The beginning of the new year is a time to pause and think about what we would like for ourselves in the future. Many, if not most of us, at least contemplate New Year’s resolutions, if only to dismiss them as inevitably bound to fail. In fact, some of us have already resigned ourselves to failing resolutions by mid-January! We should not despair, however. Setting an intention and sticking to it, even if we sometimes have to course correct, is not only laudable, but doable. Two steps are crucial to creating lasting and meaningful change: choosing goals wisely and having a plan.
1. Make sure your goals are SMART. Yes, some goals have a higher I.Q. than others. SMART here is an acronym: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. For example, if you decide you want to want to use the morning hours when you are mentally sharpest on the projects that require the most brain power — instead of frittering away morning time responding to emails — then you will want to clearly articulate a SMART goal. Below are examples of questions to ask yourself if your goal is to utilize your morning time more productively:
Is you goal specific? Which tasks will you do during your mentally alert morning hours? For example, will you work on writing projects or data analysis? Will these be recurring tasks, or will you have to daily identify your most cognitively complex tasks and set aside 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. to work on them. Goals that are vague are bound to fail. Clarity is your friend.
If your goal measurable? How and when will you measure your success? You may decide to take notes every day at 10 a.m. to log your progress, quickly reflect on what you’ve accomplished and celebrate everyday productivity victories.
Is your goal achievable? Have you given yourself enough time or set up your environment so that you can have the necessary focus? Have you identified roadblocks, including interruptions and distractions?
Is your goal relevant? Is this goal meaningful to you and in line with your values and aspirations? Will it help you further your long-term career goals or help you leave the office earlier so that you can spend more time with family and friends? Unless it’s relevant to you, you will not be intrinsically motivated. If this is someone else’s goal for you, rather than your own, you will quickly lose steam.
Is your goal time-bound? How long will you continue this practice, and why? If you want this to be a long-term habit at work, then think about how you can make it stick.
2. A goal without a plan is wasted energy. If your goal is to use the morning hours for projects that require the most intensive thinking, then set yourself up for success. What will your morning routine look like? How will you minimize interruptions and distractions? How will you set up rewards to reinforce the behavior? Habits will make or break your plan.
You also must have a contingency plan for mistakes because you will get off track some days — you can count on it. For example, you may come into work one morning after sleeping poorly and check your email because it seems so much easier than exerting the mental energy to do the data analysis you really need to complete. How do you respond? Do you engage in negative self-talk about how you never stick to your resolutions, which only makes you feel worse that day or maybe even that week? Or do you say to yourself that you planned for days when you’re weren’t feeling well and you’ll get back on track tomorrow? Your contingency plan may be to use the time normally set aside for email to work on the project, knowing that emails can wait 24 hours, but the project has a set deadline.
You can make meaningful change in your life if you choose your goals intelligently and have a plan that allows for setbacks. If you’d like to learn more, GPS for Success offers actionable insights to help you live your best life. I wish you a happy, healthy, and abundant 2019, with resolutions successfully kept throughout the year!