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Resolutions That Work: Eleven Tips for a Fresh Start in the New Year

At the end of December every year, we all hear the siren call of the New Year’s resolution: Exercise more, eat less, save money, lose weight, call your mother.

These resolutions make frequent appearances on everyone’s annual do-better list. But people often forget to make work-related resolutions, which is odd, considering how much time we spend at work and how important careers are in our lives. This is the perfect time to remember that New Year’s resolutions are not just for your personal life; you can and should set goals for your professional life, too.

Here are 11 tips to help you get a fresh start professionally in the New Year (and by the way, these tips work for making and establishing personal goals, too):

  1. Be as specific as possible. Vague, pie-in-the-sky goals don’t work and won’t help you stay motivated.  For example, “I want to be a more productive worker” is an admirable goal, but it may not provide the kick you need when the going gets tough. Think tangible and measurable, like, “I want to earn a 3 percent merit raise at my next performance review” or “I want to master PowerPoint and Excel” or “I want a promotion to vice president of marketing.” Lofty goals don’t work. Resolutions have to be specific to be achievable.
  1. Establish a game plan. Once you’ve set a specific goal then you can develop a game plan for achieving it. For example, if you want a promotion, what do you need to do to get that job? Are there new skills you need to master? Another degree? Classes you should take? If your goal is to network more, what are the tangible ways you will do it? If you want to master a new skill, where and when will you take classes? Do your research and establish a game plan.
  1. Put it on the schedule. Don’t assume wanting to establish a new work habit is enough. Schedule time to practice the habit. For example, if keeping your inbox empty is your resolution, then put a recurring 30-minute appointment on your calendar to process messages in your inbox.
  1. Pace yourself and start small. You’re likely to achieve more success if you incorporate one new work habit at a time. So if getting to the office by 7:30 a.m., never eating lunch alone, and clearing your inbox every day are your three work resolutions, choose one to master before you start with the second and then the third.
  1. Measure your progress. Some of us are motivated by measurable progress. If that’s you, then make sure you quantify the impact of implementing your resolution. How many more business opportunities have you identified by making sure that you never eat lunch alone? How many more actions are you able to complete each day now that you get to the office early? How many more days a week do you leave work feeling satisfied now that you made sure your email inbox is empty each day? Knowing that your resolution is working will motivate you to stick with it. If it’s not working, then maybe you need to modify the resolution or ask for help.
  1. Make it a game. Resolutions require effort, but that doesn’t mean it has to feel like work. Gameify your resolutions. Develop some simple rules about implementing your resolution and identify a feedback system—i.e., a way to keep score. For example, measure how long it takes you to process your inbox. Track total minutes, total items, and items per minute. Post your high scores on a Post-it next on your desk.
  1. Every beginning starts with an ending. Remember that there was at least one really good reason why you weren’t practicing this new work habit before you made the resolution. Somehow, eating lunch alone most days was serving you. Maybe it was preserving your status as a free agent who was above office politics. Or maybe it was a way to conserve your pride by avoiding being rejected for a lunch date. Knowing the good reason why you weren’t practicing your desired work habit may help you avoid sabotaging yourself.
  1. Expect setbacks and plan for them. It’s likely that you’ll mess up. You’ll oversleep and get to work 45 minutes later than you planned. Don’t let setbacks derail you. Expect them and plan for them. For example, give yourself two do-overs a month to cover any backsliding or mishaps. If you don’t use your do-overs in any particular month, then you can give yourself an appropriate reward.
  1. Use an accountability system. Publically declaring your resolution and your progress implementing it can be a powerful motivator. Find an accountability buddy with whom you can share your success. Tweet your progress to your followers. Use social media to your advantage. Consider using an app like Lift to keep you on track. (https://lift.do)
  1. Be your own cheerleader. Break out your pom-poms and self-talk your way to success. Leave a new motivational Post-it note by your computer when you leave the office on Fridays so that it encourages you when you get to your desk on Monday. Use your computer screensaver or calendar appointment reminder function to give yourself periodic boosts.
  1. Give yourself time. Remember, it takes time to form a new habit or learn something new. Some experts say it takes 21 days to form (or break) a habit, some say it takes 30. Whatever the case, make sure you give each new work habit enough time to truly become a part of your regular routine. And decide at the start how you’ll know when you’ve sufficiently mastered the new habit and can rest on your laurels or incorporate additional habits into your work life.

One last thing: have fun. Even though establishing a new work habit will require effort, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyable. In fact, if you’re not enjoying the habit or the outcomes it produces, that may be the sign that you’ve gotten off track or need to adjust your goal.

Feel free to share what other tips you’ve seen or used to incorporate new work habits. We’d love to hear them. Happy New Year everyone! And good luck!


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