With 2019 just around the corner, it’s tempting to wait until the beginning of the new year to start afresh with ambitious plans to make your career or office more productive.
Business experts agree, however, that if you want to set off on the right foot in 2019, the time to begin is now, and not under grey January skies.
A focus on forward-planning in December is the first piece of advice that Karen Skidmore, a Surrey-based business growth consultant, offers clients who want to spring clean their company in the new year.
Don’t wait until January
“Don’t leave it until you get spat out at the end [of the holiday season], hungover, overweight, with a mince pie head, trying to plan your year – because, frankly, January in the UK is just not a great place to be forward-thinking about your business,” she said.
“Do it now. The first thing to do is to realise that we are on the fast track of being sucked into Christmas and it’s really easy to allow everyone to have a piece of you in the last few weeks of the year.”
Instead, Skidmore suggests resisting social pressure and temptation and postponing some events until January to avoid becoming overwhelmed at work during the festive period.
“There is so much that doesn’t need to be done just because there is this overwhelming deadline of Christmas,” she pointed out.
“The first thing to recognise is actually how many things you are saying yes to that you could say no to because you need to have that space to reflect on this year before you start on next year.”
Create space and assess your past year
When you have created that space, you then have time to assess your past year and plan ahead for the next 12 months.
“First of all, look back on what’s happened this year. It’s very easy with planning to go straight into ‘what do I need to do next?’” said Skidmore.
“And actually the really important first bit of the planning that a lot of people forget to do is a review of what actually worked this year,” she added.
“Go right back to January, not just the last couple of months. Go right back over the year, the peaks and the troughs. What worked? What didn’t? And give yourself some rules for 2019. What are you going to stop doing? What are you going to start doing? And what are you going to do more of?” Skidmore advised.
Only by reflecting across those categories can you map out a path forward.
Long term goals
When it comes to setting your new goals, Skidmore stands by the motto: “Think long term to know what to do short term.”
This means thinking across the next 12 months. “That’s what’s going to help you decide what you’re going to do for January, February, March, otherwise it just becomes short term knee-jerk reactions,” she said.
To keep a sense of perspective about resolutions and ambitions, Skidmore employs another favourite slogan.
“There’s a lovely phrase that I like to use a lot which is ‘we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can achieve in a year’,” she said.
“When people worry about being realistic, it’s about being realistic in what you can achieve from day to day, but don’t let that stop from recognising what you could achieve in 12 months. That’s where a lot of people pull themselves back and think it’s too much.”
Get the right support system
Combining your own personal reflection with the accountability that comes from group activities can also work well, suggested Skidmore.
Appointing a work buddy or forming a small group to help you stick to your timeline and goals is an effective strategy, as can brainstorming.
However, there’s a caveat about deciding your goals within a group.
“Make sure you brainstorm with what I call unsafe people. If you brainstorm with safe people they’ll say ‘really, are you sure? I don’t think you can manage that’,” she warned.
“It’s the people who are quite safe who will pull you back but if you brainstorm with unsafe people, the people who are not afraid to challenge you, to ask you the questions, to say is that really a good idea in a way to get you to think about the pros and the cons, that is much more helpful.”
Think long term to know what to do short term
The bottom line, stresses Skidmore, is that people need to spend “far more time” on evaluating and setting goals than they think, and not just at the end of every year.
“If we don’t have at least half a day every week in that planning mode then that’s when you just get on the treadmill,” she said.
“Annual planning – that might be when you take yourself out for a whole day, maybe even two days as a business and that’s what scares people about planning because they think they haven’t got time,” she argued.
“But actually, if you don’t create that time, that’s when you’ll end up next year wondering why have we not gone forward?”
Gratitude equals happiness
Shweta Jhajharia, of London business coaching firm ActionCOACH, regularly gives talks on how to prepare for the year, and is currently gearing up for her next session.
In a previous talk to business executives, provided by her office, Jhajharia, like Skidmore, urged her audience to take a “golden moment” of reflection about the past year’s achievements, what went well and what could have gone better.
Above all, be grateful, she said. “It’s people who have gratitude who are really happy.”
When it comes to planning ahead, the first principle is to “think big” but it’s also important to take “baby steps” to reach your New Year goals, she advised.
“Life is too short. Dare to ask big questions, which give you shivers. It should make you feel like that. Write it down..Be what you can be. There is huge potential in each one of us,” she said.
Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed
But, cautioned Jhajharia, most people fail in their goals when they overwhelm themselves and their capacity for willpower.
Recognising this and training yourself to gradually build up to your aims slowly is the first step to success.
“Not thinking of changing old habits but identifying new habits, which are like baby steps. When you start winning your brain is getting the message that I’m very serious about this,” she said.
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.