Nonprofit Summer Exercise 9: PD Clock


I am a committed lifelong learner. Even on days when I don’t have the time. Especially on the days when I feel too overwhelmed to do my job. I know I can always learn more and do better – for myself, and ultimately for the organisations I do work with.

I’m also friends/acquaintances with several people who work in the social sector.  Our conversations go in a myriad of directions, but one common theme revolves around professional development. What it is, what it isn’t, how we can attain it, and what we dream it could be.

No one who loves their job ever wants to stop learning about it.

This puts us in a tricky situation. Because I have yet to meet a person in our sector that doesn’t love their job. And yet, professional development remains elusive and all too often difficult to attain. Not because we don’t want it. But because we don’t have time. Or funds. Or access. Or support. It is all too often the first thing cut – in our calendars and on our budget lines.

Before I get into some ideas around how to make a plan for yourself, I want to ask a question: how does the term “professional development” make you feel?

I like it because it helps me to remind myself that I am a professional. I have qualifications. I have a great skill set, and I desire to continue adding to it.

But it is a term that focuses on the individual, right? I can’t help but think that this is a stumbling point for many organisations – not because they’re terrible and don’t want their staff to learn, but because they’re afraid of investing in an individual that will leave and take that skill set with them.

Perhaps a term like “Workplace Learning” would be more encouraging for organisations to support. A term like this suggests to me two things – learning IN the workplace, and learning FOR the workplace, in a way that includes not only the individual but the team and the organisation.

But I digress…

Exercise 9: PD Clock

The title of this might be deceiving. It’s not really a clock, it’s a plan. But the plan starts with a question.

What if we were as concerned about the time we were spending on our professional development as we are about “clocking in” at work? That is, if we fretted about not getting to our professional development the way we sometimes fret about not tackling our entire work to-do list?

With this in mind, I’ll ask you to consider the following truths about professional development

1) Know what’s available to you. It is great if you are in a workplace that encourages you to regularly take the time to learn, but these are few and far between. Learn what is available to you, and at the bare minimum make sure you are using up every last drop in a way that makes sense. I know some organisations allow you to bank time/money and save up for something larger, and at others you simply get a small amount every year and it’s gone whether you use it or not. The worst? Shifting budgets, where you start the year off with $500 but because something went off kilter in the 3rd quarter, you don’t get any of it.

2) Know that it’s up to you. Don’t let your learning goals rest on anyone’s shoulders but your own. Some organisations are involved in their employees learning goals, but in the end your professional aspirations are more than just their organisational goals. Your long term career goals may or may not include them. You can’t expect their long term organisational goals to include your career aspirations.

3) Know that nothing is is ever done. Your plan is going to evolve and change as you do. And the day you stop learning is the day you stop living. Let go of any desire to “fully complete” any kind of PD plan or list. Focus on milestones, and recognize when you may want or need to change course.

4) Know the possibilities are endless… and this is exactly why you should have a plan. We live in a world where anything we could possibly want to learn is basically right at our fingertips. This in itself overwhelmingly contributes to our inability to really have a PD plan.

So knowing these four things, let’s step into something today.


Step one: Where are you today?

Before you decide where you want to go, you need to take stock of where you are. What is your current professional standing? How would you say you compare to others who are in similar roles at other organisations, or even within your own?

Step two: Ask yourself some simple questions.

  • what do you want to learn?
  • why do you want to learn it?
  • when do you want to learn it by?
  • how are you going to learn it?
  • who do you need to help you learn it?
  • what are some potential roadblocks and challenges along the way?

This will require some thinking, some soul searching and some research.

Step three: Block the time. 

Just like you stole 30 minutes for yourself to get moving away from your desk, you are going to need to choose a schedule that you can commit to. It is going to be a challenge. That is why PD always falls off our radars – we can’t justify the time “away from our desks” to do something “for ourselves.” Remember – this is just as much for your workplace as it is for you. And if you are entitled to PD time, you should do your best to take it! Block time, and make it a habit.

Step four: Monitor your progress.

This is not only going to help you be mindful of your goals, but also keep your schedule on target. Celebrate your victories. Reflect on the things that were difficult or didn’t go so well. Adjust your plan as you go, remembering that your learning is a continuum that will change and grow as you do.

BONUS: Find a learning buddy or mentor. 

Just like with going to the gym, or any new habit, it helps to have someone to check in with along the way. Maybe you have a co-worker or peer who is walking a similar learning journey to your own. Or maybe you know someone who is where you want to be and could offer you encouragement along the way. These relationships are invaluable, as they will help to remind you why you’ve committed to being a lifelong learner in the first place!