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When was the last time you did something for your own development? What about the time before that? How consistently are you able to invest in your own growth?
Well, who can right? Between work, important time spent with family, maintaining a house, community involvement, and so on…who has time to stop and invest in our own development? That so often becomes the thing we will have to find time for some time down the road.
Not an encouraging perspective, right? Well, it’s unfortunately too much of a reality for many of us.
So today, we are looking at not only the need for self-development, but, maybe even more importantly for some of us, how we can do it more regularly every day and every week amidst our consistently busy schedules. I’m really excited to get into this particular topic, so let’s go!
Josh here. Thanks for joining us today!
Leaders are readers. We are learners. We are compelled to lead with curiosity, to ask better questions, to listen. To get insight from all around us – up, down, across, and out. Leadership is a life-long education and we, as the leaders, are the student much more often than we are the teacher.
Our 3x5 team believes one of the most important habits of leaders is to lead ourselves well – to take responsibility for our own growth and development. We believe leaders must be life-long learners, committed to continuously learning more about ourselves, how to lead, and how to connect with others.
But one of the most common questions we get about this calling to develop ourselves is how. How do I find or make time for all this self-development we talk about? Amidst long work days, overwhelming to-do lists, projects, kids, sports, community activities, maintaining the home, so on and so on…how do I actually get time to grow myself?
It’s a GREAT question and today we are going to explore four simple strategies that you can begin tapping into now that will help you purposefully integrate self-development activities into your existing schedule.
But before we start diving into those strategies, I want to first offer one predicating note about our schedule, which I often reference as our battle rhythm. A battle rhythm is a common military phrase for maintaining an ordered routine. It’s a deliberate cycle of leader, staff, and team activities to synchronize efforts that can cover a daily, weekly, or even monthly rotation. It’s a document that captures all the “routine things we do routinely” and can be applied at the personal level all the way up to an organizational one. So, if you’re first questioning your schedule, let alone how to build self-development into it, I recommend you check out our article on the battle rhythm, which is linked in the show notes. It’s important to be clear on our schedule – our battle rhythm – before we get into figuring out how to layer developmental stuff onto it.
Now, let’s talk through the four strategies to integrate development into our schedule. These strategies actually build in scope requiring more personal effort and time on your schedule. And while they don’t necessarily have to occur sequentially, I do encourage you to approach them one at a time starting at the top. Spend a day thinking through strategy 1. And then transition to number 2, figuring out how to apply it with your unique battle rhythm. Practice that for a little while, maybe a few weeks, before elevating to strategy 3, which will demand even more from you. We are in no rush here. We are focused on building sustainable self-development habits for long-term growth, fulfillment, and improvement.
Ok, here we go. Strategy 1 is to simply identify what self-development activities you want to regularly sustain. We all have unique learning preferences or ways we enjoy growing. We should clarify them before we start throwing them onto our schedule. Some of us enjoy audiobooks or podcasts, some don’t. Some enjoy reading books while others prefer videos. Some are big on articles and blogs. Some may desire talking things out with another person as a means to reflect versus those that want to go to pen and paper to capture their thoughts first. All of it is ok! There is NO right answer. There is just the best answer for you and the activities that will not only maintain your growth, but you will actually look forward to doing.
Do note that I mentioned a lot of personal activities that didn’t really involve people or resources external to you – activities like mentorship, coaching, or big formal courses or programs. I do this purposefully because I want to emphasize things that we can control and engage in on our own. We are not completely in control of certain developmental activities like mentorship, so I caution us to consider incorporating bigger activities that include external dependencies like that at first. Let’s focus on what we can control each day and week.
So, for me, a few of these activities include reading, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, reading articles and blogs, seeking feedback in small but consistent amounts, reflecting thinking while I run, and reflective writing. Strategy 1 is to identify yours.
Next, strategy 2, is to integrate developmental activities into events that already exist on your battle rhythm. This makes development easy to start because it is simply using things you already do. Ok, what do I mean. Well, here are a few examples of how I inject development into things that already happen almost every day for me. I use my commutes to listen to audiobooks and some of my runs for podcasts. I already do both events almost every day, so it is easy to just choose to add those activities onto them and make it a developmentally enriching event when it originally wasn’t. I also look to use things like meetings or one-on-ones with my boss to seek feedback. I aim to come to those type of events with one small question I can ask at the end to solicit a little bit of feedback from. Doing that each week helps me to gather more consistent, bite-sized data points about my performance and impact.
