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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.

    More by this author

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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