting.
- Some activities, such as volunteering in a related field to your current work, can offer both professional and personal development
- Keep records as you go of the development activities you have undertaken. These are a great personal diary, but also help you to keep your resume updated over time.
These days, professional and personal development is often accessed at the touch of a button. Information is everywhere, and easier than ever to tap into.
Even if you only have a few minutes, you can read an article or a book online to access the latest ideas in your field. If you’re thinking of taking up a new hobby for fun, you will find a community of like minded people online. You can also discover ideas and support to get you started.
- Do you see things you would like to read but never seem to have time? Create a reading list for later, using an app like Pocket or Safari’s Bookmarking tool. Then hit it up when you’re on public transport or have five minutes to kill waiting in line.
- Look at book summary sites to get a feel for which books might be interesting to you. Or sign up to Blinkist for canned versions of non fiction books you can get through in 2-15 minutes. Their curated lists (like ‘Essential reading for job seekers’) are especially good.
- Podcasts and audiobooks are a perfect way to access information if you don’t have time to read, but spend time driving or walking places. Services like Audible make downloading and accessing easy, and often offer free books.
- By following the right people (leaders in your industry, for example) on Twitter and other social media, you can get leads on what is new in your field.
- Try Google alerts to get articles on topics relevant to you, direct to your inbox.
Hook up with others
There’s a reason that weight loss groups are popular. The psychology of working in a team towards a shared goal means that everyone progresses faster — and often, has more fun with it.
If you’re lucky enough to to have a mentor or coach, or a ‘ready made’ group to work with, then use them well. But even if you don’t, there are other ways to find groups of active people looking to develop.
- Make a public commitment to develop a certain skill or achieve a certain thing. Tell your friends you’re working on your development, and ask for their support. Maybe they’ll join you in your journey.
- Look up like-minded people. They’re out there! Find a group in your city using Meetup, or go online to hook up with others using social media, special interest forums, and blogging groups.
- The coach.me community has active groups working on a wide range of goals. You can hire a coach for a small fee, or simply join the discussion forums. Here, you’ll get ideas and advice from others doing the same as you.
It doesn’t matter what you learn
It sounds counterintuitive, but what you learn is not half as important as the simple fact that you are pushing yourself to learn something new. Anything you undertake — even if not connected to your job — stretches you outside your comfort zone. You’ll develop crucial coping skills for work and home.
- Got a friend who goes to life-drawing classes? Attends cooking school? Or maybe you know someone who is learning computer programming? Join them! Most adult learning environments are happy to let their students bring a friend along to try the class out, so you have nothing to lose.
- Get online with a site like Khan Academy. You’ll get free access to learning materials on topics from economics to programming, chemistry to history.
- Learning a language is a great way to improve your employability, and is something that can be done in bite size chunks. You progress when you have the time, and continue practicing what you’ve learned in the interim. Try a site like lingvist or babbel for example, to carry your classes in your pocket wherever you go.
Look after yourself
A final note from me: look after yourself as you seek out new personal and professional development opportunities. It is an adventure which can get pretty addictive.
Don’t try to do too much or you’ll end up stretched thin and unable to do anything well. Pace yourself, do what you enjoy, and find what brings the greatest personal and professional rewards. By starting small and finding ways to expand your horizons — without having to drastically alter your lifestyle — you’re investing your time wisely in your own future.
Updated November 7, 2016 and originally published November 4, 2016.