7 new year’s resolutions for a stronger career in 2014

If you’re making new year’s resolutions this year — or even if you’re not — I’ve got seven choices to pick from for your career.

1. Set one or two big goals – and create plans to meet them. If you’ve spent this month wondering where the year went and what you have to show for it, vow not to let that happen in 2014. What do you want to achieve in the coming year so that you’re not sitting around in December 2014 wondering how the time got away from you? Figure out now what would make the year successful for you and create a plan to make it happen, complete with monthly or quarterly benchmarks. (But when it comes to big goals, stick to just one or two, so that you’re not pulled in so many directions that none of it gets done.)

2. Delegate more.If you’re at a level in your career where you can delegate work to others, you’re probably not taking full advantage of the opportunity. If you’re like many people, you’re holding on to projects that someone else could do because the work is comfortable or you don’t trust anyone else to do it right. But refusing to delegate means that you won’t free yourself up to take on bigger and more important pieces of work, which will hold you back – and can also hold your junior colleagues back too, by denying them the ability to grow into the work you currently do.

3. Stop taking criticism personally. It’s easy to take criticism as a personal attack or as a signal that everything you’ve done right isn’t appreciated, but that approach will harm you in the long run – by preventing you from truly hearing feedback that will help you in your career, and even by discouraging people from giving you valuable feedback in the future. Instead, try to remember that even if you ultimate disagree with the criticism, it’s still valuable for you to understand how your work is perceived, and resolve to respond to criticism the same way you would any other business issue – because it is business, not personal.

4. Start a “kudos” file. Set up a file (electronic or paper) to keep the kudos that you receive from people throughout the year – whether it’s an email from your boss praising your work on that big project, a thank-you from a client for making their life easier, or a note from a coworker thanking you for your help on a last-minute emergency. When you’re having a bad day, looking through this file can remind you that you’re good at what you do – and it can also help you remember things you’ve done well when performance evaluations roll around at the end of the year or when you’re asking for a raise.

5. Take a real vacation. Working for a whole year without a real respite is bad for your mental health and even bad for your productivity, so vow to take at least a full week – and preferably two – off from work in 2014. If you can’t afford to travel anywhere, spend the time relaxing at home, unplugged from email and other demands of your office. (And do this without guilt! If you get vacation days as part of your benefits package, that time is as much a part of your compensation as salary is. Don’t have qualms about using it.)

6. Turn off the complaining. If occasional venting about your job, your company, your coworkers, or your boss has turned into regular complaining, resolve to go cold turkey on January 1. Chronic complaining can create a toxic environment for you and the people who have to listen to you, and it can color your own perspective to the point that you become even more unhappy. Put a moratorium on complaining and see if it changes your mindset. If it doesn’t, decide whether you’re willing to live with whatever is making you so unhappy, complain to someone who can actually do something about it, or change your circumstances.

7. Stretch yourself. If you’re like a lot of people, you prefer to contain your work in areas where you’re comfortable and know that you can succeed. This approach is a safe one, but it also lowers the chances that you’ll make major leaps beyond where you currently are – and it can mean that you’re left behind by more risk-tolerant peers. Instead, make 2014 the year you do something well beyond your comfort level – whether it’s learning a new skill, proposing and leading a new project, or even just showing up at networking events.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Brett

    If you are an programming, IS, IT, design, research, analysis, or data person, (or really, even if you aren’t), one interesting way to tackle #7 is to volunteer with your nearest Code for America Brigade.

    Feel free to post a follow-up comment here if you need help finding one.

    1. Brett

      Start out at http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/

      You can find the global list of events here:
      http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/pages/events

      Organized brigades are listed here by location:
      http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/brigades

      But you can also find a list of people in your area interested in Code for America here:
      http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/locations

      A great way to get started is participating in CodeAcross 2014
      http://www.codeforamerica.org/codeacross-2014/
      There is definitely plenty of work for non-developers at these events as well as developers. As an example, we hope to work on our brigade’s wiki pages and maybe do some OpenStreetMap editing as part of CodeAcross.

