Three, two, one… Happy New Year! Time to take stock of your life and set some new goals. Do your resolutions typically burn out faster than a Roman candle? With the right strategy, you can follow up your good intentions with activities that really keep the fire going.
Resolution #1: Bye-Bye, Stress!
The phone is ringing, coworkers are constantly stopping by your office, bothersome bills are waiting, and that project deadline is creeping ever closer. Hardly a surprise, then, that avoiding and reducing stress is the resolution more Germans (60%) have made than any other for 2011 according to a recent survey conducted by the health insurance provider DAK. But how can this be achieved?
First, accept the fact that interruptions are part of your daily work. If you try desperately to complete task after task without any disturbance, you’ve already lost; you should factor in time for distractions and assume that each job will take a bit longer than expected.
Be careful, however: Useful tools can also become stress traps. Endless to-do lists and overflowing appointment calendars are sometimes more hassle than help.
Meanwhile, take it easy one yourself. No one expects you to be Superman or Wonder Woman. Unrealistic demands only put you under more pressure, which in turn can cripple your performance.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
When facing a sizable task, try splitting it into smaller parts to make getting started easier. Then you can check each finished step off of your list, which is always a good feeling – the mind believes what the eye can see, after all.
To avoid reinventing the wheel, find out whether work has already been done on your subject at your company or elsewhere.
Is everyone else under even more stress and constantly asking you for help? Learn to say no! As soon as you’re back on track with your own tasks, you can start lending coworkers a hand again.
Similarly, feel free to delegate responsibility now and again. Your PowerPoint presentations are obviously second to none, but wasn’t there that intern who also likes putting them together…?
All done? Congratulations! It’s time to treat yourself to a day at the stadium with your son, an pleasant hike with friends, or a romantic weekend for two at a spa hotel. Taking breaks promotes your creativity, and changing things up clears your head for new tasks.
Next page: I’m out of here…
Resolution #2: I’m Out of Here…
Coming in second in the aforementioned DAK survey was the desire to work less overtime. Around 56% of Germans want more time for family and friends in 2011, and 49% are seeking more time for themselves. If this also sounds like you, read on for tips on improving how you manage your time.
The first step is small, but effective: Clean up your desk. While one might charitably call your clutter of coffee cups, crumbs, and files “creative,” external order is an important part of achieving inner tranquility. A structured workspace saves time searching and projects a professional image.
Since managing your time and showing up too late don’t exactly go hand in hand, punctuality is the word in 2011. For example, if you put in two hours of solid work in the morning – before you start reading through your e-mail! – you’ll already have tackled a good portion of your daily workload.
Find your center
Why not use your lunch break now and then? While your coworkers are at the cafeteria, you can stay behind and have a little time for yourself. And don’t forget about other breaks; recharging your batteries regularly is the only way to work efficiently and keep those creative thoughts coming.
Appointments are a good reason to leave the office on time. Having a 7:00 p.m. course at the gym or tickets to the theater will keep you from putting in extra hours at the office again. Plus, these plans can also be an opportunity to spend time with family or friends.
Next page: Climbing the ladder
Resolution #3: Climbing the Ladder
While the greatest share of Germans will be striving to balance their careers and private lives this year, receiving recognition for their work and climbing the corporate ladder are also important to many. You can take matters into your own hands to make sure your performance doesn’t go unnoticed.
The basis of any success is concentration, which itself requires peace of mind and the right timing. This is why you should avoid inserting tasks into random gaps in your schedule; save those times of day when your brain is at its best for activities that will require your thinking cap. If you have an office to yourself, close the door and turn off the phone. If you work in an open-plan office and can’t find peace and quiet, take your laptop and mull over difficult problems in an empty office or conference room. And remember – hands off your e-mail during these brainstorming sessions!
The good news is that working productively is a skill you can learn in increments. Always use the same workspace and time of day for your constructive work; your brain will store this routine and eventually start warming up on its own.
Triggers and mini-escapes
You can augment this effect by setting triggers – making tea, listening to your favorite music, or performing breathing exercises to build up energy before every thinking session, for example.
That said, demanding projects sometimes leave you with only one recourse: getting out of the office. Talk with your manager and suggest starting a project as a trial balloon; set a schedule together and present the results and successes you’ve achieved while working from the comfort of your own home.
