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Professional Development Plan: What It Is and Why You Need One

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What do Elon Musk, Pablo Picasso, and Ben Franklin all have in common?

Besides absolutely rocking each of the fields they were in (from tech to art to… well, everything) — it’s the fact that they didn’t just do great things because of their innate skill, or talent, or by chance of luck…

It’s that they all had personal and professional development plans to level-up their lives.

personal development plan

They worked non-stop on their skills, plans, and goals.

They didn’t just “work on their work” — they consciously worked on developing themselves so they would be hyper-capable at their chosen paths to achieve the big goals in their lives.

Watch our video below to learn how to level-up your life with a professional development plan:

What is a Professional Development Plan?

A Professional Development Plan is a roadmap containing the skills, strategy, and education you need to further yourself in career and life to achieve your professional goals.

Professional development is traditionally associated with careers in which it’s compulsory, like teaching, but it’s something that everyone can (and should) be utilizing in their lives!

When you look at the highest achievers in history – the Elon Musks, the Jeff Bezos’, Teslas, Franklins, Twains, DaVincis and every Olympic athlete –– they all achieved their professional development through discipline, education, and planning.

Whether it was from an institution, organization, or most importantly, by themselves.

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

Jim Rohn

If you’re here on this blog, I bet you’re working towards some form of improvement.

You’re working on getting to the next level of mastery –– maybe you want to:

  • Move up in your organization or leadership level
  • Bring your business to the next level or scale it
  • Get the raise you’ve always wanted (and deserve)
  • Or… you just want to work on your people skills so you can get everything out of life

Well, let me ask you, have you ever felt a bit stuck –– like you’re not moving up the levels in the game of life?

Like you’re one of those cartoon characters running in place??

running in place

Trust me, I know that feeling…

The secret to “stepping up to the next level” is to have a professional development plan.

And implement it.

5-Step Professional Development Plan to Being Hyper-Capable

I want to share this concept of having your own “Professional Development Plan”.

With a Professional Development Plan, your biggest areas of need –– from common concerns like goal setting to negotiation skills to speaking skills to productivity –– can be assessed, addressed, and positioned for success with your own personal roadmap.

You can put a path in place to help each area improve with one skill building on top of the next.

The end result: better career and life opportunities through personal and professional growth.

So let’s boil that down to an actionable plan for you!

Ready to start planning your professional development?

Use our free worksheet to get started on your Professional Development Plan.

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The First Step: Self Analysis

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway

I get you.

Most likely you’re the type of person seeking to achieve ‘hyper capability’ in your given field of passion or work. I like to define being hyper-capable as having the knowledge, resources, and actionable tactics to achieve the goals, life, and dreams you desire…and know exactly how to get there.

It’s one thing to want more out of life. It’s another to actually plan for it. Hyper-capable people have both the desire and the drive to achieve greatness.

As we work on a Professional Development Plan, before we move forward toward goals and actions… you need to know who you are and what you truly want.

“…successful people are good at matching goals with their own skill sets.”

Harvard Business School

So, first you have to self-analyze.

Let’s examine your skill sets, your strengths, your weaknesses, your habits, your desires.

Get out a fresh piece of paper, or a Word doc, or an Evernote note and start to free-flow write and be honest with yourself.

What do you LOVE to do? What are you best at? What would people pay you for?

(Hint: It can be great to ask your biggest cheerleaders for input with this).

List all your strengths in a bullet list of power statements like this:

  • I excel at: 
  • I feel capable when I:
  • My strength is:

And then list your weaknesses. What do you loathe doing…? What would you rather clean bathrooms instead of doing? What are you just not that great at? Please list your weaknesses as desire statements. Instead of saying “I’m bad at ___” (which is very limiting), try “I want to be better at ___.”

  • I want to be better at: 
  • I would like to improve my:
  • I need to learn how to excel at:

Here are the most common weaknesses we see at Science of People:

I want to be a better leader.

I need to improve my public speaking skills.

I want to learn how to network.

After listing those, ask yourself where are you at NOW and where you want to BE…

What pops into mind with these prompts below:

Right now I’m: ___________

I want to be: _____________

It’s not until we are aware of what we need that we can work on them. Let’s see what to do with this info in the next step.

Make sure to download our worksheet and do this assessment at the end of each month. (See link at the bottom)

The Second Step: Setting Quality Goals

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.

Pablo Picasso

You need a goal, a vision, an end.

Once you have a solid goal, you can work backward.

And, research continually shows that people who have goals are more successful.

As this Wharton article says on achieving high performance at work, “The no. 1 most powerful factor is setting fewer, bigger goals.”

Did you notice that research said FEWER?

Lots and lots of goals is not the goal.

Aim for higher quality and less quantity. You don’t want to get “bogged down” on setting too many goals, but rather, you want to pick a few BIG goals to work toward.

In relation to the previous step, once you know your strengths and your weaknesses, you’ll be able to see where your gaps are. And gaps are just identifiers of where you need to go.

In other words, gaps can be goal identifiers.

Watch our video below to learn the science behind goal setting:

For example, let’s say public speaking isn’t your greatest strength.

A goal could be to book one event in the next three months where you speak in front of people.

This doesn’t have to be a big keynote or panel, but maybe there’s a meetup on of local business owners, entrepreneurs, etc and you can go there and “introduce” yourself to the room of people.

Or maybe there’s even an open mic you can speak at.

The key is that if public speaking isn’t your greatest strength, you would create a goal to work on it. And chip away at it every month.

And, one more thing.

You want to take time to write down your goals. Try to tie them to your strengths and weaknesses. Do the following exercise:

  • What is one goal that utilizes one of my strengths?
  • What is one goal that can help me improve a weakness?

The widespread 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews at Dominican Edu shares:

…more than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there), compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.