    2. Emma

      I’m not in the CS/IT/tech field but am learning to code as hobby. I’m getting involved with my local brigade and CodeAcross sounds interesting! Will keep an eye on it. Thanks, Brett.

  2. Ali

    I have some of these planned for myself!

    #1. I feel like this every year. One of them is to hopefully finally land a job in my chosen field. The other is to get there by volunteering at events so I have more experience for my resume and can stand out a little more.

    #4. I actually started a compliments file last week and included comments my coworkers made for my self evaluation. Figured this will be important as I job search.

    #5. I am hoping to do this again. I did it this past year, and having six working days off felt great. Although it was hard to get my manager to understand that no I would not be logging in to do a shift on vacation…

    #7. Yep. I am going to try to learn some Adobe programs this year and pick up some social media skills. I have writing and editing skills, which others say is always an asset, but my job doesn’t really allow me to do those other things.

    The others don’t really apply to me.

  3. De Minimis

    Darn, the site is blocked for me [IT dept is always changing the criteria for what’s allowed and what isn’t–your US News page apparently has something on it that triggers their blocking software against “Personal Sites/Blogs.”

    Oh well, one of my resolutions was to spend less time goofing around on the Web…

  4. Elizabeth West

    Most of these I’m on track with, I think.
    1–I have some internal training I want to finish. Also, the manager of another department asked for my assistance on something, so that’s added responsibility if my boss approves.

    2–I can’t even delegate at home. There’s no one to delegate to. (Note to self: find someone to delegate to, dammit.)

    3–I got a WHOLE LOT of criticism coming, with the book critique, and I’m about to send the new book to a first reader. >_<

    4–Already doing this. I call it "Yays." :)

    5–Now that I can, I probably will. :)

    6–Working on not complaining so much in personal life. But it's harrrrrrrrddd…. ;)

    7–School is taking care of this one.

    +8–Get off my fat ass and get to the indoor track right next to my work! (I've been doing it but the holidays got in the way.)

    1. tcookson

      Does anyone have any favorite speakers (or seminars or conferences) of interest to administrative assistants?

      I had my annual evaluation with my boss right before the university shut down for winter break, and one benchmark we staff are supposed to meet (and that I forgot about until my boss brought it up) is to attend a minimum of two professional development events during the year. I have a subscription to Lynda.com, which I’ve been using to learn more about Excel (mainly), but I need to focus on finding a couple of actual events to attend.

        1. Lucy

          Seconding the IAAP. My mom is the president of a local chapter, and I’ve attended some of the meetings – great info.

        2. tcookson

          Thanks! I had started looking at the local campus Toastmasters, but it turns out that we have a chapter of the IAAP that meets on campus, and their next meeting is in January. From their calendar, it looks as if each monthly meeting is a brown-bag lunch with a specific topic presented, so I’ll definitely be able to exceed the goal of at least two events attended.

  5. Jamie

    Delegating is something with which I’ve always struggled…but I got kinda good at it in the latter half of 2013 and I have to say, I wish I’d addressed this years ago.

    I was forced into it with medical leave (and never would have changed otherwise) but it’s so worth working on.

    And in a couple of cases it’s given me a different view of some coworkers. It gave some the opportunity to really shine and step up (and have benefited from this) and it showed me who has a really strong “not my job” philosophy.

    I should have done this years ago.

  6. Lucy

    Can someone help me understand the compliments folder when it comes to reviews? Maybe I’m too self conscious, but I imagine it doesn’t mean that you print them all out and bring them to the meeting… I can’t even imagine saying “I helped Wakeen on this project and he said I did a good job.”

    1. Anon1

      I’ll speak on this since I’m very poor at this one. My director pretty much pokes and prods me and often adds in areas.

      The idea with compliments is to build up your ability to rate yourself in a certain area as high(or possibly not as poor -which is even more vital). More importantly, it allows your manager to sustain this rating(assuming she agrees) with her boss and peers. So if asked why John Doe is rated as high in customer service, she can state you did x,y,z and were thanked by branches a,b and c for it. Compare this to “well, john really helped out internal customers” without being able to spit out specifics. With any rigorous process, she’d be crushed by other managers who can spit out specifics for their people.

