This post has been updated since its original publication.
Like many in the professional services world, I spent the first week of 2021 re-acclimating to work following an extended holiday break. Though unexpected events here in the U.S. caused many of us to hit pause on some of our plans, it’s not too late to start the year off on the right foot. Despite the uncertainty of these times, we would be wise to give some attention to what matters most for us right now, even if that attention is gentle.
After the monster year that was 2020, I actually felt my brain click off as I shut my laptop down to end my last work day. How I needed that pause! As the year wound down, I turned my attention inward to consider what I had learned, what I most appreciated despite the challenges, and the many delightful people, experiences, places, hobbies and things that brought me real joy—and were perhaps made even more precious for their appearance in an otherwise really hard time. A silver lining of the pandemic experience has been a refreshed appreciation for the role gratitude plays in a fulfilling life.
Naturally, I also began to think about 2021 and how I hope to shape the year. I’ve long been anti-New Year’s resolution, but I do take a pause at several key moments during a calendar year to take stock, clarify my intentions and adjust my goals and plans. (Quarterly is great way to do this, but I tend to hit three times a year—January, May, September.)
For those who are die-hard New Year’s goal-setters and resolution-makers, I am rooting for you! By the time you’re reading this you’re already several days into your plan, and I hope it’s going well. If you still have room for some tweaks, I am a big fan of the resources shared here and here.
But if you’re like me and dipping your toes in more gingerly after a trying year, here are some things to consider.
Keep doing what’s already working.
I’m certain you have many habits that are already working for you professionally and personally. Take a little time to note what those are. It’s possible that you don’t need to make new plans for this year, but rather stay the course you’re already on!
I like to use the four dimensions of energy management inspired by the Energy Project—physical, mental, emotional, and social/spiritual—to evaluate my own habits and rituals. Other frameworks include work, home, self and service. Experiment with the categories you find most useful.
Embrace small victories.
I’m a big fan of lowering a bar down to a height you’re all but guaranteed to step over successfully. What micro actions might you take that help you make progress on one of your plans? How might you reclaim small increments of time to accomplish little wins? Write a list of actions you could take if you had five minutes, 15 minutes and 25 minutes. See if they track with existing good habits you might build upon. These tweaks could be ones you make to your work life or your home life. Making even small progress on a personal goal (even one that isn’t job-related!) is correlated with greater happiness at work.
I am constantly astonished by what meaningful activities can be fit into 15 minutes or less—things like talking a walk, meditating, learning something new, talking with an uplifting friend, corresponding with one’s network, taking a brief nap, reading a chapter in a book, fitting in part of a workout, etc.
Take control of your calendar.
I often lament that I don’t have time for some of the people or activities that restore my energy, but a quick review of my iPhone screen habits tells a different story. Where might you re-redirect some of your time to the things that will make your January even brighter? Schedule blocks of time on your calendar to carve out time for the important, rather than letting the urgent dictate your day and week.
Shrink time horizons.
If 2020 taught me anything, it was to think more near-term. The year as a whole is too big a frame of reference for me. I’m currently considering how I’d like to use the month of January, and perhaps make some inroads through March. Consider the time frame that works for you, and note in your diary when you’d next like to refresh your thinking on goals and habits.
Beware of drift.
I’ve had so many conversations already this week about skipping this whole New Year goal-setting process altogether. I get it! You are the architect of your own experience. I do invite you to make just one plan in that case—a plan to avoid drift. Make a note in your calendar in a few months to check back in and see if you feel the same way.
If 2021 has proven anything so far, it’s that we’ll need to continue holding on to what’s important in the face of challenging circumstances. I hope for the best as you work to make this a healthy, positive time.