Nine personal development techniques that are worth your time

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It is difficult to find a business owner with a lot of spare time. Whether they’re attending meetings, answering emails, or going about their day-to-day business tasks, most of their day is filled with obligations. However, it’s important that even the busiest executives make room in their day or week for personal development.

To help you fit this essential activity into your schedule, we asked a panel of Forbes Coaching Council members to share strategies and techniques that they often recommend to busy leaders. Here’s what they recommend trying:

Photos courtesy of individual members

1. Practice the break

A break is a powerful tool. It expresses listening, demonstrates self-control, and shows your team members that stopping thinking before you act is an important strategic step. Learn to pause before reacting so you can respond instead. Take a break so you can stop and think. Pause so the other person can see that you heard them. Take a break to slow down and enjoy the moments in your life. Taking a break helps us grow in discernment. It is the wise leader who pauses. – Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, Leadership advice in tension

2. Plan your personal time like business meetings

The most useful and easiest personal development technique to apply is to plan your personal time. Most executives don’t deliberately want to fail at something so easy, so they’re more likely to follow through. This approach is valuable because it helps build a habit and is probably something they can pass on to those they supervise and lower level employees. – Sandra Hill, New Horizen Coaching & Professional Growth Advancement, LLC

3. Work on your self-awareness

Improving self-awareness is a crucial part of personal and professional development. Being able to accurately recognize your feelings and potential abilities is the gateway to success. For many busy executives, regular feedback is non-existent. However, when you are high up in the leadership ranks, it becomes a responsibility to proactively seek out and generously accept constructive criticism. – Roberta Moore, The EQ-i coach

4. Choose how you use your time

When faced with a new opportunity, ask yourself, “If I say ‘yes’ to this opportunity, what am I automatically saying ‘no’ to? And yes, naps and Netflix count. You can do almost everything, but not everything at the same time. Choose wisely. -Lizette Ojeda, Make spirits thrive

5. Ask a colleague to be your informal coach.

Solicit feedback related to a specific development goal you’re working on. For example, if I want to tone down my visual and vocal communication in team meetings, I ask a colleague to observe my body language and comments, and then give me their feedback after the meeting. To make this effective, my informal “coach” is someone who is comfortable being upfront and as objective as possible with their feedback. Next, I have some data to consider when examining my own meeting behavior. I might also wish my “informal” coach had a different style than mine so that I had a broader perspective. – Marie Camuto, MC Council

6. Spend 30 minutes a day learning

I recommend 30 minutes a day of reading and / or listening to a video or podcast on a business topic. Over time, this is extremely valuable, as leaders will learn new perspectives and broaden their view of the world. – Natalie Doyle Oldfied, Success Through Trust Inc.

Read more in Learning for Life: Why You Should Always Question What You Think You Know

7. Identify the main needs and objectives

I often ask people to prioritize their top three personal needs or goals and then rate their performance in those areas from 1 to 10, 10 being fantastic and 1 horrible. Once done, I ask them to identify two specific actions that they can take over the next 7 days with their top priority. We then make sure to operationalize them, so that they have concrete steps to accomplish them. They know I’m going to follow up with them to see how it went, what worked and what didn’t, and reset the goals for next week. This process often reveals where they are stuck and the underlying obstacles they must overcome to be the person they want to be. – Catherine Hickem, The Dash group

8. Breathe deeply

I recommend a transition technique during a busy day: Before moving on to your next meeting, take a minute to take a break, take a deep breath, and clear your mind. Then, silently reflect for a minute on your intention for your next engagement. “What am I trying to accomplish? What could be important to others? How do I want to present myself as a leader? Take a few notes to remind yourself before entering your next conversation or meeting. Notice how this simple practice impacts your ability to concentrate. – Valérie Lingeman, Double Helix Learning LLC

9. Constantly Evaluate Your Time Goals

For most people, time is running out when they are not running their time. We really are creatures of habit and with all of the ebb and flow of life, so we also need to re-evaluate and reposition our time goals. It’s precious, so be sure to enjoy this trip in the life and not just become a gerbil on a treadmill. Prioritize your current wants and needs to move into the future with more ease and joy. – Shellie Hunt, Success is by design


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