The new year has kicked off – and I know we’re all happy to rid ourselves of 2020. But the clock striking midnight on January 1st, as beautiful as that moment felt, doesn’t bring much more than a new year. While I wish it were otherwise, a new you – with a perfectly Marie Kondo’d home, a body built by at-home Peloton workouts, and a commendation from the dean for your transcript full of A’s – doesn’t automatically emerge from the molted skin of the old you.
NEW YEAR, NEW YOU? SURE, IF YOU LET IT BE
It may surprise people, but I hate resolutions. I’ve never believed in them and have no plans to start. I prefer setting out my priorities and executing on them through clear, simple projects that can be routinized into my life. “Simple” and “routinized” are very important words. I’ve read the books and posts by all of your favorite gurus: Stephen Covey, Tim Robbins, and the list goes on. You can only spend so long consuming someone else’s content. Before long, you’re just making plans; you plan for planning’s sake and get nothing done. You have to make the commitment and then do the work.
I personally need a simple process that will take me just an hour or two at the start of the year that can be easily built into my life. From there, I can check in on my plan regularly and quickly, even when my schedule and my many commitments catch up with my future self.
INTENTIONALITY, EVEN WHEN RELAXING
If you’ve read my earlier pieces, hopefully a theme is emerging: Be intentional about what you do. Intentionality is just as important in how you relax as it is when you’re struggling to make it through a challenging semester. And I like to take some of that intentionality in my relaxation time to reflect on what’s important to me and what I’m working toward.
I’m going to share my process for how I reset at the beginning of a new year. The steps change a bit each year based on where I am, what I need, and how much time I can devote to the process. As long as I make a bit of time, I consider this a win in the pursuit of setting myself up for success.
So in much the same way that we set out on a plan for how we wanted to start our MBA, we can use this reset button that is a new year to refresh ourselves and prepare for the next semester of our MBAs.
THE PLANNING PROCESS…
STEP 1: REVIEW THE PAST YEAR
The first step is not to jump into planning the future, but rather reflect on the last year. Answer the following questions:
1) What went well?
2) What didn’t go well?
3) How did you do on your goals from last year?
I like to do this while swiping through my calendar for each month to make sure I don’t forget about anything.
The annual review step is important for three reasons:
A) Self-awareness is something we can always work on improving. Reflecting on yourself in a constructive way helps to refine that skill for your personal and professional benefit.
B) Secondly, as Peter Drucker wrote, “What gets measured gets managed.” As MBAs, we are taught that you measure success by seeing your progress relative to key performance indicators (KPIs) that you set. The goals you set in the past are the KPIs that help you objectively determine if you could call last year a success and form a basis for any changes you make for this year.
C) Finally, your first year as an MBA is spent drinking from the proverbial firehose. With so much going on at once, it’s hard to take a step back and see all you’ve accomplished. More often than not, you are just living in the moment and thinking about everything that you haven’t been able to get done to that point. Taking this time to be intentional about thinking back on your year allows you realize that you did a lot and you deserve to recognize yourself for that.
STEP 2: BRAINDUMP
This past semester, I was a teaching fellow for a communications class. On the first day of class, the professor led the students through a mind-clearing exercise. She set a timer for 5 minutes and everyone wrote down everything that was on their mind on a blank piece of paper. The goal was to release all of the thoughts swirling around in our heads and focus on what we wanted to accomplish in that class, which was becoming effective communicators.
This validated what I’d been doing for years, which is called a braindump. Sometimes, there are so many things in your head that you can’t think clearly. Getting them on paper might allow you to see that there might not be as much on your plate as you think and that many of those things are outside of your control and should be delegated accordingly.
Once you’re done reflecting on the last year, you want to eliminate all of the distractions in your mind so you can focus in on goal setting for the next year. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down everything on your mind onto a piece of paper.
STEP 3: DEFINE YOUR MAJOR PRIORITIES AND SET 1-3 GOALS AGAINST EACH OF THEM
In my first year as an MBA, I had four priorities: personal, student, professional, and financial health. Three is a magical number, from religious texts, to writing, to home design. And so many experts say don’t go beyond three. Let’s say I cheated by having four categories, but try to stick to three to avoid overwhelm.
From there, you set goals with respect to each priority. Goals are important because they become the metric by which you can define success. Remember those KPIs I mentioned earlier? This is where you set them.
Here are some ideas for priorities or buckets in your life: Yourself (Yes, you are important!), significant other, school, career, family, friends, financial health, health and fitness, emotional well-being, and spirituality. Use these dimensions as a guide to think about what your priorities are. Then when setting goals remember to make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound. The SMART framework is what truly makes your goals measurable and, thus, lagging indicators of your future success!