If you’re anything like I am, you have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions.
It seems like a natural time to make important changes. It’s like a universal pressing of the “reset” button. Maybe that’s why 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions in the first place. But here’s the thing — only 8% of us are successful in achieving them.
We suspect it has something to do with the nature of the resolutions themselves. According to a study by the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, the top 10 resolutions of 2015 included things like losing weight and falling in love. And sure, those goals are great — we’re all about being happy and healthy — but will they make you better at what you do every day?
Next year, we challenge you to come up with and stick to professional New Year’s resolutions — things that will make you more creative, productive, and generally more content at work. Short on ideas? Here are 12 of ours to help you get started, along with resources to help you actually accomplish them.
12 New Year’s Resolutions for Professionals
1) Designate an electronics-free zone.
Our bodies are smarter than you might think. They’re trained to respond to light and dark, which according to the National Sleep Foundation send us important signals, like the time of day. Those signals also aid our bodies in adjusting our circadian rhythms — that’s the handy 24-hour physiological cycle that helps us fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.
All of that is pretty cool … until screens are added to the equation. Our brains recognize the brightness from phones, computer monitors, and even TVs as external light, which sends the signal that we should be awake. That’s why it’s harder for so many of us to fall asleep when we’re exposed to too much screen time at night. The verdict? Put the devices down before bed.
At INBOUND 2013, Arianna Huffington — who later went on to pen The Sleep Revolution – gave some great advice regarding the sleep/screen conundrum: Ban electronics from your bedroom for good.
“I never take devices to bed,” she said. “iPads, iPhones, Blackberries — I don’t charge them near my bed, because I feel it’s imperative to be able to have uninterrupted renewal time.”
This habit is a tough one to break, and it’s one that I’ve personally been working on for years. So if you like to watch movies or shows on your computer before bed, for example, I can relate — these are the mindless things that help us unwind at the end of the day. Luckily, there are solutions to help you resolve the problem for good, some of which might still allow you to indulge in your evening TV viewing.
We’d encourage you to ditch the electronics completely before bed. Instead, try reading, journaling, or maybe even a few minutes of yoga. And if you absolutely cannot part with your electronics:
- Try downloading a desktop app that reduces your screen’s blue light as the day progresses — that’s the kind emitted from most electronics and is often cited as the culprit for sleep loss. We recommend f.lux, which adjusts your screen’s blue light depending on the time of day, or the similar filter from PC Sun Screen.
- Plus, the latest iPhone OS now comes with a “night shift” mode, which accomplishes the same thing after sunset.
2) Write something every day.
Sadly, the decreasing quality of writing in the U.S. has been making headlines for a while now. And people want to become better writers — they just have trouble investing the necessary time.
But it’s an important skill. And if you’re going to be blogging regularly — which we recommend you do — the writing needs to be good.
If you want to become a better writer, then you need to write a lot. The way to improve that skill is the same way you’d approach any other — with practice.
It’s the same advice we give to people who want to blog more consistently (another worthy New Year’s resolution) which is to treat it like working out. You’ve got to do it consistently to see great results. After all, you can’t just publish a blog once every few months and expect to rack up views, leads, and customers. The same goes for your overall writing skills.
To start, get into the habit of writing on a daily basis. Neil Patel suggests writing for at least 30 minutes every workday, skipping the weekends. Remember the advice we just gave to journal before bed, instead of looking at a screen? Here’s a great way to put that time to use.
And even if you don’t identify as a writer, pick a question — something from a customer, a friend, or a topic that’s always piqued your curiosity — and write something about it. Or, just write nonsense. It’s the habit of writing regularly that’s important, especially in the beginning.
When we encourage people to write more, one of the most common objections is, “I have nothing to say.” We profoundly disagree, and thought that these tools might help to generate some ideas:
- Daily Page: Emails you a writing prompt every morning, and you have the rest of the day to write your response. Once you’ve written your response to the prompt, you can either share it or keep it private.
- 750 Words: Encourages you to write 750 words per day about anything you want. It gamifies writing by giving you points for writing at all, for writing 750 words or more, and for writing on a consistent basis.
- Twords: Calls itself “the app that nudges you to write.” It notifies you when you haven’t written in a while so you can keep yourself accountable — and even gives you the option to connect with others who will help you stay on track.
3) Keep up with Google.
Google likes to make changes to its algorithm as much as certain pop singers like to change boyfriends. But all of them are made to improve user experience, which is a good thing — it helps searchers discover the best content for what they’re seeking.
This year, we challenge you to really keep up with those changes. That doesn’t just mean staying on top of news about the latest changes. It also means keeping your content at the highest quality to make Google’s algorithm happy, which means more people will be able to find you. Win-win.
Consider reorganizing your content library into content clusters since SEO is evolving to favor topics over keywords according to Matthew Barby, global head of growth and SEO at HubSpot. That will help you harness more search traffic, because you’ll have a larger pool of relevant keywords and phrases to be discovered.
