A Personal Development Plan (PDP) Guide & Template

January 6, 2020
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What is a Personal Development Plan?

A personal development plan (or PDP) isn’t just a mandatory something that managers makes you do before a yearly appraisal; they’re also that firm rock that helps your dreams and desires stay in sight.

A good plan provides focus; it helps you map out a path towards your version of success; it allows you to make better decisions, and it prevents you from taking backwards steps. A good plan also allows you to strategise and get back on track when things do go wrong.

A clear plan is also beneficial for your mental health as a sense of purposefulness can often help reduce stress and anxiety.

So if you haven’t considered where you want to go or if you’ve ever thought that a five-year plan isn’t for you, now is the time to start thinking about who and where you want to be in your future.

If you’re struggling after finishing university or the job market just isn’t what you thought it would be, it’s easier than you might think to get organised and discover what you want.

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How to Write a Personal Development Plan

There are seven steps to writing a PDP:

  1. Set yourself goals.
  2. Prioritise those goals.
  3. Set yourself deadlines for when you want to achieve them.
  4. Recognise threats and opportunities.
  5. Develop your skills or increase your knowledge.
  6. Use your support network.
  7. Measure your progress.

person filling in PDP diary progress

1. Set Yourself Goals

Search for the things you really want in life, these are your long-term goals.

As a twenty-something, you’re in one of the scariest phases of life. Everything feels chaotic, and there are many frustrations. Figuring out what you want is not only the first step in planning, it’s also the hardest. Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, that dream acts an emotional anchor; it provides stability and structure in a time of chaos.

By the way, your life goals should be difficult; they should feel enormous, and scary, and totally overwhelming.

You’re going to break them down into tiny baby steps, and that will make them feel manageable and achievable, and you will achieve them.

But, before you do that, your goals SHOULD overwhelm you. This is because you’re thinking and planning for your future. And, it’s normal and natural to feel scared; it’s your life you’re planning, and that’s a serious matter indeed.

2. Prioritising Your Goals

Next, you need to consider all the little steps that will help you achieve your big goals. And you’ll need to prioritise these short-term goals. Remember that you can’t do everything at once and trying to will lead to failure.

Consider what step needs to happen now.

In your PDP, set yourself mini goals to make the big ones happen.

For example, say you want a career in academia as a senior lecturer and someday a professor. First, you’re going to need a PhD to make that happen. So there’s a big goal, now break it down into steps like this:

  1. Learn about the PhD application process.
  2. Find a suitable university and supervisor for a PhD.
  3. Look at routes for funding.
  4. Find studentships to apply for/or apply to your university of choice.
  5. Write and submit your PhD application.

typing up a personal development plan

3. Set Yourself Deadlines

Knowing when you want to achieve a goal is crucial and picturing your future is an important source of motivation and inspiration.

Day-dreaming is a vital motivation mechanism, and you should harness it to set a deadline on your goals. When you picture yourself buying your first home, how old are you? When you walk up on that graduation stage and get your doctorate, when will that be?

But dreams cannot be the only way to set deadlines; you need to make your dreams realistic. Otherwise, you could become discouraged.

Find out the likelihood of you achieving your dreams by speaking to other people about their experiences and researching the process so you get a realistic idea of what to expect.

Realism factors are vital because they prevent you from becoming discouraged when you do hit pitfalls, they also help you learn more about the things you want to achieve, and can help you predict future problems and plan how to avoid them!

4. Recognise threats and opportunities

There are going to be certain things – they could be external things or an element of yourself – that, if you let them, will prevent you from achieving your goals or delay you on your way.

These are your threats.

For example, a lack of motivation could be detrimental to applying for that PhD. But once you’ve identified your tendency to procrastinate or lose focus you can put in place methods that will keep you motivated on your dreams.

There are also going to be things that you could do, and connections you could take advantage of that will help you on your way. These are things you should commit to doing; these are your opportunities.

For example, if there’s a conference coming up. Take advantage of that situation. Go along and network, stay up to date on the latest knowledge, even present a paper!

5. Develop yourself

Once you have an idea of what could hinder you and what could help you, this is when you can capitalise on those opportunities you recognised. Make an action plan about how you’ll make that progress.

Whatever it is that hinders you, there’s a way to stop it, and your plan is the first step to making sure you stay motivated.

So why not take a look at how to upskill yourself, develop transferable skills in today’s rapidly changing jobs market, or even discover an online learning opportunity

friends supporting PDP

6. Use your support network

The next thing you need to realise is that:

You don’t have to do everything by yourself.

And you shouldn’t. The support network around you is a valuable asset, so use it and don’t underestimate it.

In your PDP, list the people who can help you. This could be a financial advisor, a friend, a colleague. People are often so happy to help you, more than you might realise.

7. Measure progress

Whether it’s big or small, after you’ve achieved some progress take time to reflect on how far you’ve come.

Recognising what has gone well is a way to bolster your motivation and remain dedicated.

And after a setback, this is another time to take stock.

Wallowing – briefly – is a good way to feel what you need to without holding on to it. Holding onto sadness, anger or frustration, however, will only deter you. These emotions will take you nowhere and will only hinder you.

You should also spend a little time figuring out why it went wrong. Can you identify a skills or knowledge gap? If you can, then you can get yourself back on track by focusing on your next little step; this will reignite your sense of purpose and help you regain control which is integral to making progress.

Free Personal Development Plan Example & Template

To help you produce an effective personal development plan, we have created a template that you can use. Below, you can take a look at an example PDP, and download your free template.

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