How to create (at least) an extra week per month for Professional Development

Yesterday I tweeted photos of my ‘September 2015 Professional Development Outcomes’ and ‘October 2015 Professional Development Goals’.

PD Goals Oct2015My reply to Fiona Barr’s comment below made me realise that over the past few months I’ve actually created 40+ hours per month for Professional Development, in addition to integrating learning into my work activities.  In effect, I’ve created an extra week per month to invest in my own Development.

PD CommentPD Tweet reply

Doing a little bit, consistently, each day, accumulates quickly into a lot of development and the creation of new possibilities – particularly when I do things that connect me to others and put me in a situation of co-learning.  So, in this post I describe how have done this.  For context, I work full time, commute by public transport around 2 hours per day (including walking either end of the trip), have a 10 year old child whom I solo parent during the week without extra child-care, and a dog that I walk at least 2 x 30 minute walks per day.  I share this detail just in case anyone thinks that they have commitments in their life that would preclude them for investing more time in their development.  Note – this is not a prescription, just an example of what works for me.  The underlying principles could be adapted by anyone to suit their life situation and preferences.

1) I manage my energy.  Most nights I get 7-7.5 hours sleep.  I’m a lark and rarely work in the evening (when I do, I definitely feel the drain on my energy and productivity for the next two days).  I walk with my dog 2 x 30 minute sessions per day.  I take short breaks from my desk during my working day.  I eat reasonably well.  I find a strong sense of purpose in my work.  I recommend the book “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, which is appropriately sub-titled “Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.”

2) I have a routine and invest in myself when I am freshest.  After my morning walk I sit in my home office and invest an hour in professional development.  This works for me because my mind is clearest and my energy best first thing in the morning.  I generally do this on weekends too – at least one day every weekend.  This routine works with my circadian rhythms and makes the most of my periods of highest mental arousal and creativity.  I recommend the book “Manage Your Day-to-Day,” a series of short articles on the theme “Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.”

3) I have a theme (or small number of themes).  While I have many interests, I have a small number of themes to orient my professional development activities and minimise the time I spend down rabbit holes (it’s very easy to meander on the internet and social platforms).  Currently my key themes are Social Learning, Communities of Practice, Personal Knowledge Mastery and Modern Workplace Learning.  It’s probably at least one theme too many, although the degree to which I focus on any one shifts from time to time.

4) I set goals and track my activities.  Three months ago I was feeling overwhelmed. I had over-committed to delivering presentations (conferences, webinars) on top of work projects.  I felt like I had lost traction and was spinning my wheels.  I decided to make a list of what I needed to achieve in August, plan each week’s activities, and track what I had actually done.  I downloaded a calendar grid, added space to write out goals and outcomes, and took note of what I did each day.  This was a high leverage thing to do, and a really ‘easy win.’  Tracking my activities made me aware of how much I was actually doing and helped me to focus on doing the things that would help me most to achieve my goals.  It also helped me to be more careful about what I took on.  Although it may look like my October list is ambitious, most of this is discretionary and I am not letting anyone down if I don’t get it all done this month.
PD September 20155) I make the most of ‘incidental’ time.  I have around 40 minutes per day sitting on a train or bus 3-4 days per week.  During this time I am online – reading blogs (often via Feedly) or online course content, viewing Twitter feeds (I use lists to focus on key themes) or reviewing Twitter chats relevant to my themes, and engaging in conversation online.  I spend 7 hours per week walking my dog.  I often listen to podcasts or YouTube videos during my walks.  Sometimes I dictate a short reflection.  Other times I simply let my mind wander and use it for renewal.  All of these are good uses of this time.  Here’s a podcast directory in case you want to explore podcasts.

6) I am part of a network.  I am not alone.  I have the force multiplier of a global network of people with similar interests who share good content, engage in conversation, and sometimes co-create with me.  I use my network to filter content for me, to spark ideas and help me to gain insight, and I endeavour to contribute by showing my work, being curious and engaging with others.  I feel that I have barely scraped the surface of what is possible through networks, yet am in awe of their power and potential to accelerate my professional development.

Do you have any other tips for how to create more time for Professional Development or make the most of your PD activities?  Please share by commenting on this post.

  1. #1 by MLR (@emelaarghh) on October 5, 2015 - 1:04 pm

    Saw these images on Twitter over the weekend – thanks for explaining some of the background thinking and processes that underpin that impressive single-page summary. I’m planning to join a new Working Out Loud circle later this month; might use the opportunity to try out your method and see whether it helps me find some focus in my current role 🙂

    • #2 by Michelle Ockers on October 6, 2015 - 6:15 am

      Thanks for your comment. You’ll find there’s a specific way of planning and tracking what you are doing to build relationships that you will be introduced to in your Working Out Loud Circle. It’s called a Relationship List and is very useful. For me it complements my personal Professional Devt activity tracker. In regard to focus I find having a theme and/or a goal (which you will set in your Circle) the most valuable part of my approach. I hope you enjoy the Circle and wish you all the best with your development. Stay in touch on Twitter and let me know how you are going.

  2. #3 by Fleur Mouchemore on October 5, 2015 - 11:13 pm

    Michelle thank you so much for being so open to sharing your detailed experience and challenges around making time for development that so many of us can relate to. It’s great to have such a detailed example of how you address these challenges and demonstrate that it is possible to attend to our development through identifying those nuggets of time that I’m sure we all have but haven’t thought creatively enough about where they might be hidden. This post will be a terrific example to use when we have our next check in with some of our leaders who are piloting our leadership development program. Most would claim a lack of time as the reason why they haven’t made much headway with their personal development goals but you’ve shown how it can be done! Fantastic.

    • #4 by Michelle Ockers on October 7, 2015 - 6:25 am

      I’m glad that this is of value Fleur. Identifying the nuggets of time is a help. What has made the biggest difference for me is the foundational element of improving how I manage my energy, and shifting my language from ‘time management’ to ‘energy management’. This shift in perspective opens up new ways of thinking about productivity. It’s far easier to create energy than it is to create time. I have not attended a single development program in a corporate setting that looks at managing energy and goes into any detail on topics like how to get good quality sleep, exercise and nutrition. These are fundamentals which set the basis for high performance.

  3. #5 by Fleur Mouchemore on October 7, 2015 - 9:17 am

    What a great way to re-frame it Michelle – energy management rather than time management. A much more empowering approach, far more achievable and as you say opens your mind up to a different perspective. Even saying to myself I’m going to manage my energy rather than my time invokes more positive feelings. Thank you!

  4. #6 by Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss) on November 6, 2015 - 7:10 pm

    Thanks for this Michelle! I love the openness and resourcefulness expressed in this post, and have shared a link to it on the social intranet (Jive) at my work.

    I have 2 tips to share:
    > Recently I did a mindfulness course and can recommend it as a way to combat multi-tasking and lack of focus. (It’s similar to your idea of walking first thing in the morning, which clears the mind and starts the day in a balanced, non-tech way).
    > I too blog on WordPress (which can be a great way to share thoughts and get feedback) and have recently started sharing links to those PD activities via a Jive blog at work. So in that way, L&D colleagues at work (or anyone there) can join the non-work audience, to see and comment on my thoughts.

  5. #7 by salchell on November 9, 2015 - 4:13 pm

    Thank you Michelle for another insightful post. You are a great role model for working out loud and working with your networks. I have not yet found my ‘groove’ with this and realise that I do need to focus on it more. I really like your energy management versus time management, and think this could be an effective way for me to reframe my own life and self. I also like your point about leadership programs not placing on focus on these areas…food for thought there 🙂

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