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Growing personal skills without pain

OK, so you want to grow. It’s important to grow, everyone knows that. But wait. What does growth mean?
At first it seems simple, everyone knows what growth or evolve means, but when it comes to details, it’s not. Why? We don’t know what growth really means in terms of personal skills.

Important traits of growth

Thinking of growing myself, I always consider how to evaluate growth. Many attempts to defining growth brought me to the following conclusion: growth is good when:

  • it is measurable
  • it is traceable
  • it is continuous

Defining growth

To define personal growth we need to answer a few questions. How to recognise that I’m growing? How to measure personal growth? How to trace it? I’ll explain below how to manage your personal development. Let me answer those questions.

How to recognise that I’m growing?

This seemingly simple question needs some background work. First of all, you need an objective. Of course you can simply read some articles, attend conferences, but can you tell it’s bringing you closer to the mission accomplishment? No. Without clear direction it’s not progressing. It’s just wandering. So, the first step is to define your mission. Of course you can evolve to different directions and have multiple objectives set and reach them through the improvement process.

How to measure personal development?

What does it mean to measure development? There is no “scale” of developing personal skills. The thing is, the measure depends on your mission. Now when you have your mission, you can start thinking how to achieve it. Goals and targets could be steps in your plan. Let’s say you want to learn Python. How can you say you can code using Python? Of course it depends on you, and your needs. You should know what you expect from gaining particular skill. Maybe you just want to learn another programming language? Maybe it is not enough? Or, maybe it is only temporary and you will create a new target after a few months. But what about measuring? In the Python learning example, you can set your objectives to: Learn language syntax (goals: declare variables, use conditional statements, use loops, define functions etc.). Your next step could be “Learn particular framework” (goals: installation, configuration, hello world, auth tutorial etc.). When your mission is well defined and you know what this target exactly means, you can divide it into steps and execute. In other words, you need objectives, goals and targets, to be able to say how far you are from achieving your mission. And when you know the distance, it is easy to measure progress on it.

How to track progress?

Now, when you have your missions and you know how to achieve it through objectives, targets and goals, don’t forget to trace your progress. Right now it should be simple, you have everything you need. All you need to do right now, is to set due dates for each level and do periodical progress checking. The length of a given period should depend on the granularity level you are tracking at (mission, objectives, targets or goals). Ask yourself at the end of each period “What goals I accomplished to achieve my objectives?”, “Was it enough?”, “What was the reason the goal was not reached?”, “Which goals due dates are at risk?”, “Are my methods efficient?”, “What I can do better?”. Be honest with yourself, because you are doing it for yourself. Answers for the above questions allow you to revise your way.

What’s next?

Now you know what you want to accomplish and how. Many people at this stage are asking themselves “when?”. I have been in this position too. I was watching my schedule and started thinking that the need for time for self improvement would force me to give up some activities. Fortunately, this is not the point! I discovered a better way to solve the lack of time problem. Let me explain the solution – how to focus on the “continuous” part, at the same time still measuring and tracking the process.
How to reconcile the current activities with the new ones and find time to grow? How to make it continuous? It’s easy. In simple words: stop wasting your time! How? Here come the details.

Plan your time at different levels

It’s important to know what exactly you have to do and when the deadline is. What you plan to do in particular place/time. A simple plan is not enough, it doesn’t provide you the necessary information. Your plan should contain information at different levels of granularity and include your mission, different levels of objectives, targets and goals. You should prioritize your objectives, recognize what blocks you from achieving them and place them on the timeline. Think about due dates (“What is possible due date?” “Is there a deadline?”). Let me show you an example. If you wanted to escape from a desert island, your plan could not contain only a single point: “Build a raft”. It needs to be at least a little bit more detailed. What do you need to build a raft? Where can you find it? Do you have enough food for the time needed to build one? Where can you find the food? Is gathering food blocking you from building? etc. More detailed plan is better, but remember to not overdo it. Overdetailed plan is hard to maintain, and changes in the plan are unavoidable. One very important aspect of planning is the relation between granularity and distance; you don’t need to know exactly what you will be doing in 700 days from today, but you should know where you will be on the way to fulfill your mission, meaning what objectives you plan to accomplish till then. This is important because it allows you to effectively track progress in a long perspective in mind. You should know what you want to accomplish in one year (global perspective), then what in particular months (general schedule), what in the current month, week, and finally day (specific activities). I mean it, plan your day. Find gaps between activities and think how to use the time efficiently. Event a 5 minutes gap can be used. You can review your tommorow activities, make a call, or relax. Yes, relax is also an activity, be aware of it. Avoid wasting time when you are not sure what the purpose of the current activity is. An example? I always make my phone calls from car, when I’m stuck in the traffic. Of course I use handsfree kit. I read books before going to sleep (even 5 minutes if I’m tired). Some time ago, I used to repeat words from English classes before sleep.

Review your habits

When you are preparing your plan, think about priorities. Maybe you are doing some things just out of habit? Are this habits useful, or are they a nuisance? Maybe it is a good moment to develop new habits? I’ll give you an example from my life. Some time ago I started a diet and it forced me to stop drinking coffee and to start eating breakfasts before leaving home. At the beginning I was angry (“What, no coffee?” “I will have to wake up earlier!”), and now I’m leaving my home in less hurry, I’m talking with my wife during breakfast (i.e. about day plans) and my whole day is more calm.
Considering my priorities, I got out of unnecessary habits and formed new ones, making place for things that are really important to me.

Don’t lie to yourself

Do you have a tendency to postpone actions? Maybe you are just lazy? What is wrong with being lazy? Laziness isn’t really bad, but it is good to understand and accept consequences. Make your goals and deadlines as demanding as you want. If you want to be lazy, and spending time on your couch is important to you, just adjust your goals to your needs (and accept the slow rate of your improvement process). Probably you will achieve less in a longer time period, or maybe your time on couch will magically increase your productivity after all. The important thing here is to be sure what you want to achieve. Be absolutely honest with yourself. Keep your progress tracked and regularly adjust goals.

Review your plans

Keep your plans up-to-date. There will be situations when you will not achieve your goals in the scheduled time. It’s normal, you can use this experience to learn. Keep in mind that it is always a good practice to have your unachieved goals replanned on regular basis.

Reevaluate your objectives and missions periodically

Last, but not least. It’s important to reevaluate your missions. Maybe there is a new technology that is more valuable to know? Maybe you have got a child and your priorities are different now? Maybe your missions are still the same, but you are in a different place now and want to fulfill them through other objectives. Life is too unpredictable to be planned up front by anybody.

That’s it

Hope this will help you to successfully fulfill your missions and find the process enriching. If you find my article useful: like it, share it or leave a comment (maybe all). If not: leave a comment and help me to grow.

Bibliography:
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity: David Allen: 9780142000281: Amazon.com: Books
https://www.amazon.de/Soft-Skills-software-developers-manual/dp/1617292397
http://www.kbis.com.au/difference-between-objectives-aims-targets-and-goals/

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