Although December 31st and January 1st are separated by the same 24 hours that divide every day, American culture tells us that this particular moment in time is significant. The beginning of a new year is considered by many to be a time for new beginnings, a fresh start. This time also marks the ending of a year which gives us an opportunity for reflection and introspection. In order to set yourself on a more intentional path this next year, you must start by understanding where you’ve been and where you want to go. The following activities will lead you through a process of reflection, visioning, and preparing, so you can enter the new year ready to rock, however that looks for you.
1: REFLECT ON THE PAST YEAR
Flip through your calendar month by month and think back to how you spent your time, what you accomplished, and how you behaved. What are you really proud of? How did you grow and what did you learn about yourself? What do you want to do differently this next year? If you’re feeling up for it, ask friends and colleagues to reflect on you as well. What do they see as your strengths? How have they seen you grow this past year? What do they hope to see you improve on next year?
At my company, Meeteor, we encourage everyone to reflect on his or her achievements individually and invite feedback from others. This is part of our annual review process. Here is the template we use that becomes the basis for conversation with your manager.
2: IMAGINE YOUR FUTURE
Do a brain dump of everything you want to achieve this coming year. This can be personally, professionally, or in any other capacity. Think big and small. What goals do you want to accomplish? Do you want to get a new job, learn to plan an instrument, or get your retirement account in order? What habits do you want to improve on? Do you want to cultivate greater patience for your kids or live a healthier lifestyle? For each goal, describe what success looks like so you have a clear vision to work towards.
3: PRIORITIZE YOUR GOALS
You’ll likely want to do more than you can realistically manage. Figuring out how to prioritize isn’t always easy. It helps to establish criteria by which you’ll evaluate each goal. Personally, one of my criteria this year is to limit my goals to one for my professional life, one for my family life, and one for myself.
Of everything you listed during the imagine step, what are your highest priorities? Use your criteria to help you decide which goals to focus on. Recognize that some goals will need to be saved for the following year or farther in the future. Hold onto these for now since we’ll revisit them.
4: MAKE A PLAN
I often find that the hardest part of accomplishing a big goal is figuring out the steps to get me there. Start by setting discrete milestones. What are the mini-accomplishments that will signal you’re making progress? What marks the culmination of a phase of work? Assign a “due month” or deadline to your milestones to help hold yourself accountable.
Next, break down the milestones into action steps. What tasks will you do to accomplish a milestone? Be as granular as you need to in order feel prepared to move forward. Now remember those goals that didn’t make your top priorities? Consider if there are one or two steps you can take this year that will help move you down the right path, even if you won’t complete the goal.
5: IDENTIFY WHAT MIGHT GET IN THE WAY
Let’s be honest. We know that even with a plan, we’re likely to go off track. Take this time to identify fears or concerns about your ability to achieve your goals within the timeframe you set. Determine what skills you might need to develop, concepts you might need to learn, and resources you might need to acquire in order to successfully follow your plan.
There may also be other factors that get in the way of your success. Does your plan depend on other people, or are other people depending on you? Do you have resource constraints or existing commitments? List these too.
6: REVISE YOUR PLAN TO INCLUDE SUPPORT
What might you do to minimize the roadblocks you identified? Consider various resources like reading a book, taking a class, finding a mentor/advisor, using an app, finding an accountability partner, etc. Modify your plan to include actions that will help you get the support you need in order to be successful. Here is another opportunity to ask friends or colleagues to enhance your plan.
7: PUT YOUR GOOD THINKING TO WORK
Whether you use your calendar, a task list or other self-management tool, transfer your plan to a place where it will be visible. I prefer to put milestones on my calendar and actions in my to-do list. Then, block an hour on your calendar at the beginning of each week or month to update your plan. Use this time to take stock of what you’ve accomplished so far and modify the plan accordingly. Commit to completing specific tasks prior to your next planning update to keep you on track towards achieving your goals.
NO PLAN IS PERFECT, BUT ANY PLAN IS BETTER THAN NO PLAN
A solid reflecting, visioning, and planning process can take a few hours. If you don’t have that much time or patience, don’t worry and don’t walk away entirely. Even spending a few minutes on each step will be illuminating and help you enter this next year with greater purpose and focus.
Optimize your time. Cultivate your team. Achieve your goals.
How do you reflect on the past year and plan for the next? Leave a comment below and share suggestions for practices that help you enter the new year with clarity, or tweet at me @mamieks.
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