Saving Time for Professional Development

As I sit here at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents’ Conference this year, I’m thinking about professional development…how important it is, and how hard it can be to save time for it.

If you have read any time management literature there is a strong chance you have come upon the time management matrix.  If not, a quick internet search will bring up a ton of information on this topic.

This matrix (attributed both to President Dwight Eisenhower and later to Steven Covey) divides time spent into four quadrants:
Important and Urgent – Crises and Emergencies
Important but Not Urgent – Prevention, Planning, and Improvement
Not Important but Urgent – Interruptions and Busy Work
Not Important and Not Urgent – Time Wasters

Time spent in quadrant 2 (Important but not urgent) is where you want to spend the bulk of your time. This is where professional development falls (professional development reading, reviewing journal articles, training webinars, attending professional conferences, etc.) Do you spend a significant amount of time in this area? Chances are good, you don’t. How can you…with the multitude of phone calls, walk-ins, and other “crises”. However, if you want to improve upon your craft, your career, it is critical to make time for this continued development.

So how do you make time for professional development? I would ask, how do you make time for exercise, or any other practice that is important to you? Plan it into your schedule first! As long as you make it an afterthought, it will go to the wayside as soon as some other “crises” presents itself. Suggestions for application:

1) Plan for professional development reading as soon as you hit the office each day. Set a timer, and do not open email until later.

2) Have your calls held. As I write this, I imagine some of you saying- that’ll never happen. I argue that it will, if you make it. Have the front desk hold your calls, put your phone on do not disturb, or just walk away from your desk and hide for a half hour or so.

3) Plan one day a month to focus on professional development. Pick a specific competency you wish to improve and focus on that. One day a month x eight hours x 12 hours = 96 hours. Tim Ferris, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, asserts that reading just three books on one topic will lead to knowing more than the bulk of the population on that subject. How many books could you read in 96 hours?

The bottom-line however is, if you own your schedule, you master your destiny. How do you make time for professional development?

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