Make Time for Growth Assignments in Your Daily Work

Harvard Business Review

Your job probably includes some responsibility for researching new trends or dreaming up innovative ideas. Lucky you! Alas, if you're like most people, you probably never feel like you have enough time to devote to those important projects. Often the activities with the most learning opportunity get squeezed out of the schedule by project meetings, administrative work, e-mail, and other day-to-day items.

Of course you need to set aside some time to simply do those tasks. But if you think more strategically about the way you tackle the creative growth assignments, you can find the time to work on them and increase your personal fulfillment — as well as your value to your firm. Here's how:

Step 1: Find the Growth Opportunities

Brainstorm the development opportunities that either currently fall within the scope of your role or could if you asked for them. To come up with possibilities, try these techniques:

  • Look over your job description for activities that you would love to pursue, but haven't gotten to yet.
  • Think about some of the dreams that you had for your current position before you started. What did you hope to accomplish?
  • Set up a lunch or coffee with people in similar positions, either at your company or at a different company, and ask how they invest in learning.
  • Survey your current area of influence and jot down opportunities for improvement.

Step 2: Look for the Greatest Value

Once you've determined what types of development you could pursue within your position, you'll need to decide where to focus. One of the best ways to do this is to look at the value created by additional investment. For example, you may find it interesting to research best practices on internal communication systems, but improving communication between external customers and internal staff may produce a much higher return on investment by increasing client retention and sales. Evaluate each of your ideas in terms of the value generated for your organization. Then, decide on one or two that have the most potential to stretch your skills and have a meaningful organizational impact. (This important step will not only help you to focus but also assist you in explaining your reasoning to your boss.)

Step 3: Clarify the Related Actions

Part of the fun — and challenge — of development projects is that you get to define the path to reach your end destination. But if you just have stretches of a couple of hours — or less — to make meaningful progress, you should always have a clear sense of the next few steps on your projects. I recommend jotting them down in a place you can find later.

For example, if you have the goal of researching other companies' website brand strategy in preparation for a redesign, give yourself these kind of directions:

  • Find the top five highest traffic websites in our niche using Alexa.com
  • Look at:
    • The structure of the pages
    • The overall design
    • The imagery
    • The color
    • The typography
    • The messaging
    • The opportunities for customer engagement
    • The advertisements
    • The checkout process.
  • Make note of anything that might work for our company and take some screen captures.
  • Present findings to our redesign team.

By writing out exactly which actions you need to take to move forward on the ultimate goal of a redesign, you make it much easier to use spare minutes effectively.

Step 4: Decide on Acceptable Minimums

For both myself and my time coaching clients, I've found that it's too easy to keep moving important, non-urgent activities from week-to-week, because even when you have them on your calendar, you know you can put them off without major short-term repercussions. To remedy this situation, "acceptable minimums" do wonders. Here's what that means: For the one or two key areas for development in your job, decide on the minimum amount of time you want to spend on the related actions each week. For example, you could decide that you spend at least two hours a week moving ahead on the website redesign project and one hour a week reading about trends in your industry. Then, either make these blocks of time recurring events or schedule them in each week. (Ideally these blocks of time fall early in the day and early in the week so they don't fall off the edges of your workday.) Although an hour or two may seem like too short a time to make real progress, you'll amaze yourself at how much you can get done when you invest your time consistently in these areas. Plus if you have more time certain weeks, you can always do more.

With the right strategies, your daily work can provide consistent opportunities for growth and development. Now's the perfect time to head over to your work calendar to book an appointment with personal growth.

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