As the new year begins I find it’s a good time to reflect and plan. I make an effort to carve out time to look back on the current year, and look forward to the year ahead. It helps me to mentally put a frame around my body of work for the year, with a beginning and an end. It prevents my work, and professional development, from becoming a blur. By reviewing and closing things out I take the time to acknowledge my accomplishments and analyze any missteps.
You might be wondering if this planning and reflection process is redundant to the goals I set in my annual performance review with my manager. It is not.
Here’s why. Every organization has a different performance measurement system. Some good, some not so good, just like the managers who are responsible for managing those systems.
If your annual goals only consist of the things your manager and performance management system allow for, you might be missing opportunities to improve you and the things you are passionate about. And this passion thing is pretty important for your overall happiness. It also leads to professional success.
Two categories of goals
The goals I set fall into two categories:
- Professional development (developing my skills)
- Passion projects (improving my workplace in areas I feel are important)
Professional development is key to developing your skills to be more effective in your current job, as well as the skills that may be important in your next job. For example, one year I wanted to improve my negotiating skills. I had recently been part of a negotiation led by my boss and was impressed by his ability to come to an agreement on terms of an important contract. I realized that if I wanted to advance in my career I would need to improve in this area. I attended an online course and was mentored by two people in my professional network who were skilled negotiators. My boss also provided insight and coaching.
Passion projects are things you work on that make a difference in your workplace, but don’t always garner much attention until complete. Think about things you would like to see improved in your organization and list those that you think you can achieve. For example, I once worked for a company where one executive routinely failed to communicate with her own team and with other executives. It led to communication breakdown, frustration and inefficiency. I set a goal to improve communication and achieved it by holding meetings in which department heads met directly with one another to share information thereby disrupting the top-down communication blockade that had previously existed. It wasn’t difficult but it made a big impact.
My goal setting process
My system is simple and can be done over the course of a few hours, preferably spread out over a couple of days. All you really need is a pen, notepad and some time to yourself.
- Schedule time. Finding uninterrupted time is probably the hardest part. Consider coming into the office an hour early, taking yourself out to lunch or scheduling a date with your notepad to have coffee. Time to think is the key.
- Two pieces of paper. On the first piece of paper write “Professional Development” and on the second piece write “Passion Projects.” Write this down the old school way—with a pen—not on a device.
- Think and write. Go to the “scheduled meeting with yourself” and make a list of the skills you want to develop in the coming year and the passion projects you want to accomplish. Two or three in each category is good, more than that and you’re likely to overwhelm yourself. In addition to writing your goals, also write down why you want to achieve each one, the action steps necessary to complete them, and a target date for reaching each. Put your work papers in a file titled with the year.
- Schedule quarterly reviews. At the end of each quarter schedule time to review your goals. What have you completed, what is in progress, what needs attention? I repeat, have this meeting with your file where you will not be uninterrupted by the business of the office.
- Year-end review. This is especially important for those of us who spend most of our time looking forward, actively pursuing the things that need to happen next. If we fail to look back we miss the opportunity to appreciate what we have achieved and learn from any mistakes. It is this closing of the loop that is so critical to the entire process – which begins again at this point with setting new goals.
Retain your files as the years progress. It is valuable to look back to see how you’ve advanced. This system, coupled with the two types of goals, establish opportunities for you to improve your skills and improve your workplace. Both will serve you well and are the types of practices that lead to career success.
So as the year comes to a close, take some time to reflect on what you want for the year ahead and then take the steps to get there. You, after all, are the only one who can.
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