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Your Individual Development Plan

Your Individual Development Plan
Your Individual Development Plan

    Where do you want to be in 5 years?

    This question is one of the lynchpins of the personal development field. It’s usually followed by instructions to visualize yourself having achieved those goals, and maybe an admonishment to ask yourself if what you’re doing now will get you there.

    None of this is hard. What is hard, though, is making a plan that will get you there, once you cut out all the stuff that won’t. It’s fairly easy to figure out the steps you need to take for a big project, even one that spans several years. It’s harder to plan for big life goals — things like becoming better at your job, spending more time with your family, getting more organized.

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    To help with this kind of planning, I’m borrowing an idea from the business world: the Individual Development Plan, or “IDP” for short. An IDP is a sort of agreement between an employee and their employer to work towards a set of goals together.

    There’s no requirement that your develop an IDP in the context of a business, though. Anyone can put together an IDP that helps them work towards their personal goals. At its root, an IDP is simply a personal plan for growth — something we should all have, regardless of who pays our wages.

    Creating your Individual Development Plan

    There is no set format that an IDP has to take. A single page listing goals and steps you can take to get you closer to them is perfectly adequate.

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    If your employer offers some sort of IDP program, speak with your human resources department about getting some guidance — you may find your employer is willing to pay for quite a few steps along the way, if they feel a better you will add value to their company.

    But going it alone is just fine, too — maybe you’re an entrepreneur, or a student, or a worker in the kind of job where personal development isn’t a priority. This isn’t rocket science; it’s not even model rocket science.

    Here’s what you need to do:

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    1. Take inventory: This is the hardest part of creating an IDP: you need to know what your goals are. Don’t worry too much, though — it’s perfectly fine to shift your goals as you work through your IDP.

      While considering your goals, focus on developing your strengths — not compensating for your weaknesses. You will have a much harder time motivating yourself to work against your nature than to work with it by doing things you like and have some talent at. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to be good at everything.

    2. Write a mission statement (optional): A personal mission statement isn’t for everyone, but many people find having one to be a useful standard to measure your actions against. The idea is, you can always ask yourself, “does this action do [whatever your mission is]?”
    3. Do research: Find out a) what you need to learn to improve or enter a new area, and b) how you can gain that knowledge. Look at job descriptions, career guides, trade magazines, and other sources and figure out what your next steps are. Then identify the places — schools, seminars, conventions, mentors, books, blogs, etc. — that offer what you need.
    4. Develop two plans: Although you’re aiming towards a long-term goal (or set of goals), what you do in the short-term is going to affect your long-term planning. This is life we’re talking about, not civic engineering — the step aren’t always clear. So write a short-term plan for the next year, and a longer-term plan for the next 5 years. Again, these don’t have to be all that complex; listing 2 or 3 things you want to do for each goal is probably sufficient.
    5. Figure out an assessment standard: How will you measure your success as you move forward? Goals that can’t be assessed in some way are very hard to stay motivated to work towards. Create a set of interim milestones — passing a class, getting an article published, making x dollars — and pay attention to whether you’re meeting them.
    6. Reassess periodically: Technically this happens after the IDP is created, but knowing you’ll reassess every 6 months or a year will help you make better decisions now, so I put it here. Make sure your plans and goals stay in alignment and that your goals still make sense. Do not let yourself stick to an IDP for the sake of seeing through a commitment; over several years, your goals are bound to change, and your IDP should change accordingly.
    7. Commit and take action: An IDP does you no good if it hangs neglected on a cork board for three years with the promise that you’ll get to it “someday”. Once you’ve made a plan, commit to taking the first steps immediately.

    What should be in your Individual Development Plan?

    Although the requirements for learning what you need/want to learn will vary widely, you should at least consider how each of the following could fit:

    • Courses and workshops: From formal university instruction to extension classes to one-off events like seminars.
    • Reading: Books, magazines, websites, newsletters, trade journals.
    • Networking: Don’t neglect the value that building connections within your current niche or your desired one can bring. Figure out who in your field is worth following, and how to get close to them.
    • Mentoring: A special kind of networking; consider asking a leader in your field to “take you under their wing”.
    • Ride-alongs/shadowing: Hands-on experience is invaluable. Ask to spend a day with someone whose knowledge and skills you admire, learning their work from their perspective.
    • Outreach: Form or join a group devoted to your topics.
    • Reassignment/move to a new job: Ask your employer to shift you into a different department or position, or find work that better matches where you want to end up.

    Not all of this is necessary, of course, but there are lots of creative ways to gain new skills and bodies of knowledge or develop existing ones that we simply don’t know about.

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    An IDP isn’t a binding contract; it’s an agreement, or a statement of intentions. The main point is to figure out what actions you could be taking and would like to take but aren’t. If you throw it out and start over in six months, that’s fine — as long as you’re doing something in the mean time.

    If you find you’re stuck in a rut with no idea of how to get out, take an afternoon and write up your own IDP. You might well be surprised at what occurs to you when you start thinking about not just where you would rather be but how you can get there.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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