Now that the new year is here, this is an ideal time to think deeply about what you want to achieve, both personally and professionally, in the coming months. While many people develop resolutions at the end of December or in early January, I find it’s better to wait a couple of weeks. It provides time to get through the flurry of activity that often accompanies the first days back to work, and to reflect more fully on the year that was and what could lie ahead. In December, I shared my suggestions to reflect on the year past, which if you haven’t yet done, there is still time to do. If you already completed your reflection, take a few moments to review what you wrote and think about it in context of what you would like to accomplish and experience in the year ahead.
There has been much written about the challenges of the traditional list of new year’s resolutions. They’re often too long, too ambitious, or so aspirational or vague that they don’t provide you with a tangible place to start. Nor do they allow us to make the incremental progress that provides the motivation to persist when we hit a roadblock. So, just as I did in December, I offer you a series of questions to help you think about what you would like to accomplish and experience in the year ahead. As with the “Closing out the Year” list, you can tackle these all at once, or give yourself some time to think about them over the course of a few days. Pick whatever works best for you. One thing I do suggest is to write them down. Make your responses a part of whatever system you use to organize your life so that you can reference them at regular points throughout the year.
1. What are two significant things - one in your professional life and one in your personal life - you would like to accomplish this year?
I’ve purposefully limited this to two. If you begin the year with a list of 15 things to accomplish, it can become very difficult to stay focused and make meaningful progress. Instead, pick two things that will make a meaningful difference in your work and life, and which when completed, will give you a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It might be helpful to state your goal with some future visioning; for example, “By November, I will have restructured my group into agile cross-functional teams.” Or, “By December, I will have successfully joined the board of a nonprofit that supports a cause I want to support.”
2. What two relationships - again, one personal and one professional - would you like to improve this year?
Think about a couple of relationships, which if improved, would have a major positive impact on your well-being and contribute to your success in the coming year. Again, stating your intention from a future perspective is often helpful in clarifying what success would look like. For example, “By June, I will have dramatically improved my relationship with the head of sales by meeting regularly with her to improve how our teams collaborate.”
3. What have I been ignoring that I don’t want to ignore any longer in 2021?
We all have some persistent issue or challenge that we know needs to be addressed but is easy to ignore or push to the side. Yet, we are well aware that it has the potential to become a major challenge or risk if left unattended. What is this for you? These could range from the seemingly mundane (our weekly team meeting is starting to feel repetitive and not very helpful) to something that could have serious long-term repercussions (the blood work from my annual physical showed that my cholesterol levels are persistently high, and I have a family history of heart disease). What are some initial steps that you can take to get started on addressing the issue? Notice that I’m not suggesting that you create a comprehensive plan to address it. It’s often helpful just to begin with identifying the issue. Consciously recognizing the challenge is an important place to start. Allow yourself some space to reflect on it. Instead of feeling like you need a complicated plan to address it, pick one thing you can do to make some progress. This might include asking someone for help. Don’t hesitate to do so. Be open to letting the path forward emerge as you take smaller actions to revolve whatever the challenge is.
4. What habits or routines will serve as your “anchor points” in 2021?
In our December article, I asked you which habits and routines served you best in 2020. Look back at that list and think about what you will carry forward into 2021, and which you will need to change. Having a couple of very trusted routines can be an effective way to ground yourself in an environment of uncertainty and disruption. Whatever you choose, make sure that they are simple enough for you to stick with over the long term. For some people, this might include blocking out time each week devoted to planning out the week ahead. For others, it might be dedicating 15 minutes every night to read before bed. Again, you’re looking for something that can become a trusted part of your routine.
5. What do you want to do for yourself in 2021?
If there’s one thing that seems to be common across all of our clients at AEI, regardless of profession, it’s that they spend huge amounts of time and energy doing things for other people. When we meet with clients who are stressed or depleted, we often find that so much of their focus is on others that they have no time for themselves.
There is a solution. Follow the advice heard during those airline safety briefings, “Put on your own mask before helping others around you”. Clearly, dedicating time to your family and friends, your team, and organization is very important. Our most meaningful accomplishments often come from the work that we do in service to others. Yet, you still need to preserve and strengthen yourself, both to do good work, and to ultimately be happy. Ask yourself, what are one or two things that you can commit to doing for yourself this year? These could be as simple as committing to take a 20-minute walk before starting work each morning. Or, taking up a hobby or playing a sport that you used to enjoy regularly. Maybe it includes refocusing on your spirituality. Whatever it is, realistically incorporate it into your personal routine. The goal is to make it consistent and sustainable.
With the new year upon us, this is the time to look ahead. To embrace optimism for the person you can become, both professionally and personally. Use the steps above to think deeply about who that person is and set realistic goals. As always, enjoy the journey.
Bob Biglin is CEO of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm that works with senior leaders to enhance their leadership capability and build thriving, sustainable organizations.