Ready to Focus on Professional Development Goals? Find a System That Works for You with These 3 Tips

by | Jan 10, 2022 | Aligned Actions and Practices

Hey there Women and Womxn! Recently, I wrote about intentional acceleration and you can find that post by clicking here. After marinating on my workload and responsibilities since that post, I want to go a little deeper, particularly about Tip #3. Spoiler alert: It’s about grabbing old and new tools that work for organization and planning.

I know that it may seem obvious at times: Goal = Plan + Action. But what about another key variable: Balance?

I’d like to share with you something a little vulnerable, in hopes that you’ll find some validation in it or at the very least support for all that you’re trying to do. Within the last week, I’ve had synchronistic messages come my way through conversations with women who absolutely don’t know each other. At times, each of them used the same exact words, if not uncannily similar, when we were talking about yours truly. Wondering what we were chatting about?

  • Health and Balance
  • Life purpose(s)
  • The work to do that’s critical in this lifetime… and more…

After these conversations, I did some reflecting over the weekend and I’ve recognized that I really need to dial in on what fills my bucket and what busts it apart. I’m going to start some deep work, but for today let’s just visit a concrete example: personal/professional development. After a lot of trial-and-error, I’ve come up with a system for my second master’s work, and dang, does it feel so much better and more manageable. Let’s dive in, in hopes that you’ll get some validation and support for your own self-development projects.

Tip #1: Plan Out the System & Write It Down

When thinking of your days, literally write out what happens: the time of events, the rough estimate of what it’ll take or what you can devote to it, etc. Engaging on paper will fire you up and you’ll retain what it is that’s happening. Here’s a quick piece from Forbes about writing down your goals, but I’m asking you to move outside your goals and look at your responsibilities as a whole. Yes, our work is only a component of what we do and “who we are” (note the air quotes), but it’s a rather large chunk of many of our lives.

List Out Your Responsibilities—Small, Medium, and Large

Once you get it out on paper—all the consistent responsibilities—really sit with it. Be still with it and learn from the list, and ask yourself:

  • Can any of these be truly taken off, if they don’t fill my bucket?
  • What of these are “time wasters” that block progress and take away my focus from other valuable responsibilities?
  • Do any of these give me heart palpitations or some deep angst? As though it’s not a good fit or doesn’t align with my wellbeing?
  • What of these makes me smile at the end of the day, or more often than not?
  • What can I do to complete my responsibilities as efficiently as possible?

Work Smarter, Not Harder

So, now that we’ve gone over some questions, let’s start to “work smarter, not harder.” I was raised to work hard and I’ve carried that into my adult life. And while it’s a good foundation most of the time, running oneself into the ground is not. Hence, finding a balance so the good stuff can keep growing in our world.

Is there a better system or process that can take you from A to B, with each responsibility, more efficiently? And better yet, if you were to focus on one thing that’ll help you grow professionally/personally, how can you create space for it to become something?

Tip #2: Apply a System to Create a Space for Success

Alright, so now that you’ve gotten out of your head all the details, it’s time to figure out how things could shift.

Maybe you could apply a LEAN process, SMART goals, SWOT analysis, or whatever resonates with you. I personally use a planner, color coding, scratch paper, task lists, a whiteboard, and more. Either way, find a system that organizes all your elements and what’s related: your thoughts, actions, time, and space, so you can be the best you.

Here are some tools to consider:

If you’d like more ideas, just start searching for them online or ask colleagues and family. And I know you know this already, but critically consider how varying applications will fit into your current schedule and what you have going on.

Here’s a tangible example:

I don’t always talk about my schooling here at FSW, but over the months I’ve been refining my thesis topic and that means that I’m looking at a new subject with fresh eyes. While it’s invigorating in ways, it’s also freaky because I don’t exactly know what I’m doing. Yes, I have other degrees, but this is technically my first exposure thesis work. My MSW was a combination of practicum and a research project, so I’m creating a process as I go while learning lessons along the way.

Usually, in my life, it takes me ten tries to get something the way I like it. The thesis work is no different and so I’ve created a system that taps into different tools: electronic, location-specific, thematic, and organizational. We’re talking about a combination of spreadsheets, bookshelf filing, folders, and hard copying everything. The reason for the latter is I’m a visual and experiential learner, which begs the question:

What style of learning are you best at? Or what style of learning helps you succeed the most? Use that. Try to make it a part of your system for you to succeed at your project(s).

Finally, make every working tool relatable to the others. Think of it like Big Ben or a clock on your wall: to keep the gears running, the mechanisms and housing must fit together and support one another. So, to succeed in your project(s) and in your work, the tools need to support one another and you could be more successful.

Realizing the Pros and Cons of System

After reorganizing everything—the books, articles, notes, contacts made, etc.—I realized that I was caught up. *big sigh* For the moment, I succeeded in catching my breath after pulling the many pieces together. I finally feel like I’ve got a better foundation for the next stage: writing my brains out. And without creating an efficient system, and keeping other distractions at bay, this step of the project would’ve taken much longer (and already has).

What Worked:

  • Bringing my essential oil diffuser nearby to help with creating a calming atmosphere for focus
  • Decluttering my space, both in front of my view at the computer and to each side
  • Thematically organizing my books and articles, by theme or chapter
  • Writing on the whiteboard the components and subcomponents of what needed to be worked on

What Didn’t Work:

  • Trying to concentrate and work with family members around = moving rooms helped, if possible
  • Not having a concrete, personal deadline…one that doesn’t move around
  • Getting too deep into the weeds with what I’m learning (trying to do this perfectly), sacrificing the “bigger picture”

Now that I’ve gone over some examples and tools, let’s come back to what your development is about. At the risk of sounding cliché, life is one big, long game filled with short ones. Finding systems that help the gears of our life move better is essential to success; and whatever we’re working on can get tweaked with balance and self-care in mind. I think we all know this in our hearts. Though, I get that there are times we don’t have the capacity or resources to consider how to do things better when we’re just trying to get through them… I do. So, let’s just start somewhere and think of this holistically, eh?

To recap: What can you start to put in place today that will re-align your body, your mind, your spirit, and your environment, with the work you’re meant to do? Maybe just try three days with a new system, based on all aspects of your professional/personal development goal, and see how it goes? Like it? Keep it up. Doesn’t work right? Tweak it. And we’ll move forward together, one step at a time, towards work with intention, purpose, and fulfillment.