Planning Personal Development

See also: Areas of Personal Development

Improving your skills — a practice known as personal development — does not happen by itself. Some personal development can be a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and simply taking up opportunities. But consistent, effective personal development across a wide range of skills requires deliberate and focused effort.

This page explains the importance of planning your personal development in order to achieve your goals and ambitions in life, whether career-focused or more personal.


Why Plan?

At various points in your life, you may be presented with opportunities for personal development: perhaps the chance to work with someone particularly inspiring, or to do something new and unexpected.

But it is also true to say that you make your own luck.

The harder you work, the luckier you get


Attributed to golfer Jerry Barber in 1960

In other words, you have to know what you need to improve to achieve a particular ambition, and then work on it. But if you do so, you will improve. And only by doing so will you have a chance of achieving that ambition.

On the other hand, if you really don’t know what you need to improve, you can’t work on it. And if you don’t plan ahead to develop the skills that you need for your chosen course in life, you will not be able to achieve all that you want.

The reason for planning your personal development is therefore very simple: only you know what you want to achieve, and the key to achieving it is in your hands via the actions you take. Planning what you need to do to achieve your goals is a vital step in the process.

Many people may first come across personal development plans as part of a course of study, or at work. But planning what you need to do to improve or change yourself is not just important in formal situations. It can also help in your personal life too.

Why You Wouldn’t Need a Personal Development Plan


There may well be times in your life when you don’t feel the need for a personal development plan. You might, for example, finish a course of study, or reach a point in your personal life where you consciously decide that for the moment, you don’t want to do anything deliberate by way of personal development.

In the nature of things, you will of course continue to learn from everything that happens to you, every day. This is why it is called ‘lifelong learning’. But you may choose not to document it, or to work towards any particular goals, and that’s fine.

But remember that when you do want to improve particular skills, planning will help you to achieve your goals.


Elements of Your Personal Development Plan

There are a number of things that you need to include in a personal development plan.

1. A clear vision of where you want to be and why

It is really helpful to think about where you want to be and what you want to do. It can be useful to think in terms of different lengths of time: for example, one month, six months, one year, five years.

It is also helpful to make your vision as detailed as possible, across all spheres of life: career, where you want to live, your hobbies and even relationships. The more detail you can include, right down to how you will feel about it, the easier it will be to hold onto your vision when times are hard.

2. A good understanding of the skills you need to develop to achieve your vision

The next step to your personal development plan is to think about what skills you need to develop, and why this is important to achieving your vision.

For example:

  • Do you need certain skills to get a particular job, or to advance in your chosen career?
  • Are you planning to live abroad, and therefore need to develop your language skills?
  • Are you struggling to manage a particular situation, and need new skills to help?
  • Have you been told that you lack particular skills and need to develop them to work effectively with others, or on your own?

It is important to make sure that the skills you are targeting are clearly linked to a purpose, which is in turn linked to your vision. Without this clarity, your personal development efforts may fail. In particular, you may not concentrate on the right skills, or be fully aware of your timescale.

Identifying areas to work on


If you are not sure which skills are most important in a particular area, you may find it helpful to use a self-assessment tool such as our Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment or the What Sort of a Leader are You? Quiz

3. A clear idea of the standard you need to achieve, and how different that is from your current standard

The difference between where you are now and where you need to be tells you the magnitude of the task. It therefore affects how long it will take, and also how much effort you need to put in.

For example, if you are planning to move abroad in a year’s time, or go travelling, you may need to develop your language skills. But:

  • If you have already lived in that country for a period and speak the language well, you may not need to do more than keep your language skills up via listening to foreign radio.
  • If, however, you have never learnt the language, and you are starting from scratch, you may need some intensive language tuition, or even an immersion course, to ensure that your skills develop quickly enough.

4. A level of priority for each area

You cannot do everything at once.

Instead, you need to prioritise. One very good way to do this is to list all your areas for development, then ask yourself two questions about each one, answering on a scale of one to five:

  • How important is this to me?
  • How essential is it to develop it now?

Add together (or multiply) the scores for the two questions for each area, and you will have a much better idea of which areas to focus on first, because they are either more important, or they are more time-critical.

Leave the other areas for a later date: next year, or even a few years’ time.

5. A detailed idea of how to get from where you are now for each skills or area, to where you want to be

It sounds obvious, but you need to know how you are going to get from (a) to (b): where you are now, to where you want to be. For example, are you going to enrol on some kind of course? Learn online, perhaps using a website like this one?

Just as with your vision, it can be helpful to break this down by time: in a month/six months/a year, what will you have done on the way to your ultimate goals? This makes it easier to check your progress and keep yourself on track.

Sounds familiar?


If you have read other pages on Skills You Need, you may be thinking that this process sounds familiar. It is, in fact, very similar to the process used for drawing up a strategic plan.

Planning and delivering your personal development can be thought of as personal strategic thinking and planning – where do you want to be, and how will you get there?

There is more about this on our page on Strategic Thinking. You may also find our page on Setting Personal Goals helpful in thinking about what you want to achieve.


One Step at a Time

When you first start thinking about personal development, it can seem as if you know nothing, and have no skills. You may find this point rather overwhelming! But it is important to bear two things in mind:

  1. You do have skills. You have been learning and developing all your life, and you already have many, many skills. Our page on Transferable Skills may help you to understand this better.

  2. You don’t have to improve everything all at once. In fact, you’re much better off not trying to do that. Focus on just one or two areas at a time, and you will see much larger improvements, and also feel less overwhelmed.

    There is a reason why personal development is sometimes called ‘lifelong learning’: there is no time limit on it.

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