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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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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