In general, it’s a good idea to regularly revisit and refresh your content strategy, too. Not only does it prevent your content from getting stale, but it also helps you to keep up with what people are searching for, which in turn will help you keep pace with Google.
4) Improve your design skills.
In case you haven’t heard, visual content is a pretty big deal in marketing. For one thing, it’s 40x more likely to be shared on social media. Plus, when a relevant image is paired with information, people retain 55% more of that information after three days.
But quality visual content goes beyond a Google image search or stock photography. At the same time, however, not everyone has an ample design budget. For that reason, we believe that 2017 is the year for you to master some design skills. That will allow you to create the content yourself — or, if you do have a bigger budget, learn to better communicate with contractors and agencies that create it for you.
These days, learning a new skill has become its own industry. Never before have there been so many online resources — many of which are either free or relatively inexpensive — to self-educate. And many of them are available outside of the classroom, like on YouTube how-to videos, Coursera, or Khan Academy.
If your company has something like a tuition reimbursement program, here’s a great opportunity to take advantage of that benefit. Many community colleges offer design courses, some of which are taught in the evenings. Do a local search for these classes in your area, and find out what’s available — it might not be too late to enroll for the next semester.
5) Invest in video.
First of all, by investing in and experimenting with video, you would be joining the 48% of marketers who plan to add YouTube to their content strategies in the next year. Other than that, we’ll let some more numbers do the talking:
- 4x as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it.
- 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week.
- Marketers who use video grow revenue 49% faster than non-video users.
Getting started with a video strategy depends on your level of knowledge. If you haven’t yet, for example, it could he helpful to brush up on your video editing skills, and find out which platforms are the best for your current marketing needs.
It’s also a good idea to learn about the different ways video marketing works. In addition to learning how to produce higher-quality content of this kind for YouTube and certain social posts, you might want to look into experimenting with instant video options, like Facebook Live, and Instagram or Snapchat Stories. These more casual formats help people relate to your brand by giving them a behind-the-scenes look at what you do.
6) Take breaks.
Despite 90% of employers encouraging breaks, it seems that only 45% of us are okay with taking them.
So what’s with the other 55%? It turns out that we’re too guilty to leave our desks for prolonged breaks – we’re afraid that it’ll make us look less productive, or take away time that could be used to get work done.
But it turns out that the opposite is true. In fact, the top 10% most productive employees take 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work they put in. There’s tremendous value in breaks, and we could all stand to benefit from them.
When we’re “in the zone,” so to speak, it’s easy to forget to come up for air. That’s why I take the advice of that top 10%, and actually put reminders in my calendar to take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes.
During those 17 minutes, I completely step away from work — no email, no work-related calls, and whenever possible, no sneak peeks at my phone. And during those 52 minutes of work? That’s your time for hyper focus. Close those tabs that you have open to check social media — unless you’re using it for work, that is — and remind yourself that there’s a break coming.
7) Listen to one podcast per week.
Podcasting is a thriving mini-industry. It’s no wonder — listening to podcasts is a great way to learn something new without it being a direct skill you are mastering.
That’s true from an early age, which is why many teachers are also incorporating podcasts into their lesson plans. In fact, one English teacher found that assigning the Serial podcast to his students helped them pay more attention to the written word. While listening to any given episode, he reported that their eyes became affixed to its written transcript. In other words, it seemed the auditory version of a story aided their ability to process accompanying written content.
And maybe that’s why the popularity of podcast-based lesson plans increased by a whopping 650% in 2015 – the year after Serial first launched. It’s not just that podcasts themselves are tremendously informative (which they are). As it turns out, they might even enhance your skills in other areas, too.
A simple app download can go a long way when you’re aiming to discover more valuable podcasts. We particularly like Stitcher, which catalogues over 65,000 podcasts and allows you to curate your own listening collection, depending on your subject interests. Whether you’re looking to become a better marketer or a better cook, chances are, there’s a podcast out there that can help.
8) Ask for help.
In 2014, Care.com took a survey of working mothers that was quite eye-opening. Among the more surprising findings was one about the concept of asking for help — something that 29% of respondents felt guilty about doing, especially when it came to things at home.
At the same time, however, 79% also felt like they were falling behind at work, and 75% saw an overall reduction in stress when they did enlist help.
These numbers go beyond working mothers, however. It seems that there’s an epidemic of fear when it comes to asking for help at work. Many of us sense that asking questions about an assignment, for example, will make us look like we weren’t paying attention, or aren’t as smart as our peers thought. But when we don’t ask questions, we’re actually setting ourselves up for failure, by forcing completion of a task without all of the necessary information.
This resolution is one that actually begins with management. On my very first day at HubSpot, my boss said something to me that I will never forget: “I’ll help you with whatever you ask me for help with. The most successful people ask for help when they need it!”
If you’re a manager, think about how often your team is asking for your help. If you’re not receiving a lot of questions, you might want to send a similar message. By setting that tone, your team is aware that it’s okay if they don’t know everything.