Let’s look at your schedule for this week and see what already exists, where you can adapt just a little bit to integrate some development into it. It can be things from meetings, to commuting, to exercise. I believe there are plenty of options where you can apply two or three over a week.
After we practice that strategy and have it pretty well established as a habit, then we can look to up our game a bit and get into strategy 3, which is to anchor new, small developmental activities to our battle rhythm. This is a little more than adding development to existing events, but finding events that we can latch onto either before or after to make habit cues easy. Really, we are trying to minimize the barrier to entry for some new developmental habits, so we are looking to make the cues obvious and consistent. Here are a few personal examples that I’ve started over the last few years.
One example is that I commit to reading one blog post or article every workday once I arrive to the office before I fire up emails or get into meetings. It is a simple way to learn something new and get a little perspective for the day before the madness begins. I also read 10-pages of my book before I get out of my car to head into the office. It takes less than 10-minutes, which again, is before I get overwhelmed by the day. I also schedule to read 10-pages before I go to bed every night. Those two simple habits alone already create conditions for me to read about 100-pages just within a normal work week. I also try to have one purposeful lunch a week, where I meet with someone like a peer mentor or a mentee of mine focused on intentional conversation.
See if you can find one or two events on your battle rhythm where you can add a developmental activity before or after it each week.
Now, give it a few weeks to practice and establish as habit and then we are finally ready for strategy, #4, which is add whole new developmental activities to your schedule as stand alone events. This can be hard and a little nerve-wracking for many of us for several reasons and I want to address those up front. You may be thinking, how can I add a whole time block for a personally developing event while at work or even at home? I don’t think I even have anywhere on my battle rhythm to squeeze it in. Isn’t that selfish of me to do? What would my boss think?
All fair questions for sure. But I regularly keep a certain mantra on my mind and it is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. I’ve come to see doing self-development less as a selfish thing and more as a resilience and leadership capacity thing. If I can keep my leadership cup fill throughout each week, I have enough to consistently pour into others. I am more energize, engaged, and committed at work. The organization, my team, my people, and I are all better because of it.
I’ve also made this the final strategy because it is the biggest one both in time, effort, and obstacles. It requires a lot for you to be able to block even just 30-minutes to commit to a personal activity, so I encourage you to exercise the other strategies as a means to wade into the water before diving into the deep end here.
But if you are feel comfortable with your schedule and work conditions, here are a few examples and things to consider. This approach is basically time blocking where you commit a defined amount of time to a particular activity to increase your focus, efficiency, and productivity. So, you can create specific time blocks for processing emails, for working through a particular project, or your time to wander around the office to spend time engaging with your people. You can do the same for your development. There are some CEOs who report blocking off hours each week simply for thinking time – to process their thoughts and improve their decision-making. Think about blocking time for learning activities, for reflection, or even for mentoring if you can influence it. And think beyond the bounds of work too. One time-block style activity I engage in with my wife are our evening post-dinner family walks. We use those walks to process through our days and explore big things on our minds. We actually tend to use these walks to make big decisions for our family.
So, those are four strategies you can adapt and apply to better integrate self-development into your daily and weekly schedule. In practicing these for some time, I’ve come to find they create several important benefits. First, these strategies lead my development to be planned, deliberate, and consistent – not impulsive or reactive. Through this approach, these activities easily become sustainable habits integrated into my schedule and not haphazardly thrown together or forced. Second, this approach ensures I keep my leadership cup full each day, each week, and maintain broad perspective – not so easily consumed by my immediate circumstances. And third, these ensure I maintain continuous learning and growth, not simply waiting for development to come to me by some external source.
And I’m confident you can find ways to adapt and apply these strategies to your own preferences and circumstances.
What developmental activities are both impactful and enjoyable for you?
What is one event on your schedule this week that you can layer a developmental activity onto? Maybe a meeting or a commute?
And lastly, is there one event in this week’s schedule you can anchor some new development to?
I’m excited for you to start your journey toward more deliberate, integrated, and sustainable development.
Ok, that’s it for this week’s intentional strategy! But before you go can you help me out with three quick things?
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Thanks for joining us this week, friends. I’m Josh and until next time, take care and lead well.