Have you made your resolutions yet? I’ve been asking around over the last few days… it would seem that making resolutions at the beginning of a new year may be going out of style. No matter, I am a big proponent, and they work for me. I’ll drafted thoughts for my own resolutions and I’ll finalize them in the next few weeks.
If one of your half-formed resolutions is to kick up your own professional development in 2013, here are a few ideas about what you might put on your list.
Declare your intentions. The most important thing you can do for your own development is to clearly identify what it is you want to learn. Once you do that, you’ll be surprised how often you find resources that will help you – a book to read, an article that captures key thoughts, a community of like-minded people.
Follow the leaders. In this era of social media, many of the thought leaders in our field blog, tweet, make presentations – and even write books! Identify the people who are leading the way in your area of specialization and follow them. Look for their blogs, tweets, online presentations, journal articles, and conference appearances. If you need some help getting started, I’ll offer my own blog roll, which serves me well and can be found here.
Make friends. You can’t beat having people around you who challenge your thinking, provide feedback, and serve as both a sounding board and source of inspiration. Whether these are valued colleagues, mentors, or role models, you’ll need that human interaction to really accelerate your learning.
Read. I’m a book geek, so I simply have to put reading on the list… but you can read professional journals, blogs, and other more short-form material if you simply can’t get into reading books. Consider subscribing to a book summary service or deliberately looking for extended book reviews so that you can be clued into some of the key ideas coming off the presses. Often, you can find interviews and presentations (TED Talks, for example) that summarize main points as well.
Remove barriers. Identify and eliminate those things that are keeping you from reaching your developmental goals. Whether those barriers are your own bad habits (which need to be replaced by better ones) or other people and things, figure out how to minimize their impact on achieving your goals.
Write it down. Capture your learning, insights, and reflections in writing in a way that allows you to refer back to it and find it again later. Blog or journal (I frequently refer to this space for my reflections on topics, for example); comment in the margins of the books you read; capture electronic articles and your comments on them on a bookmarking site of some kind. For me, it’s very true that I don’t know what I think until I see what I say (to quote E.M. Forster), and I think you’ll find the same.
Become a saver. Use a bookmarking site, or a good electronic filing system of your own to keep track of those interesting articles and web pages you may need some day. The most frustrating thing is to know you saw something relevant somewhere, but to have no way of finding it again. I have my own electronic way of storing journal articles that I keep, but I also rely on Delicious and Endnote to keep me organized.
Feed your mind. Creativity is often born out of fortuitous connections made between previously unrelated ideas and concepts. Get outside of your specialty and experience other arenas of intellectual pursuit and creative expression. Read history, visit museums, take up a hobby, or go sight-seeing. If you need a reason to take a break from the intensity of your own work, this is it. You’ll be surprised what comes out of these adventures into new spaces.
Join a professional organization. One of the easiest ways to connect with like-minded people is to join the organizations in which they already gather. You’ll then have access to their journals, discussion forums, and events, all of which can prove enriching. I have links to some of these organizations on my SMART Practice page.
Attend a conference. I find there is nothing more energizing than attending a good professional conference. To be surrounded by your “peeps” (people in your profession), hear new ideas in the field, learn what others are doing (and how they are eliminating barriers) – what a joy! There is often so much to take in, it’s exhausting, but I often find them exhilarating at the same time. I’ll be presenting at a few this year; you can check out my schedule on my web site.
Seek formal education. While learning resources are available for self-directed informal learning, a seminar or a degree program can really set you on the right road. Once you’ve decided what you want to learn, explore these formal avenues as a way of giving you a framework on which to build your ongoing learning.
Get a coach. If you’re feeling a bit tentative and aren’t getting the feedback you need, find a coach who can help you to get clear and give you the caliber of professional feedback you need. Talk to your boss, or ask a senior colleague to take on that role. You can also hire a personal coach if you like.
Visit your “thinking spot” often. Carve out time and space to just think. Maybe you like to put your feet on the radiator and stare out the window; maybe you like to take a long walk or a scenic drive; maybe you like a comfortable mat in your exercise room. Just like Winnie-the-Pooh, we all need a “thoughtful spot” where we go just to think, to reflect, and to plan. Turn off the electronics and limit the distracting sounds. It’s amazing what will finally become clear in those moments of quiet.
Do you worry that 13 may be an unlucky number? Here’s a 14th potential resolution just to be safe:
Take a vacation. Working flat out can be highly productive, but every once in a while, you need a clean break to recharge the batteries. No work, no e-mail, no to-do list; just relaxation and fun. You’ll find me on Cape Cod!
Cheers to 2012! Let’s make it a great one!