And on the flip side, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s more likely than not that the person you need it from is happy to answer your questions.
9) Develop a mobile strategy.
If you don’t have a mobile strategy yet, it’s time.
2016 was a pivotal year for mobile, and it’s only going to get more important in 2017. In August, Google announced that it would be cracking down on invasive mobile pop-ups. On top of that, the use of voice search via mobile and personal assistant devices is on the rise, with Google Voice Search queries seeing a 3400% increase since 2008. Plus, we’ve witnessed the launch of Google’s AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, in which certain pages are optimized for mobile in a way that allows them to load instantly.
If you haven’t truly invested the resources to learn about mobile and adapted your marketing strategy accordingly, it’s time to sit down and develop a strong mobile strategy, which means overhauling your website, emails, social accounts, blog, and any other online content to be mobile-friendly.
You might have to go back to the very basics on this one. When it comes to mobile optimization, a lot of it has to do with SEO these days. That is, if your content isn’t optimized for mobile platforms and searches, your ranking could take a massive hit.
Start by brushing up on the history of SEO, or learning more about Google’s algorithm. From there, you can start getting into the nitty-gritty of mobile strategy.
10) Use your vacation time.
Believe it or not, there’s a phenomenon out there known as “vacation shaming” — the act of being made to feel guilty about going on vacation by managers, colleagues, or ourselves. No wonder 47% of us feel shame or guilt at work for taking time off – it’s mostly because we’re afraid it’ll make us look less dedicated.
That’s actually not how it works at all. It turns out that taking time off actually makes us moreproductive. In fact, in regions where people tend to take more vacation — like Brazil and Sweden, where paid time off is mandatory – employees tend to bring greater urgency to their work. That’s probably because, according to the Harvard Business Review, “spending less time at your desk forces you to waste less time.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Vacation aiding productivity echoes the research done about how breaks help us as work. The biggest requirement is planning. Have a look at your calendar, and figure out when you’ll be the busiest. Are there certain weeks when you’ll have a little more time to get ahead? Those are good pre-vacation weeks, since they’ll allow you to increase your output before you head out.
Here’s where that resolution to ask for help can be put to use, too. In addition to planning your own workload, ask the same of your colleagues. If there are certain weeks when they’re able to fill in on your behalf, that might be a good time for you to plan a vacation. But that goes both ways — make sure they’re aware of when you’re available to pitch in, too.
11) Read more.
The most successful people never stop learning. There’s a reason why 70% of adults in professional or managerial roles continue their education – it’s one of the best ways to keep up with industry trends, learn from experts, and get the creative juices flowing.
One of the best ways to do that outside of a classroom is to read what others are writing about. Reading more might even help you become a better writer, and exploring external content helps you to gain different perspectives of vital issues, whether they’re of personal or professional interest.
The tough thing is, since there’s so much content out there, you have to be discerning to find the really good stuff. To start, three places where content quality stays high are Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, and Slate. (Don’t be afraid to pay for top-tier content, by the way. There’s a reason it costs money, and it’s often well worth it.)
You’ll want to spend time reading more niche or industry-specific content, too. To make it easier to read them all, look for applications that let you read all your favorites all in one place, like Feedly.
12) Move to the next level of your career.
“Next” can mean different things for different people — changing your title, getting more responsibilities, gaining more authority in your industry, or starting your own business. Whatever it is, start now — it could take longer than the next year to fully accomplish it.
Don’t let that scare you out of it, though. If you don’t start moving forward now, it’s easy to keep putting it off. Even if you’re happy in your current professional situation, we’ve outlined many reasons in this post to continue learning, or at least add to your success with new goals and accomplishments.
When it comes to big, life-changing moves, planning is fundamental. If your goal is really monstrous, try breaking it into a year-over-year plan, and using the first year’s plan as the basis for your resolutions.
But if you’re simply looking to grow and accomplish more, there are smaller steps that you can take this year. Jumping on opportunities to share your skills with others, for example, can enhance your career, especially if you do so through public speaking engagements. These aren’t just beneficial for your audience — they provide a great way to present yourself as an expert, increase your visibility both online and offline, and build your personal brand. Plus, getting your name out there in the context of your job is beneficial for your company, too.
Talk with your manager about opportunities your company can introduce, like local meet-ups or conferences. You could also get in touch with a university and offer a guest lecture — after all, there’s something very rewarding about inspiring future talent.
Show Your Resolve
There you have it. New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be quite so flighty, or involve gyms and special diets. They can help you become a better employee, and to continue learning and improving, no matter where you are in your career.
That said, do what works for you. We wouldn’t expect anyone to try to tackle all 12 of these resolutions. Depending on where you are in life, some might be more feasible and practical than others. Think about your priorities, and choose from there.
From our team to yours, Happy New Year. We can’t wait to hear about how you put these resolutions to work.
Which of these resolutions will you make — and actually stick to? What else would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Written by Amanda Zantal-Wiener