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Whether you are at the beginning of your career or ten or fifteen years in, I'll bet there are areas of your professional life that you could improve upon. Professional development goals should be SMART, meaning that your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. When setting your professional development goals, it is also important that you focus on a few at a time, that they tie in to your overarching vision for your life, and that your goals have actions that will lead to their attainment. Once you have come up with a vision, it may be helpful for you to create a personalized professional development timetable - much like what you will find in college or graduate school, where specific tasks for your growth are laid out based upon a distinct timeline.
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Step One: Create a Vision Statement
Creating a vision statement is vital to your success at attaining your professional development goals. There should be some overarching goal that you want for your life. You may have seen company vision or mission statements that help define what it is a company does for its customers and clients. Your vision statement is similar. Think about what you want out of life. Franklin Covey has a great website application to help you develop your mission/vision statement. Take the time to perform this exercise and you will be more clear on what you will want to focus on for your professional development.
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Breaking Your Professional Development into Roles
What roles do you play in your field? As an editorial consultant, I play the role of a writer, of an editor, a researcher, a marketer, a web designer, a networker, etc. Break down your roles and your focus areas. This will help you to determine what goals you will want to set. For example, networking tends to be a weak area for many who run their own businesses from home. Once you have broken down your professional life into roles and areas of focus, you will be ready to start building your professional development timetable.
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Creating Your Professional Development Timetable
You will want to set aside 2-4 hours for this planning activity. At this point, you will want to create a file (if you haven't already) in Word or an Excel Spreadsheet. If you like there are a Word Template and an Excel template available for this exercise. You will want to create space at least for each of the following time divisions:
- 1 Month
- 3 Months
- 6 Months
- 12 Months
- 2 Years
- 3 Years
- 4 Years
- 5 Years
- 10 Years
- 20 Years
Now, for each of these time divisions, list each of your professional roles and areas of focus. (You may even want to create a timeline including goals for personal development, but that is outside the scope of this article). If you like, you can assign a consistent numbering system for each of your roles/areas of focus. Feel free to break time down further as you need to.
Once you have set up your file, start at the end. Twenty years from now, where do you want to be in each of those areas you've outlined? Can you set 2-3 goals for each area? Great! Now, what actions will be necessary for those goals? Are there any actions towards those goals that you can take today? Are there other things that need to be in place to set those goals? What are they? Move from the furthest time out to the soonest time setting your goals, actions that will need to be taken, and desired outcomes. Decompose each goal into its component actions. Every time you set a goal to happen at a certain point in your life, make note of what will be involved in meeting that goal. Schedule those actions as much as you can. Goals that are closest to now will be the most detailed. Goals that are furthest out will be the most abstract. Everything should connect to your vision statement.
When you are done, you will have created a timetable for professional development. You should have a list of actions that will lead to completed goals that covers the next several years. Right now, before doing anything else, schedule these actions! As you check them off into completion, you will start smelling sweet success.