Are your professional development efforts a waste of time?

professional developmentI have a colleague who loves to read about ways to improve his thinking, business strategy and marketing. Every time I talk to him he is reading a new professional development book but his results never seem to change. “How can this be” I used to ask myself.

After years of watching him listen to audio programs and invest in professional development tools I identified the pattern – he loved the ideas he read about but never changed anything. He felt like he was improving because he was reading about improving but in reality, he was the same guy achieving the same results.

We had a talk one time where I asked him about how he thought he could implement one of the great ideas he had read about. With a sigh he responded “yeah, I know but I just don’t have time.  I don’t know where I would start.” For more years I watched him toil away getting more and more frustrated about his lack of results even though he had all the answers at his finger-tips.

How about looking at it this way? If you read without using the information then you’re wasting your time. You could read 1000 books about improving your personal productivity but if you don’t take action on any of the ideas then you just wasted hundreds of hours of your life and will be no more productive than before. Why bother investing in resources to help your performance improve if you’re not going to use any of it?

The Professional Development Expert’s Reading Formula:

  1. Pick your books intentionally. If you want to improve your leadership skills, decide which 10 books on leadership you’re going to read this year. Stay on subject, don’t diversify for the short-term. The name of the game is mastery, not just competency.
  2. Never read without a notepad beside you. You will not remember anything you read unless you take notes about the info, your thoughts, the new ideas you get etc.
  3. Take your time. Don’t rush through a book just to say you read it, no one wins in that situation. Use the book as a tool, search for the answers to your questions, take the time to do the exercises recommended by the author, question the material. Books hold the keys to our biggest challenges if we’re willing to use them for how they were designed to be used.
  4. After you have finished reading the book, review your notes. Create a one-page summary of what you read identifying three key ideas you got.
  5. Create an action plan to implement those ideas. Do not move onto the next book until you have a system in place to help you sustain the new actions you have chosen to take. Never ever just put a book back on the shelf saying “that was a great book” – in five minutes you will have forgotten everything it said.

As a leader I know that you are dedicated to seeing your organization thrive but also do not have any time to waste. Continue with your professional development plan but add some strategy to it. Grab a notepad, take your time and see your life change.

Got a question about the content in this post? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear it!

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    Helping Greater Vancouver nonprofit organizations do more good more quickly through helping them develop strong administrative systems.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

    • http://www.jessicagreen.org/ Jessica Green

      Great post Natasha! I am definitely guilty of this sometimes, and also of trying to go to too many professional development or networking events without really thinking about why I’m going and what I want to get out of them. Your tip to take your time is really important, especially in this age of getting everything done right now!

      • http://www.nextlevelnonprofits.com/ Natasha

        I was THE WORST offender in this area for at least the first 10 years in my career. I read books like I was in a reading competition yet got frustrated that I had all this info but no results. I find this strategy I noted in the post works great.