AS THE pace of working life continues to quicken, your “to-do” list will grow along with it. While the list usually covers the day--to--day tasks, items addressing your professional development are rarely included on it.

How can you manage your time so that you still have room in your day to focus on your career development and growth?

Simply relying on the ad hoc development of key skills and expertise is dangerous and will most often fail to deliver the ideal career progression. It is essential to have a focused and strategic plan that helps you improve and make significant professional developments.

Career transitions such as a new role, promotion or relocation are the most common triggers to change your work approach. Here are some key strategies to support your professional development at these times:

Prioritise

Work out where to fit in time for professional development. Obviously there will be core pieces of work that take precedence over everything else. But when they are completed and out of the way, can you then allocate time to yourself?

Set goals

To develop professionally, you will also need the support, understanding and commitment of your colleagues and superiors. Write down some professional development goals that you want to achieve throughout your day, week, month and year. The goals have to be measurable, realistic and easily definable.

Find a mentor

Look to those you admire and observe their work approach. Then pick their brains. Most will be flattered that you would like to learn from them and will be happy to become your mentor.

Absorb what they have to say as most people enjoy talking and will unload a lot of information if they have a captive audience. Sometimes, these lessons cannot be gathered in a structured environment like a meeting but in a more informal relaxed setting such as over lunch, dinner or office drinks.

Get resources

Do not try to re-invent the wheel. Most organisations have managers or professionals who can assist in your transition and professional development. If not, there are professional coaches who can provide the tools and the plan to get there.

Ask for feedback

Understand your work style and strengths. To ensure a well-rounded skill set, you must work on your strengths as well as your weaknesses.

This involves an honest and objective self-analysis and sometimes may require someone else to hold the mirror in front of you. Ask your colleagues for feedback on areas you can improve in.

Work smart

Having a detailed professional development plan is useless if you do not have enough time in your day to implement it.

Adopt time-management strategies but be careful that the free time you create is not filled by more daily tasks. Here are some ways to get more out of your day:

* Strive for efficiency and effectiveness at work. Prioritise your day’s activities and don’t be afraid to say no to your colleagues’ requests for your time. Setting aside blocks of time to finish a project or meet a deadline will be more effective than taking on ad hoc reactive work and will help you focus and complete your core tasks.

* Use the most effective and appropriate form of communication. E-mail, phone or meet face-to-face or use a combination of all three. Don’t dither on an e-mail when a 30--second conversation will deliver the same result.

* Seek clarity of thought and purpose. Make sure your colleagues truly know what is expected of them, and give them the tools and resources needed to accomplish their goals.

* Set a duration for meetings and stick to it. If the meeting is moving away from the original agenda, ask that the new topic be discussed at another time and bring the focus back to the original agenda of the meeting.

Professional development is important for your career aspirations and ambitions and deserves your discipline, attention and effort.

By pushing back on additional work requests and working efficiently, you will find the time to focus on how you can improve, innovate and grow professionally.