The process of writing your goals down helps solidify the thoughts in your mind, bring them out into the world, and begin the process of holding yourself accountable.

The Third Step: Focus, Focus, Focus

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

Steve Jobs

This step can feel like the hardest one in our cell phone-addicted, tweet-loving, Insta-story age.

A time where everything and everyone around us is trying to steal our attention and our focus.

Focus is such a valuable asset and something you should be working on for peak productivity.

This NYTimes article shows a research study where people were distracted by messaging interruptions while performing a task…

…the distraction of an interruption, combined with the brain drain of preparing for that interruption, made our test takers 20 percent dumber. That’s enough to turn a B-minus student (80 percent) into a failure (62 percent).

If you want to be successful, you have to minimize distractions and stay focused.

Focus is one of the most valuable assets you can have!

From the previous step, once you have your goal, you need to be able to really dial in to working on it in a productive, effective, and focused way.

I highly recommend Cal Newport’s book Deep Work to help increase your focus.

The Wharton School at U Penn shares this about ‘deep work’,

To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to work 6-hours straight on a single task.

But, it means you should focus on a specific task at a time, rather than multi-tasking or trying to do 10 different things over that time frame.

A very popular method for focus among productivity pros is called “The Pomodoro Technique.”

What you do is set a timer (which you can find with a quick Google search) and give yourself a small time limit to work extremely focused on a given task (typically 25 minutes) and then take a short break (5 minutes), which gives your mind a momentary rest.

Then you get right back to it.

The process of working with intense focus for 25-minutes and then taking a break is healthy for the brain and actually leads to more productivity.

When you get the small “reward” of a break after focused work, where you can stretch, walk around, or relax your mind with one of your normal “distractions”, it helps you get right back to your focus a few minutes later.

It’s a fact – focused work helps you get closer to your goals – faster.

If focus is one of your biggest areas for improvement be sure to check out our 14 Unique Science-Backed Productivity Tips.

The Fourth Step: A Great Morning Routine

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.

Benjamin Franklin

Okay, that’s not really the morning routine I’m talking about but I love that quote. And if you’re alive in the morning, you should have a routine so you can maximize your life!

I remember the exact month and year I started my own morning routine. Why? it completely changed my productivity. I used to let my mornings dictate my day. I know I needed a morning routine because I:

  • Languished in bed checking social media for waaaaay too long every day.
  • Dreaded getting up in the morning.
  • Would suddenly realize it was lunch time and I had gotten nothing done.

Sound familiar? You need to set-up your morning routine to initiate your hyper-capability.

Tim Ferriss, a global expert in analyzing, interviewing and sharing the habits of the highest performers and most successful people in the world often talks about the power of their morning routines.

Despite the fact that these are people from tennis to surfing to cryptocurrency to fill-in-the-blank, like any field you can possibly imagine — some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice would span I’d say 90% of the respondents.

There are studies, books, and hundreds of articles written on one of the most unifying things of all hyper-capable, high achieving, highly successful people across all types of disciplines in life (business, art, tech, innovation, etc) –– they all take complete command and control of their mornings.

It’s one of the most vital ways to guide the success of your day (and in turn… your life). 

If you don’t have one, you need to create one. I have a whole blog on how you can create the best morning routine.

Watch our video below to learn how to create the perfect morning routine:

The Fifth Step: Taking Action

Action is the foundational key to all success.

Pablo Picasso

It’s been the mantra of every self-development guru, philosopher, and hyper-capable human since the dawn of time.

There are no results without action.

Once you know your strengths, your goals, have a great morning routine, and you’re focused on the task – the only thing left is action.

True action.

Bit by bit, day by day, we create the lives we want. Action ties into goals because so many people just “write down goals” but don’t commit to acting upon them.

Here’s how we can activate your goals. First, set a monthly reminder to write down your 3-5 monthly goals at the beginning of the month and follow up on what was accomplished the previous month.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say these were 3 of my goals at the beginning of the month:

  • Cold email outreach to 10 new prospects per week
  • Take a local class on ‘Networking Success’
  • Schedule and do a photoshoot to level-up my LinkedIn

On the last day of the month, I would open the document and reflect on the goals. Then I would assess the actions I took on them.

  • Did I actually cold outreach 10 people per week? Who said yes and who said no?
  • Did I Google search and sign up for the networking course? How did it go? Should I do another?
  • Did I look for local photographers, check out rates, and schedule the photoshoot? Do I have the right outfits? Am I ready?

All of those question reflections are looking at the action I would have taken over the month, and I can either confidently note that YES I took action and moved the ball forward, or no I did not and it’s time to step up and take the action.

Many people make the mistake of tracking their goals — did they succeed or fail? But what’s even more important is tracking the action. Did you take action on your goal or not? Action is what moves things forward.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Developing Yourself

If you want a great jump in the quality of your life, an extraordinary jump in the quality of your life… You gotta set yourself up to win, you gotta set yourself up for the process that allows you to consistently grow, constantly enjoy your life and consistently produce the results that you’re after.

Tony Robbins

A personal and professional development plan doesn’t have to be rigorous like you’re getting a university degree.

It doesn’t have to be boring like you’re sitting in a 6-hour, monthly office check-up.

And it doesn’t have to be something you wait until next year to start.

A plan is something YOU can create and stick to.

You can create the parameters and you can judge its effectiveness.

Ben Franklin notoriously created 13 virtues or “categories” of self-development that he measured himself on *daily* for months, all in an effort to improve himself as a human and as a worker.

And, I must say… I think he did quite well.

Now, he may have been Ben Franklin.

But you can be the most incredible and successful you.

Ready to start planning your professional development?

Use our free worksheet to get started on your Professional Development Plan.

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To your success and development,


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