Ask Anthony: Create Your 2019 Professional Development Plan

“The devil’s in the detail” is an idiom that is very relevant to civil engineers, and one to think about as you plan for the new year. In the world of civil engineering projects and technical design, details matter, and you should spend your time ensuring that those details are correct. However, when it comes to your professional development plan, the opposite may be the case.

The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity), which I have discussed several times in this column, states that, for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. For purposes of this article, you can think of this as 80% of the success in your career coming from 20% of your actions.

Why is this important to your civil engineering career, especially at this time of the year?

Simple. We tend to set new goals and reevaluate our careers around the first of January each year. Therefore, I want to urge you to reevaluate your goals based on the Pareto Principle, following these simple steps:

1. Using a blank sheet of paper, make a list of your professional goals for 2019.

2. Next, for each goal, write down 5 to 10 action items you can take to move yourself closer to that goal.

3. Next, go through each goal and its associated action items, and pick the two or three action items for each goal that will be most influential in you achieving that goal. For example, obtaining your PE license is probably heavily related to your studying habits, and therefore signing up for a review course may be the most important thing you can do (one of those 20% items).

4. Last, cross out the items that you didn’t identify as the top two or three drivers for each goal.

There you have it. You will have just used the Pareto Principle to create a simple yet effective professional development plan for 2019. The devil is in the detail, but those details don’t always matter. Think about the main drivers in your career.

Since the Pareto Principle tells us that only 20% of this article will be useful to you, I’ll stop writing now and wish you a very productive 2019!

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute (previously known as the Engineering Career Coach), which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and he is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success.

Anthony helps small to mid-sized civil engineering firms build powerful internal training programs that foster engagement and development. He has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more effective managers:

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