May 11

Professional development during a pandemic

Note-taking for professional development during a pandemic with a journal, highlighter, phone and laptop in a home office.

Keeping up with professional development during a pandemic, or any time really, is not a one-size-fits-all situation. While many professionals are shifting to focus more on professional development during this time, figuring how much is too much and what’s a good fit can be tricky.

Some people may rejoice in the increase of online opportunities and extra time at home to catch up on training. In contrast, others may be feeling overwhelmed by all the options and have a difficult time prioritizing. Depending on what you’re subscribed to, it’s easy to feel bombarded with emails about yet another webinar or virtual workshop.

Whichever bucket you fall into, I do think now is a good time to consider new opportunities, but it is important to keep a few things in mind as you explore. Here are my suggestions for figuring out what’s right for you:

Be realistic in what you can/can’t reasonably accomplish

Take a look at how your weekly schedule and workload have changed during the pandemic. Being realistic about your capacity before adding another task to your to-do list can help protect you from burnout.

Here are some questions I would ask: How much time am I confident I can commit to professional development in a typical week? Are there certain days of the week or times of day where I’m finding more flexibility? Do I have any project deadlines coming up? As you’re exploring opportunities, look for ones that fit your new norm to help ensure you follow through with them.

If you’ve had your eye on a particular organization but aren’t sure about committing to an annual membership, now might be a good time to “try it out.” Many professional organizations are now offering free virtual get-togethers or similar networking events.

Be picky (and creative!) to avoid exhaustion

Too much screen time and Zoom fatigue are real, so be selective about online programs you choose. Think quality over quantity so you can get the most out of the opportunities you invest your time into.

I also think it’s important to be creative. While in-person interaction is a no-go right now, there are other options beyond webinars and video conferences. Maybe now is a good time to write to or call a mentor. Consider scheduling an informational phone interview with a professional in an industry you want to learn more about. You could also order a book to read.

Treat it like you would any other event, academic course or workshop

A fellow PR professional recently shared she keeps missing webinars. This has resulted in a folder full of recordings she’s hoping to get to someday. I think a way to avoid this is to treat online professional development opportunities, whether they be free or paid for, like you would an in-person obligation. If it was a typical class or meeting, you’d probably go. Are you thinking of PD as optional or second-rate to other items on your to-do list? Then maybe what you’re signing up for is simply not the right fit for you.

Avoid the itch to multitask

Even if other participants in a virtual event can’t see or hear you, be present! Avoid looking at your phone, email, etc. While many of us are working from home, it seems we’re getting used to multitasking more than usual, but chances are, that’s not doing us any favors. Unless an urgent matter arises, don’t let another project or email draw your attention away from the task at hand.

If you have to miss, reschedule and stick to it

When you have the option to reschedule or view a webinar recording, actually block out the time on your calendar. If you’re worried about distractions getting in the way, consider utilizing what would have been your commute time to focus on PD.

No matter what your workflow looks like during this pandemic, with a bit of introspection and creativity, you can find a good match.


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