5 Ways to Set Professional Development Goals Like a Pro

TSP • @myTSPnet


When you’re standing on a football or soccer field you can see the goal — it’s right there, calling your name.

It’s no surprise that the majority of employees, 76 percent in fact, want opportunities for career growth. But it can be a bit harder to see your goals when you’re sitting at your desk, coffee in hand. Make no mistake, establishing professional development goals is vital when mapping out your career path. You may know where you want to go, but figuring out how to get there is the first step in accomplishing your ideas.

Goal setting techniques are used by successful leaders in a wide range of industries, as well as professional athletes staring down the field at their target. By outlining clear, defined goals you can continuously measure your progress and motivate yourself. Here are five tips to help you set goals like a pro.

Instead of looking at your goals as a burden, it’s important to frame them in terms of what you want to create for yourself. What do you want more of? Don’t think of your objectives as obstacles — think of them as pure potential. To help make your goals more powerful, use the mnemonic SMART. Set objectives that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. SMART goals are relevant and within your control — that doesn’t mean they’ll be easy.

It all begins with a vision. Do you have a clear mental image of where you'll be in 10 years? Articulating your vision for the future is imperative in helping you to hit those career goals along the way.

Create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Start your professional development goals by envisioning the perfect setting. Who is with you? Where are you? Are you happy? What is your environment like? What do you need to learn to create that environment? Use all of your five senses. Don’t be timid about describing it in detail because vague goals equal vague results.

Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less invites people to adopt an essentialist mindset. When planning your next move, what’s most important? Set priorities to keep you from feeling overwhelmed by too many objectives. Making a list is easy — sticking to and accomplishing tasks is hard. Aside from professional development, you might have ambitions to get healthier, buy a house and save money. No matter what goal you’re setting, it’s important to prioritize.

Begin with the question, “Where do I want to be a year from now?” This will allow you to look at near-term choices with a completely different lens. If you want to live and work in Chicago 12 months from now, what steps will you take to reach this goal? You’re now more likely to focus on what works and what doesn’t, adjust your priorities and encourage the most productive options. Instead of focusing on urgent but irrelevant goals, take the time to evaluate which activities return the highest reward.

The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, suggests that 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results. Before you set a goal, ask yourself, “What result do I want?” Now, you can try to avoid time-wasting tasks. After several weeks, assess and rearrange your time to better fit the 80/20 rule.

For example, if one of your professional development goals is to be promoted within a year, log your progress every day and see where you can improve each week. Effective time management starts with good organization, so instead of planning your tasks at the beginning of each day, try preparing the week before. Completing small, daily tasks can make you more motivated to continue pushing yourself as you strive for the big ones.

Winston Churchill once said, “Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” Life is full of ups and downs. The most successful people in life have faced some of the toughest personal and professional challenges but history shows us time and again that persistence pays off. You’ll face barriers that could hinder your progress — don’t quit. If something doesn’t go your way — make a new way.

Setting professional development goals doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right attitude, tools and motivation, you can do it. The goal is there — you just have to see it.