Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Make the new year a new year

Happy New Year! How easily it rolls off the tongue. But will this year be really new, or just a re-run of previous ones?

You've probably heard it said that 20 years' experience could really be one year's experience, twenty times over. That could be true for some people, but not for you, right?

But what are you really doing to make this new year new? How much of what you do this year will just be a continuation from last year? You return from the holiday break to find the same problems, only they are more pressing now because the the time not spent in the office. It can seem like the only solution is to keep slogging at it.

How different the world of work is from the world of school. Particularly living as I do in Australia, the New Year really was a new year. The school (or Uni) year finished in November or December, and recommenced at some time between late January and early March. The new year brought with it new classes, new teachers, new books and stationery, sometimes even a new school. The new year always heralded a new beginning. Then I started working as a lawyer, and one year began to merge into another. The "school year" became a "work life" - just a continuous thread of pressing challenges.

When there is no natural break in your work, you need to create one in order to review where your work is taking you, and where you want to take it. Do you set your own goals, or simply let your employer set them for you? What are you planning to read this year? What courses are you planning to take? What skills do you want to improve? How many articles will you write, and on what topics? What do you want to be known for, and how are you going to achieve this?

Here are some tips which have helped me make each year different from the last:

1. Set aside time early in the new year to think about what you want to achieve in the coming year. If you can't face this on New Year's Day, then do it the day after.

2. Write a list of all the things you achieved last year. Go through your diary to refresh your memory. Seeing your achievements in writing will provide encouragement and build motivation to achieve more this year.

3. If you struggle to list a page of achievements, think seriously about whether you are in the right line of work. Humans need a sense of achievement to feel good about themselves. If your work is simply about earning an income, you might want to think about whether that will be satifying enough the longer term. Or think more deeply about the value you provide to your clients or employer, and reconceptualize the way you see your work.

4. Make a mindmap (diagram) setting out and linking visually all the things you want to work on this year. Tape it to the wall where you can see it, and check them off as you achieve them.

5. Make a list of all the things you have to look forward to in the coming year. These help to sustain you whilst you do the work.

6. Whilst you are feeling energetic and enthusiastic, enrol yourself in a course so you can learn something new or build on existing skills.

7. Collect references to books that look interesting, and order them.

8. Write down your goals - this is an old one, I know, but the act of writing does seem to clarify things and crystallize your intentions. Otherwise fleeting thoughts swim around in your mind and quickly disappear. Just half an hour of quiet time now with a notebook and pen could make all the difference by this time next year.

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