If home office is not an option, mini-escapes can also help. Grab your laptop and let your mind wander on a park bench, at a coffee shop, or in a library – unfamiliar working environments can get your creative juices flowing.
Next page: The ideal motivation
Resolution #4: The Ideal Motivation
If you want to get ahead in your career, you need one thing above all: a positive outlook. Remember, you’re not alone in wanting to have fun at work. Spend more time with motivated coworkers, such as on your lunch break.
Meanwhile, you can also be more constructive on your own. Instead of complaining about the way things are, think of what you can do to change them.
It’s also important to keep the results of your good work in mind. Your star will rise at the company, bringing that promotion or raise into reach; your level of happiness will increase as you learn new things.
When a manager or colleague pays you a compliment, savor their positive feedback rather than dismissing it as polite lip service. And don’t forget to dish out a little praise yourself; the smiles you’ll receive in return can be a great motivator!
You don’t have to be the office clown, but there’s also nothing wrong with joking around with your coworkers and sharing a good laugh now and then. Studies have shown that people who have fun are capable of coming up with more creative solutions, so the boss should have nothing against a lighthearted working atmosphere.
Next page: Fitness and relaxation
Resolutions #5-6: Fitness and Relaxation
Like any other year, 2011 will give you enough reasons to lose your cool. Computers will crash and printers will fail right when you need that important document; customer complaints and other tedious calls will still be part of the job.
There’s only one thing you can do: relax! Staying calm is good for your nerves and belongs on anyone’s list of resolutions.
Use your energy wisely
The desire to achieve a greater sense of balance goes hand-in-hand with another resolution: getting more exercise. According to the DAK study, 52% of Germans want to break a sweat more often in 2011. After really wearing yourself out on a run, for example, you’ll feel good in your own skin and find it easier to keep a cool head in tense situations.
Meanwhile, improving your fitness and losing a few pounds doesn’t always have to involve a great workout. Smaller activities can also add up to a lot.
You’ve heard of them often enough, but they rarely see you: the stairs! Try taking them instead of the elevator, or your bicycle to work instead of the car. Get a few colleagues together for a bike ride or a group jog after work.
Next page: Eat better, flirt more
Resolutions #7-8: Eat Better, Flirt More
The perennial favorite among resolutions, eating healthier, also makes our list for 2011. The DAK study found that 44% of Germans want to pay more attention to their diet this year, and trips to the cafeteria are obviously no exception.
This is another case where your coworkers can be a great help – those who prefer salad to French fries, at least. Join a group of similarly conscientious colleagues and marvel at how much easier it becomes to give that slice of pizza the cold shoulder.
That said, you don’t have to start living like a monk. Steely self-discipline can put you on the fast track to failure; thinking in terms of self-denial can be counterproductive. Instead, try formulating your resolutions in a positive way: Not “I can’t have French fries because my cholesterol is too high,” but “I feel better when I eat salad.”
Sweeter than sugar
She flashes you a brilliant smile every morning; he’s always kind enough to hold the door open… 2011 could be the year you finally bring up the courage to invite that cute coworker or charming colleague out for coffee. You’ll sweeten your lunch break better than any high-calorie dessert.
Next page: Making it stick
Making It Stick
Have your resolutions always been mayflies? These tips will help you sustain your success for the long term.
- Walk the talk: Start following your resolutions right away. According to the 72-hour rule, failing to take the first step within three days of making a resolution reduces your chance of following through to 1%.
- Keep your word: Studies have shown that those who state specific goals are three times as likely to achieve them. Instead of saying “I’m going to exercise more,” try “I’m going to go jogging for an hour every Monday and Thursday.”
- And…action!: Write your own personal screenplay for your resolutions this year. Putting your goals in writing represents another commitment to achieve them. Meanwhile, list all of the obstacles that could thwart your plans and develop a strategy to overcome them.
- Less is more: Enthusiasm is great, but try not to overdo it. Dozens of resolutions can quickly become overwhelming. Stick to a smaller number of realistic goals and enjoy every success, no matter how small. Finally, relapses are to be expected, so roll with the punches; after all, it’s our foibles that endear us to our peers.