No Time For A Conference? Take A Professional Development Spring Break!
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5 Things To Do On A Professional Development Spring Break

“No one is going to care more about your development than you do”.

I heard those words at a corporate training session a few years ago. A new eLearning platform was being rolled-out company-wide in the coming weeks. The trainer was highlighting how great it was that individuals could own their personal and professional development by visiting this training site on their own time, whenever they wanted, as if the one obstacle to career growth was the lack of a Learning Management System.

Fast-forward five or six years and the LMS is gone—probably having withered and died from lack of valuable content—and employees are once again left to fend for themselves. Most employees I talk to are overworked and overstressed, and “development” is the last thing on their minds. Budgets have been cut, and like so many workers in so many other companies and organizations, individual contributors are being continuously asked to do more with less, in a profit-maximizing cycle of diminishing returns. In this modern era, trips to conferences and company-sponsored mentorship programs are all but unheard of, and once again the words of that corporate trainer ring true: When even managers and supervisors are overworked, no one is going to add your development to their already full workload.

In situations like these, what can we do to develop professionally and personally? Go on a PD Spring Break! For anyone who wants more professional development time, I suggest the following 5 tasks:

1. Identify A Week That You Can Dedicate To Your Professional Development

Even with shortened project timelines and reduced staff, most of us can acknowledge that there are periods during which we have less work. Identify these slow times. Work with a supervisor and manager to find a week during which you have no (or few) obligations.

Once that week has been identified, block it off on your calendar. As if you were going on vacation or to a conference, make yourself unavailable for booking meetings. It’s important here to have buy-in from your team members and supervisors: They need to respect your time and recognize the importance of your career growth and development. Likewise, if your teammates take a PD Spring Break, make sure you respect their time and commitment to learning and development.

If you can’t find a whole week, try to find a series of days—maybe every Monday for a month. Whatever you decide, make it official and don’t let anyone book anything on top of your PD time. Again, treat it like a conference:  If you were out of the office for a week, you wouldn’t be able to participate in trivial meetings or get distracted by project-related drama.

2. Identify Your PD Goals

What skills do you need to work on? What topics would you like to learn about? Work with a manager or supervisor to brainstorm possibilities. There are online skills assessments that might help find opportunities for professional or personal growth. Reach out to mentors and find out how they learn and develop. Ask peers for feedback. Review past performance assessments to spot skill or knowledge gaps. You may already have such gaps identified, or you may be new to self-evaluation. Whichever the case, try to make a list long enough to fill multiple weeks of development time. You may even want to sort your development goals into categories.

3. Create Your “Conference” Schedule

If you were going to a professional development conference, what topics would you look for in workshop sessions? Are there demonstrations or trainings you’d like to see? Are there keynote speakers you’d like to hear from? Take all of this information and put it together into a coherent PD schedule.

Suppose there are thought-leaders in your field and you’d like to learn more about their ideas. Do an Internet search: Are there webinars, speeches, or TED Talks that they have given? Have they written books or articles you could read? Do they publish a blog or have a Twitter feed? Pick a couple things you could do in the span of a week. With each item, go back to your PD goals. Make sure the things you identify represent a tangible outcome that connects to your broader career path. If someone were to ask you why you were doing each task, make sure you have a concise answer relating to your development plan.

Take all of the resources you can identify and make a schedule. If you have found webinars or TED Talks, bookmark them and pick times during your PD Spring Break to watch them. If you have books that might be valuable, order or download them and make a plan to read specific, relevant chapters throughout your PD week. Find a Twitter chat you can participate in or a blog you can learn from. You are using work time, so you should make an effort to keep your days full and productive. But also be realistic: If you have a book to read, is it realistic to read the entire book? Is it even necessary? Perhaps find a few key chapters that seem to hit on the topics you want to learn about.

4. Attend Your PD Spring Break

Follow your schedule. Read articles, book chapters and websites. View videos and attend webinars. Join online discussions. Make the most of your time. Plan to take notes or keep a journal so that you can learn from these experiences. Make note of anything that might be valuable to others on your team.

5. Reflect On Your Experience

Many workplaces extend the learning that happens at conferences by holding meetings afterward and discussing what attendees learned. Your PD Spring Break should be no different:  Bring back resources to share with others. You should be able to point at each item on your schedule and explain

  1. Why you chose it,
  2. What you learned,
  3. How it relates to your professional or personal goals, and
  4. How your work will change as a result of your experience.

Did you attend a webinar that would be useful to others? Suggest a “lunch and learn” meeting where you can play the recording for your coworkers. Is there a book or article that really changed your point of view? Create a shared library of resources so the rest of your team can learn from it, too.

Make a plan to carry your learning forward into your daily role. Doing so not only justifies your PD Spring Break, but it also helps you when the time comes for self-evaluation, performance reviews, and goal-setting for the coming year.

Final Word

If you’re thinking a professional spring break is going to be a lot of work, you’re right. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. Like many things in life, what you get out of your PD Spring Break will depend on the effort you put in, both in creating a schedule of activities in advance and in your level and depth of participation in each activity. While that trainer’s quote from above still rings true, it might be more accurate to say no one is going to work more for your development than you. But this work will definitely pay off in the end.

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