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What Happens When You Take Personal Development Too Far (and How to Rebound)

Jun 29, 2017 6 min readOpen

Finding the right balance between role performance and personal development is not easy, and it’s something that I got very wrong at first and am still trying to perfect.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of experience trying to balance my performance as a Happiness Hero (on our customer support team at Buffer) and my passion for learning more about engineering, which allows me to help my team outside of the Happiness inbox.

One key learning I’ve had for myself, is that when I’m passionate about something I want to dedicate as much time and energy as possible into pursuing that passion. While this is a wonderful attitude to have, it can also negatively impact other areas of life such as mental and physical energy as well as performance in a main role.

In the early stages of my personal development, all three of these suffered. I put in 14-to–16-hour days, 5–7 days a week. It won’t be surprising to hear that I burned myself out towards the end of last year, feeling constantly lethargic and straining relationships I’ve had with friends and family.

The biggest surprise, to me, was that my productivity as a Happiness Hero suffered quite a bit. I would find myself starting each day in the inbox feeling exhausted. Some days it would feel like a grind to keep up with my usual pace, and often I missed the mark entirely. I would end days feeling disappointed with the work I put in, which negatively impacted my performance with my self-development, which negatively impacted my performance in my main role the following day.

I was caught in a vicious cycle, which led to my decision to pause my personal development work and get my work as a Happiness Hero back on track, but it got better, and I’d love to tell you how.

What happens when you take personal development too far (and how to rebound) Mick Mahady

Using Personal Goals To Move Ahead

I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I completely abandoned my development as an engineer. I put in too much work, and I was too passionate about it to let it slide. However, I couldn’t continue along the same path. Something needed to change.

At this time, I was helping customers in Reply, Buffer’s tool for quickly replying to tweets and Facebook messages, and I was struggling to ramp up my volume of responses, one of the metrics we use to track Happiness Hero productivity. This was a big concern to me, as it made me realize how much I still had left to grow into my role as a Happiness Hero.

I started by reflecting

I took a step back and reflected on why I wasn’t hitting the level of performance I expected of myself. After a lot of reflecting, I decided I need to commit to setting myself some goals to help me level up, just like I did in Buffer’s six-week bootcamp period that every employee goes through.

This was tough. I was surprised to learn that I still had so much to develop as a Happiness Hero, and here I was trying to develop additionally with engineering outside my work time.

I set volume-related goals for my role that I knew I could accomplish

I set myself goals of answering 10 tickets in an hour for HelpScout (emails) and 10–15 tickets in an hour for Reply (tweets). These were goals that I used to set for myself regularly, without even thinking about it. Somehow, this got lost in my journey over the last year.

When I transitioned to Olark, the platform we use for live chat support, I set myself goals of how many chats I can take on at once, following up on conversations I didn’t get great ratings for, hitting 50 tickets in Reply before lunch, and hitting 20 Reply tickets while in Olark for the afternoon.

Having these goals helped me set a personal standard of performance that made me feel like I had accomplished something in my day.

Notice a trend with those goals above? Yep, they’re all volume related!

I’m not fond of measuring performance based on personal volume. However, volume is a big part of our role as Happiness Heroes. While probably not the most important aspect of our role, it’s something that affects how much bandwidth we have to improve other metrics such as customer happiness and response times.

Why Personal Goals Worked For Me

The reason I’ve been able to recommit myself to personal development over the last few weeks is that I feel like I am accomplishing a lot in my regular role.

Not only was I working on personal development outside of my normal role, I hadn’t even realized I was still developing within my full-time role. It was a lot of development! I felt better once I quantified my effort with growth on the main role, which allowed me to feel more energized about the extra personal development.

I now end each day in the inbox feeling proud of myself for the work I did that day. This gives me the energy and enthusiasm to approach my engineering work without suffering the same drain of energy I once did. I’ve also balanced the time I spend on personal development a little better this time around!

Hitting my personal goals each day gives me the freedom to spend time working on self-development, without feeling the negativity, and sometimes guilt, that I felt before.

I don’t set and hit these goals to justify my personal development time with my lead or anybody else. I do it to justify it with myself. The balance is tough to get right. Too much energy put into self-development can cause decreased performance in your main role. Constantly straining yourself trying to hit ambitious goals and “grind” through the inbox impacts the time, energy, and motivation you have for self-development.

Knowing my self-development is not impacting my performance as a Happiness Hero greatly benefits the level of energy and enthusiasm I have for the work outside the scope of my role. Knowing I can compare my personal performance against team-wide metrics allows me to be gracious with myself when I don’t hit my goals.

As a support team, our position is quite unlike other teams because the time we spend out of the inbox affects the quality of service we give to our customers. Our Happiness team is one of the strongest benefits of Buffer as a product. When we are off our game, Buffer as a product suffers.

It’s so important for our customers that we constantly reflect on how each of us are doing. Are we doing the best work that we can possibly do? Is there room for us to improve? I believe that combining personal and team goals helps us find areas we can improve on as individuals, and as a team.

The Main Lesson I’ve learned About Personal Development

Growth is something that is vitally important as a person and a professional. Whether you are looking to improve upon a skill or learn more about a topic that you’re passionate about, pursuing a passion can have tremendous benefits to your personal life and your work life.

While it’s important to track your development and measure your progress, it’s also important to measure how this personal development affects your productivity both in and out of the scope of your main role.

Pursing a passion can have tremendous benefits to your personal life and your work life - Mick Mahady, Personal Development Open Buffer

Over to You

I’m really excited to see how this journey of self-development shapes our team and the support we give to our wonderful customers! I’d love to hear from you about this, too!

  • What’s your experience with personal development? Have you ever overdone it?
  • How do you set personal goals to help you stay on track?
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