What Is Your Professional Development Plan for 2021?

Four steps to learn how to add structure and intentionality to your professional development.

By David Street, project manager, Loudoun County | Jan 8, 2021 | BLOG POST
Professional Development

As one year transitions to another, I like to set time aside time to reflect and to plan. I’m sure many of you do as well. I plan out several different things for the year; personal goals, home improvement tasks, vacations, but I also plan my year in professional development. I typically reflect on my professional year in the late days of December and begin to plan in the early days of January. I do this by guiding myself through a four-step process that begins by trying to answer questions like: What do I want to accomplish in and for my career this year? What areas of self-improvement did I notice last year? What do I need to accomplish these goals? What have I done well? Where have I fallen short?

Step 1: Take Inventory

I derive a lot of value in writing things down, and for me, taking inventory means making lists. I keep a small planner for this purpose and generally have it on me so I can jot down thoughts, ideas, and reflections throughout the year. Maybe you use a digital device or idea board. Playing to your personal preferences is critical. If you like the format, you are more likely to use it and thereby capture useful information. In 2019, I used a specific notebook; but for 2020, I attempted to go digital. I did not like constantly reaching for my phone or device to take notes or review information, and I didn’t use it as much as I would have a notebook. For 2021, I purchased the same notebook I used in 2019. It’s not filled in yet, but I’m already excited to use it. Having information in a medium that you like enables you to easily document your year and will make step 2 significantly easier and more enjoyable.

Step 2: Reflect

Reflect on your year. As I state in the introduction, I typically do this over a few days in late December, but you can do this whenever and as frequently as works best for you. Having an inventory or some other record of your year is useful because it will jog your memory and allow you to get into the frame of mind you had at the time you made a note or observation. An example from my own year was feeling bogged down and unfocused with my assignments and career development tasks starting in mid-April or so. Basically, I’m trying to do too much, and that means I’m not doing any of it to the standard I would like. From that reflection, I realized that I need to trim down and refocus on what matters to me personally and what adds value to my organization. Fewer and better is a theme for me for 2021.

Step 3: Set Goals

What does a theme of “fewer and better” look like in terms of goals? Here are three professional development goals I set within the theme of “fewer and better.”

1) Refocus time dedicated to professional organizations. I am a person that likes getting involved in organizations, events, and other endeavors. This includes professional organizations. Some say I like to get over-involved. Over the past year or so, I’ve let my level of involvement in organizations creep up across the board, which further splits my time and devalues the benefit and satisfaction I get from each.

2) Remind myself that it's okay to turn down opportunities less related to my core development goals. One of my main approaches to professional development is to say yes to development opportunities and regularly volunteer. This is a great tactic to get started but is not particularly sustainable. 2020 was a year of learning my limits, professionally and otherwise, and learning that it’s okay to recognize those limits and apply them when necessary. In 2021, I will ask myself: What will I learn from volunteering for this task?

Will it further my development goals? If not a strong yes, then I may pass on an event, webinar, book, conference, volunteer position, or other opportunity so that I can focus on those things that have a better alignment with my other professional development objectives.

3) Find ways to write and publish more. I derive a lot of satisfaction from writing and it furthers several of my other professional development objectives. Through writing, I get to offer a voice of support and encouragement to others within the profession, I get to network through the exchange of ideas, and I also learn a lot about the subjects I choose to write about. This post is a great example: forcing myself to contemplate, analyze, and document my own professional development planning process has already caused me to make improvements and approach it with even more intentionality.

Step 4: Follow Through and Adjust

Goals are great but follow through is where learning and development happens; you have to act on your goals! Acting on your goals can be hard. Putting yourself out there is not natural for a lot of people. Communicating your goals can feel self-serving or self-aggrandizing; at least it does for me. In addition to writing them down in my professional development plan, I like to tell people what my goals are. I’ve told everyone reading this that I have a professional development goal to find more ways to write.

I didn’t publish that goal because I need people to know what I’m doing. I published it because I know I need some external accountability and putting it out in the world provides that accountability.

Think about how you want to hold yourself to your own goals. Through a spouse? A friend? A journal? A trusted colleague?

The second part of step 4 is ‘adjust.’ All rigidity does to a plan is cause it to break more easily. Be flexible with your goals so you can take opportunities as they present themselves, be understanding with yourself if you think you’re falling short, and adjust your plans as necessary to maximize your own growth. Any development, learning, or progress you make is a personal and professional win. You’re better for having tried.

So, what’s in your 2021 professional development plan? Give us your examples on ICMA Connect!


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