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How to Create a Personal Development Plan

Stress, worry, and a world in lockdown: it’s true, we’re living through challenging times.  But instead of dissolving into Netflix and Instagram, you can use some of your quarantine hours to focus on your personal and professional growth.  It’s time to make a personal development plan – and this article will show you how.

First up, what is a personal development plan?  Simply put, this is a strategy to accelerate your personal growth.  It’s a goal-setting, progress-tracking, motivation-building tool. Essentially, it’s a way to observe your own development.  And there are no real rules about the specific details – you can tailor it to make it work for you. But before you start to put yours together, here are the essential components.

1. Get Clear About What You Want

Sounds simple, but very few of us take the time to articulate exactly what it is we want.  Take a few minutes to note down whatever comes to mind: career goals; passions and interests; family, community or social.  What is it you really want to achieve? Do you have a mission, or an overarching purpose? This is the first step to figuring out your personal development plan.

Note: you can, of course, have different plans for different goals (for example: one for work; one for the rest of your life).  Or you can weave a couple of main goals into one plan. But for the purpose of this template, we’re going to stick with the idea of a singular overarching goal. 

2. Next, Break Down the Details

Once you have a sense of your overall goal, break it down into manageable steps.  For example, if your goal is to excel in your career, your manageable steps could look something like this:

  1. Research specific areas of practice
  2. Reach out to professionals who work in those areas of practice
  3. Build mentoring relationships with those individuals 
  4. Apply for internships, work experience or other opportunities in those fields

You get the idea. The point is to split up the overall goal into a number of specific stages. 

3. Prioritise Your List 

After you create your list, revisit it.  Go back through the list, checking to see which items should be given the highest priority.  If you’re finding it difficult to prioritise, it could be because your steps aren’t specific or tangible enough – you might need to break them down even further to create your personal development plan.

4. Figure Out the Action Points

Once you have your list, turn them from theoretical steps into practical actions.  Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say your step is: “research specific areas of practice”.  You can turn this into an action by figuring out when you’ll do it, how you’ll go about it, and what resources you need to get you there.  For example:

“On Monday afternoon at 3 pm, spend two hours researching specific areas of practice, using internet search, library resources and careers service advice.  After researching, record findings, noting any relevant details (for example, the skill-set needed to excel in this area of practice).

5. Set Yourself a Timeline

Your timeline could be driven by external events (for example, work experience deadlines), or you could set yourself a personal target and see how fast you can meet it (after all, you might have some extra time on your hands in the coming weeks…).

Either way, the important thing is to set a concrete deadline, and make sure you check in with yourself at that point.  You don’t necessarily need to have achieved the goal. As long as you’re making consistent, good-quality progress towards it, that’s still a win.

6. Finally, Track Your Development

Your personal development plan should include some means by which to track your own development, whether it’s a reminder for self-reflection, or feedback from other people (or both).  You can choose how to record it – bullet points, a narrative journal-style entry, keywords… play around with different strategies, and figure out what works best for you.   

For all of these steps, the important thing is not the specific format (after all, you can tailor that for yourself), but the consistency with which you engage with the plan.  The most successful outcomes – as with most things in life! – will result from careful planning, well-paced execution, and a steady sense of motivation. 

Below, you’ll find a template to get you started – but you should feel free to add, amend, decorate or cultivate in any way that works for you.  Happy planning!

Personal Development Plan Template

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
NAME:

DATE OF PLAN:

OVERARCHING GOAL:
STEP BREAKDOWN: ACTION 1: DEADLINE:
ACTION 2: DEADLINE:
ACTION 3: DEADLINE:
ACTION 4: DEADLINE:
ACTION 5: DEADLINE:
FEEDBACK TRACKER: PERSONAL FEEDBACK EXTERNAL FEEDBACK

Words: Eloise Skinner

Eloise Skinner is a solicitor at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. Eloise started her journey in law at the University of Cambridge, graduating with a triple first-class degree. Following her studies, Eloise developed an interest in professional development, leading her to become a frequent contributor on careers-related topics for organisations such as The Lawyer, Lex 100 and the Law Society. Her new book, Junior Lawyers’ Handbook, can be purchased here.

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