Dyment says that numerous studies show that people with clear and specific goals, written down and shared with others, consistently outperform those who claim to know what they need to do and who thus shun annual goal-setting.
He says goal-setting tends to fail when its indispensible partner—planning—goes AWOL. If you want to make 2014 an extraordinary year, you have to commit to making and sticking with plans. “If you don’t plan your week, you better believe others will for you. And, their tasks will be based on their priorities, not yours.”
Dyment, co-author with psychologist Marcus Dayhoff of Fire Your Excuses, says his own career was transformed by forcing himself to carve out small increments of time–say 15 minutes, several times a week, for what he considers to be “game-changing” projects. “Such tiny time segments have a tendency to grow into something much more substantial if they’re carefully guarded,” he says. These are the times for grand-slam tasks–those goals that, if well-executed, could significantly change your future … but are also easy to put off until you think you’ll have more time.
Of course, there are numerous ways to clear out the old and make way for the new. I asked some other smart people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with for some suggestions about new year’s strategies and disciplines. Here are a few:
Start well in advance
“I don’t wait until January hits to get a fresh start,” says Whitney Warnes, a project manager for a Los Angeles-area technology accelerator. Well before the new year’s ball drops, she’s been busy decluttering and reorganizing. “Sometimes I start the pre-work as early as September or, October before the holiday season hits.”
Disconnect (strategically) from technology
“While I want to be able to see what is going on in the life of overzealous high school friend X,” she says, “I don’t want to know about their every waking moment, so I spend time hiding feeds. Before I did this maintenance, I was thinking about disconnecting from Facebook altogether—but it feels more manageable now.”
She also advises sitting down to unsubscribe from other forms of e-clutter. “I love signing up for new e-mail newsletters, and inevitably I end up with too many pings everyday about the greatest new coupon I shouldn’t miss out on or the newest happenings in the local neighborhood.” Those pings take up brain space, and dumping them all at once can be invigorating.
Tech psychologist Larry Rosen offers more tips for smart disconnection from technology. “Turn your phone off one hour before bedtime,” he tells me. This helps prep the brain for more restful and more renewing sleep. “And when you sleep, put your phone in another room with the setting on silent.
Reconnect (strategically) with people
“This year I’m reconnecting with what I would call my loose connections and checking in,” Warnes says. And in this case, she finds technology to facilitate the process, especially a free new app, CardMunch, that helps people digitize business cards.
Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, says that reconnecting with people doesn’t mean you have to shut out tech, but it does mean you have to limit it. “If you have children,” he says, “make sure that when you are spending time with them that you are not glancing at your technology. Put your phone on silent. When you are at the dinner table at home, have everyone check their phones for a minute and then turn them off and put them away. Every 15 to 30 minutes let everyone check in for a minute only.”
He also proposes a related regimen when meeting friends or colleagues at a restaurant. The point is to allow adequate time and space for meaningful interaction, rather than being constantly divided between a real world and a virtual one.
Dial it down on the multitasking
Rosen says that, when you have a set of tasks to complete, “It’s best to work on one until it’s done before switching to another one. Make sure that you remove all communication technologies from your work area and only check in about every 15 minutes or so and then remove them again.
Understand what you can—and can’t impact
Joanne Weidman, a marital and family therapist based in Pasadena, California, suggests an exercise that involves discerning what you should realistically focus on. “Identify goals within your circle of influence and separate them from goals within your circle of concern, to use Stephen Covey’s terms, as they relate to relationships and work. “Expect from yourself progress on things within your circle of influence … and stop sweating things outside it.”