Professional development tips: Make a difference with these five time-tested ideas

By Robert Half on 9 April 2018

Everywhere we turn, there are ads or schemes that promise to deliver fast results.

From workout programs claiming to deliver “6-pacs in 6 weeks” to get-rich-quick schemes, it seems like everyone is promoting instant gratification. But the truth is, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even business stalwarts like Jack Ma did not leapfrog into success overnight.

Building a rich and rewarding career begins with cultivating the right habits. Here are 5 professional development tips to stretch your career upwards and outwards this year.

1. Learn a new skill

There are many learning opportunities: from undertaking a course to seeking a mentor or simply reading up on a particular topic. Whatever you want to learn, or how you want to learn it, it should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

The most basic question to answer is, what do you want to learn? If you are seeking professional development in terms of career advancement, it would make sense for you to upgrade yourself in areas directly relevant to your job scope, say, by picking up a new programming language or even undertaking an MBA.

2. Step out of your comfort zone

Picking up a new skill may be easy, but how about pushing yourself to something out of your comfort zone? An obvious way would be to take on assignments you’ve not had much experience with previously, or volunteer to spearhead new projects.

Of course, there are other ways outside of your job scope where you can shine. For example, if you’re the physically active sort, why not take the initiative to start a sports group in your organisation? Not only will you inspire your colleagues, you’ll boost your profile and network in the process.

3. Practice good time management

In the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey says our daily activities can be categorised into four quadrants: Urgent, not urgent, important, and unimportant. We are often consumed by tasks that are urgent but not important, such as answering unimportant emails or phone calls, or churning out a report that does not yield any real benefit to your end-goal.

He then describes urgent and important tasks as typical ‘fire-fighting’ cases that could have been prevented if we had taken steps to address it earlier.

Everybody only has 24 hours a day. The art of self-mastery begins with good time management. How are you going to divide your time amongst these four quadrants?

4. Network in a new space

Sitting in front of your computer for an entire day can be bad for your health, and does no favours for your career. Professional development involves networking. Set aside dedicated time in your schedule to network, and it will pay dividends. Whatever industry you’re in, pencil in time to have lunch with your contacts so as to establish new leads and build a professional relationship of trust.

Expanding your network helps open doors for new opportunities and allows you to glean useful insights from others. As the saying goes, your net worth is only as good as your network.

5. Set aside time for reflection

Umair Haque, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and ranked one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50, once said that making room for reflection is a strategic imperative.

It is also no coincidence that many companies encourage a culture of reflection through ‘Before Activity Review’, ‘During Activity Review’, and ‘After Activity Review’. The premise is that by reviewing their work processes constantly, companies become adaptive and forward thinking.

A good way to start this practice of daily reflection is to start a work journal, where you can reflect on what went well at work, and what could have been done better. As you read through what you’ve written, it gives you a clear picture on what needs to be done to improve and fine-tune your game.

In a world where there’s a constant demand for fast results and instant gratification, it is easy go through the motion without being truly conscious. By inculcating these five habits, you are stepping into a posture of mindfulness, which will be invaluable in shaping you into a professional powerhouse.

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