Making the new year your best year yet can have a lot to do with keeping your New Year's resolutions.
Career-related New Year's resolutions are fairly common. According to a 2015 survey by Accountemps, 68 percent of professionals report that they have made resolutions that would further their career, like getting a new job, asking for a raise, or developing critical skills. Furthermore, a recent survey by TopResume found that 65 percent of professionals say that getting a new job is amongst their top New Year's resolutions. However, less than half know how they'll accomplish that goal. As we approach the end of the year, I recommend looking back before you look ahead. Did you make any career resolutions last year? If so, did you follow through on them? Why or why not?
Many professionals begin the year with great aspirations that ultimately collapse under the weight of work obligations, stress, and tiny choices that add up to stalled progress towards their goals. If you find yourself in that boat, make sure you're working towards the correct career goal in the first place. All too often, our goals are defined by other people's expectations or a drive to prove someone wrong. If you're sure that the goal is a true reflection of your own desires, here are 10 tips on how to actually keep your New Year's career resolutions:
1. Get clarity on your career goals
What will it be like to accomplish your goal, whether in terms of promotion, a new career opportunity, or an advanced degree? How will your daily life be different? What will you do, who will you interact with, and how will you grow?
Getting very specific on why the goal is important and how it will affect your life is key for tapping into the drive that wills you past inevitable obstacles and failures. In my experience, the main reason why professionals don't achieve their career goals is because those goals are not all that clear or important in the first place. If you are to invest time, energy, and heart into an accomplishment, make it count.
2. Set yourself up for success
This may sound like a simple way to keep your New Year's resolution, but building a strong foundation for your career development matters a great deal. Be sure that you always have an up-to-date resume and keep your LinkedIn profile alive and active. Even if you are not in job-search mode, being present to your accomplishments, skills, and professional image will do wonders for your confidence.
3. Commit to developing your networking connections
Your career potential is determined in large part by your professional network. No matter what your career-related New Year's resolutions are, commit to attending events and making time for people. You don't have to be at every mixer. Instead, choose just a few opportunities to reconnect with old colleagues or meet new people. Bonus tip: Get those events on your calendar for a greater chance of sticking with the plan!
4. Invest in yourself
Whether or not your job requires continued professional education, your ability to grow in your role is driven by exposure to new ideas. If you have to get CE credits to maintain a professional license, take charge of the educational opportunities and shape them to deliver the most value. Many employers will cover the cost of seminars and online learning events if you can demonstrate the value.
5. Do deep work
Has a professional goal been on your radar for a long time, and you just don't seem to be making any progress on it? It may be time for deep work. The concept, introduced in Cal Newport's book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, is to carve out a meaningful stretch of time to work on what's most important. Fifteen minutes here and there do not equal a dedicated hour (or three) in its ability to move you in the right direction and inspire more effort.
If your mental dialogue pipes in to suggest that you don't have an hour to dedicate to your goal, I challenge you to think again. Everyone has the exact same 24 hours in a day. The opportunity hides in how you use those hours.
Here is a quick test to tell whether or not you have time to spare: If you watch any television shows or have one social media account, you have the time to make progress on your goal. You are just choosing to spend it on entertainment instead. Hold yourself to a higher standard when it comes to time because it's the most limited commodity you have.
You might try tracking everything you do over the course of a few days. I have found that a time-use diary over the course of two to three days is a great way to cut out time wasters and identify downtime that could be used more productively.
6. Do small things because they are big things
In other words, make your bed and clean your desk. Accomplishment and structure in small tasks will inevitably give you the dopamine boost to do the next thing. If my opinion does not convince you, listen to this commencement speech by the Navy SEAL commander Admiral William H. McRaven.
7. Manage your mental game
Most career-related resolutions take a long time to accomplish. That means that you must treat yourself as a corporate athlete running a marathon. Pay attention to your stress levels (tools like Spire that track breathing patterns and offer real-time feedback might help). Don't overlook the importance of nutrition, exercise, and rest in how they shape your body and brain chemistry. You may try a practice like meditation or journaling, where you take just a few minutes to focus on what would make a day great.
8. Get support
Nobody achieves great accomplishments on his or her own. While individual effort and resilience are key, don't overlook the importance of your support network. From family members to friends, mentors, coaches, and even public figures that you don't personally know, look for your sources of inspiration and motivation.
9. Create an accountability system
A professional commitment shared with a community can be a powerful engine for action. Choose a trusted person in your personal or professional network who will check in with you periodically to see how you are progressing, offer encouragement, and help you brainstorm ways around obstacles.
10. Strive for progress, not perfection
Something that I have learned from Tim Ferriss is the idea that striving for the perfect outcome can actually derail your efforts in the long run. Instead, you might try to frame your goal in terms of the knowledge you will acquire along the way, people you will meet, and experiences you will gather. In other words, set up your path to be successful, regardless of whether or not you reach your goal.
For example, let's say you want to be promoted to manager this year. On your way to that goal, you may choose to volunteer for leading projects, take charge of specific client relationships, or begin to play a more active role in coaching and mentoring the people around you. If you do those things consistently during the year, you will have learned new skills, met new people, and built deeper relationships — any one of the three is a big win on its own merits. The promotion is just icing on the cake.
No matter what your track record with New Year's resolutions is, remember that you can create a different outcome by making a commitment to the goal that matters and using these ideas to create a framework for progress and success. With the right focus, tools, and support, you can keep your New Year's resolutions and make this new year the best year yet!
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