Professional Development: Little Time, Lotta Value

skt4gsyzmjI had a good chat today with someone about taking the time out of one’s personal life to do personal/professional development. The outcome of our conversation was that it really doesn’t take that much time to do a decent amount. In fact, I suggest it is often the feeling of being overwhelmed or not knowing where to begin coupled with generally poor time management that keep us from achieving this goal.

Now, this individual’s life situation isn’t that uncommon for those who feel strapped for time. He is married, and they are a younger couple with a small child. Family time is important, as is quality grown-up alone time, as well as some individual relaxation time for personal/individual hobbies or interests.

Here was my “challenge”:

1) Read 4 books a year
2) Subscribe to a dozen blogs and keep up with them
3) Start writing a blog or keeping a professional journal

To some, this may not seem like a whole lot, to others it may seem like an insurmountable objective. In either case, it’s a whole lot more than I see most folks doing in most organizations. I equate the above activities to understanding theory, keeping up with current events, and critically thinking and applying what you’ve been learning. There are of course other things folks could do, and ways people can get more engaged with their careers or the community in general, but I set this rung as the minimum. Also, the above activities are all cheap or free, have low barriers to entry and are fully within the control of the individual.

Here is how the time involved broke down:

  • One 300 page book: 10 hours; 100 minutes every other week
  • Keep up with blogs: 1 hours a week; 10 minutes of skimming/grooming, 50 minutes reading
  • One blog post/journal entry a month: 3 hours; brainstorming (30min), outlining (30min), writing (90min), reviewing (30min).

Now your times may vary if you are a slower/faster reader, writer, etc… and you may prefer to follow different formats or techniques when creating or consuming information. The details aren’t really important, just more of a guide for anyone who wants it.

The totals from above are: 31 hours per quarter or approximately 2.6 hours per week.

I’m going to assume you get about 8 hours of sleep a day (which is a lot for me) and that your work week is about 40 hours. This should mean 5 (workdays) * 8 (hours of free time) = 40 hours + 2 (weekend days) * (16 hours of free time) = 72 free time hours per week!

For most people, the numbers should work out. Even for a young spouse with a few little ankle-biters running around, 2.5 hours out of 72 seems easily doable. I mean 2.5/72 is less than 3.5% of your free time. Even if you are only 25% efficient with your time usage (you waste 75% of your free time) it is only 14% of your total weekly free time!

So where does the time go?!

I’m not overly interested in writing an article on time management, but here are a few ideas:

  • Lots of people I know seem to sink a wasteful amount of time into tv, video games, surfing the web, etc… A little is good for relaxing, a lot is wasteful.
  • Plan a little bit. Set an appointment or reminder for yourself. Talk to your family about what you are wanting to do and get them to help you too.
  • Set some small measurable goals. Track those goals if it helps. Set daily or weekly goals to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Make the first book you read a time management book 😉

Why should I do this on my own time?

I’ve had conversations, similar to the one above, with others in the past. Sometimes I got feedback along the lines of “I shouldn’t have to do this in my free time”. Well, maybe, maybe not. I do agree that more organizations should encourage learning and professional growth during work hours as part of the organizational culture. Unfortunately, this is just not the case and you need to choose what to do. It’s your career. What is working for you today may not work tomorrow, or worse in 10 years when your skill set has completely atrophied. My personal opinion is that continuous learning is just a good habit to form, and spending at least a little of your own time to develop yourself is not a waste. If you dislike your work so much, the thought of doing more or anything related to it in your free time disgusts you, perhaps it’s time to find a new career or at least a new employer.

What if I need more/other development?

So, my conversation above was with a manager and the goals all boiled down to just reading or writing. Hopefully this new knowledge would eventually be applied and reflected on at work. It can be challenging to practice skills like these outside of work, but perhaps you belong to some social group or organization where you can try them.

Perhaps you are a programmer or a tester and you need to stay abreast of various technical practices, tools or techniques. I will admit that these things are more time intensive, but perhaps in this case some of the reading and the writing can be lessened or forgone in favor of technical learning and practice. Go more deep and less broad.

In any case, in most situations the time commitment involved above is fairly small. If you have chosen a career path that requires double or even triple the time investment, it still is fairly reasonable, and all the same concepts still apply.

 

This article was originally posted on odbox.co as has been reposted with permission from the author.

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