How to put together a personal development plan (and change your life)

lady sitting on the floor with her laptop in a white shirt and pair of jeans

Jem Collins is the Director and Editor of Journo Resources, a social enterprise that helps people progress within journalism. She is also a former winner of a Rising Stars Award, so knows well the value of investing in your development. Here she speaks about the importance of creating a personal development plan, and how you can put one together too, to help kick-start your career-related New Year resolutions.

For the majority of my career so far, I’ve viewed personal development as something I could ignore. It wasn’t just a case of putting it to the bottom of my to-do list, it very rarely even made it onto the list and I doubt I’m alone.

That all changed however after I won some free tickets to a Personal Development workshop. Mainly enticed by the free wine and a venue that was only two tube stops away from my house, for the first time I was forced to set aside time to think about me, and where I wanted to go.

It was enlightening, and I practically danced home from the session. For the first time, I felt like I was in control of where I wanted to go and could see how to get there. Even in the depths of the pandemic, my plan gave me something to focus on, and helped me to feel less lost.

A personal development plan helps you to assess the root causes of what you are and aren’t happy about, and see more clearly where you want to go. In short, it isn’t just a nice to have, it’s an essential – and here’s how you can make one yourself.

Block out the time for personal development

If you want to kickstart your personal development you need to make a firm commitment and hold yourself to it. Otherwise, it becomes just another to-do item that gets pushed down the list. 

Make sure you actually block the time out of your calendar and turn off any notifications or distractions such as texts, calls, and emails. The only way you’ll discover something meaningful is through focus.

Start by reviewing what you’ve already done

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about personal development plans is that they’re just about looking forward. In reality, you’ll only work out what you want to happen next if you start by looking back.

My own plan looks back over the last 12 months. It prompts me to write down a couple of things I’m proud of, a couple of opportunities I missed, and some of the biggest challenges I can see coming up. It also questions if I’ve taken any risks, because we’re all at risk of getting too comfortable.

The key is to have a mix of positive and negative questions. Hopefully you’ll end up with something that feels both affirming and constructive about what you can change for the better.

Break bigger goals down into sections

While my plan does involve a grand headline vision for where I’d like to be in 12 months, it gets really granular about how to make it happen. The grand plan is important to motivate you, but it won’t become a reality if you don’t break it down.

Try to come up with three main goals that tie into your vision. Put down on paper why they’re important and how you’ll measure your success. Then put together some individual tasks you can complete to work towards these goals, along with dates and people who you’ll call on to help. Ideally, you want to get a mixture of easy wins and longer term tasks, so you feel like you’re making progress at all times.

Hold regular check-ins with yourself 

Perhaps the worst way of doing personal development is the ‘do it and leave it alone for a year’ method. If you’re not checking in with yourself and your plan regularly, it’s difficult to make any meaningful progress.

Set up some regular calendar booking to go through your plan and update it – it won’t take nearly as long as when you first wrote it. I’m also a big fan of putting key goals on post-its in my office, so I can clearly see what I’m working towards.

You might even want to schedule some time with someone else to talk through your goals. Even if your manager doesn’t offer 1-2-1s currently there’s nothing to stop you asking them for a quick chat and shows that you’re taking your role seriously.

See Journo Resources for more content and tools to help you in your journalism career.

The Printing Charity’s Rising Star Awards award up to £1500 to fund training to further personal and professional development. For an additional New Year resolution, sign up to our newsletter to find out more about when and how to apply for 2023.

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