Planning with purpose

New Year’s resolutions at work, can work

New Year’s resolutions get a lot of flack, much of it deserved. After all, what’s more “breakable” than a New Year’s resolution? People set resolutions never expecting they’ll follow through. In fact, 25% of people who make a New Year’s resolution give up by January 7. But what if there was a better way to make resolutions work?

Research shows that 46% of people do keep resolutions for at least six months, and 8% keep them for the entire year. That 8% might seem small, but people who choose to make a New Year’s resolution are 10 times as likely to keep them over those who pursue improvement in another way.

In a conversation with Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) and Tim Ferriss (Four Hour Workweek), Tim shares, “To choose what actions to take on a daily basis, I had to have some type of context.” In this case, the context is what he wants to do. That’s what guides his journey.

It’s clear that we need to reframe how we think about resolutions. Instead of setting a vague or unattainable goal, think about what you want to do and integrate that into your life in a more process-based way.

New Year’s resolutions can work. So why shouldn’t we try?

How are New Year’s resolutions different from goals?

It may be semantic, but it’s useful to separate the two. How we sometimes set goals is unhelpful. How many times have you set a deadline and had to push it back at the last minute? And how many times has that happened more than once? Predicting the future isn’t just hard: it’s impossible.

In the same conversation, Leo Babauta explains, “We have this fantasy of what it’s going to look like when we get there, and almost never live up to that fantasy.”

People who choose to make a New Year’s resolution are 10 times as likely to keep them over people who pursue improvement in another way.

Goals have their place at work. They keep everyone aligned and aiming for the same target. But a resolution, especially in the workplace, can play a different and interesting role.

Resolutions should be more qualitative than quantitative. I think of a resolution as more of a concept, rather than a concrete date or number I want to hit. Then I break it down into achievable steps. It ends up as a process to improve my life, rather than an intimidating goal that weighs on me.

Using resolutions in the workplace

We tend to think of resolutions as something personal, like “lose weight” or “exercise more.” While setting personal goals is commendable, it’s not the only way we can improve our lives. Why not use them in the workplace as well?

Resolutions in the workplace are a way to unite your team and create a more cohesive vision of what is important. They can help you prioritize or provide a framework within which to think about your role, your work culture, or your next big project.

You can implement resolutions in many ways: at a personal level (but still within the context of work), at a team level, or company-wide. Whichever one you choose will depend on the size of your organization and your specific circumstances.

What does a workplace resolution look like?

Goals and resolutions are not the same thing. Goals are things like, “increase sales revenue 30%” in the next year, or “hire 25 more people” by the end of the quarter.

But a resolution is something different. Here are a few examples:

  • Improve communication with our suppliers
  • Support work/life balance for the team
  • Take time to celebrate team successes

These are more qualitative than quantitative—and feel more personal than a goal or OKR. Once you have a resolution to pursue, you must ensure you go about it in a way that will actually work.

How to frame a resolution for success

In a single year, entrepreneur and writer, James Clear, wrote over 100,000 words on his blog. Given that the average book tends to be around 50,000 words, he effectively wrote the equivalent of two books. But that’s not the way he looks at it:

“Choosing a goal puts a huge burden on your shoulders. Can you imagine if I had made it my goal to write two books this year? Just writing that sentence stresses me out.”

He’s so spot on—even just reading that sentence stresses me out.

For him, creating a system works much better than any goal: “Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.”

A solid resolution is about process. For James, his resolution might have been something like, “develop a consistent writing habit.” From there, he extracts a feasible system: publish a post every Monday and Thursday. Simple, achievable, and measurable.

Making sure you stay on track

So, you’ve set yourself up for success. How do you make sure you actually get there? There are a few easy ways to help you along the process. The first is to develop a habit.

If your team’s resolution is “improve communication,” ask teammates to send a quick note about their accomplishments at defined intervals. You want to keep the ask lightweight, but periodic, so it becomes a habit. The easier the process, the more likely it will become second nature.

Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.

Another tactic is using rewards. What if, every month after your check-in, your team goes out to happy hour? Or you recognize a team member’s contributions with a positive ritual? Sometimes simple incentives can help keep the momentum going.

It doesn’t have to be extravagant. In elementary school, we had benchmarks for how many books we could read as a class. If we hit a certain mark, we’d have a pizza party. It was pretty effective. Throwing a pizza party might seem silly, but a bit of lighthearted fun can go a long way for teams.

One of the best things about resolutions is that they don’t have to be intimidating. Remember, it’s not some far off thing you’re shooting for. You’re simply resolving to change something, right now. It’s a type of progress that’s right here, in this moment. In a way, that makes it easy. Don’t worry about the future. Just focus on the progress you can make right now.

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