    2. SarahBot

      I use them two ways: 1) to remind myself of things that I’ve done throughout the year, and 2) to provide support when I’m writing up my self-evaluation. (Context: at my company, we have to write self-evaluations – those get sent to our managers, who add their own comments, and the updated documents get reviewed in our face-to-face review meeting.)

      So, if one of the things I write down in my self-evaluation is that I think my customer service skills are a strength (for example), I would then add something like, “For example, in March I received a hand-written note from a customer thanking me for my responsiveness” or “After I assisted her with the ABC project, Mary wrote me an e-mail that said, ‘I appreciate how detail-oriented you are’.”

      (I tend to only use things that people send me in writing, rather than verbal remarks – that way, there’s documentation in case my manager wants to see it. Not that she ever has.)

      For me, it does feel like it’s right on the line of being self-aggrandizing (not because it actually is – just because I’ve always been taught not to brag about myself), but I figure that these people actually did and said these things about me – I’m not making them up or interpreting something someone said or did to make myself look better. Plus, if there’s ever a time to talk yourself up, I think year-end review time is it!

  7. Chris

    My only New Year’s Resolution right now is to start a career. As for the list:

    #1 See above. That is my goal.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfHnzYEHAow

    #2 The only real issue I have with this is that, in school, I’ve had major issues with trust in groups. High school, for instance, we had to do a presentation on one of the amendments and their modern world meanings. Made a template on day 1, and asked the other guy to elaborate on a couple points and have a good idea for the presentation (had a wrestling tournament that weekend, so I couldn’t be around to make the presentation or examine the points more deeply). Contacted him when I had free moments in that weekend, and he said he was working on it. I never saw the presentation until the hour before we were supposed to present. Turns out, all he did was put my template on each slide with a green background. That…ugh… I can’t think of any words that describe my displeasure.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zhJljblPcY

    Example 2: College: I was with a group of 5 and we were supposed to make an object perform better. We had a month, so we had time, but we also had 3 exams and a major lab report to write as well. Understandably, that month was hell. However, when I had a free moment, I practiced with the software we were supposed to use and got some data to analyze. For the first 3 weeks, I had to talk with the other group members to help me out, and the general response was “we’re looking at it.” Turns out, aside from one other guy, no one looked into the software or the data until the week before the presentation. Then it became a mad scramble involving me having to teach the other group members some of the finer points of the software and 7 late nights in the lab (there was a lot we had to cover). Really wasn’t pleased with my group in that time frame.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zhJljblPcY

    #3 Haven’t had major issues with criticism. In fact, I prefer criticism to people not giving me it even though I obviously have issues (i.e.: Most people I show my resume to like it. Wouldn’t have a problem with this if it weren’t for the fact that I’m 19 months post-college with no job.), or this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2So7Tj41pU

    (Yeah, I prefer the Watchmen version to the original Simon and Garfunkel. Roar.)

    #4 Not a bad idea actually.

    #5 Vacation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E6e3gosGmY

    #6 Honestly never really was an issue until graduation. Back to the example I used in #2, a lot of people were frustrated that there were 5 major things going on in the span of one month. During that time, when made a “complaint” thread of FB, I ran through the pros and cons of the situation , ran through some issues where we could take pride (“We’re a group of a few people that have been given the opportunity to do X”), and ran through some issues (i.e. Having to learn the software on the fly and obvious lack of communication between professors giving all major projects due in the same time frame were both real issues we could address. I’ve found that if you really need to complain, turn it into constructive criticism. (i.e.: “This project really sucks.” sounds like a blamer. “We could develop Project X better if we had an extended deadline since we have 5 major things due at the same time.” sounds more like a fixer. ).

    Back to depression: It’s difficult not to feel depressed when long term unemployed, and depression usually leads to looking for a source. Check out any unemployed job forum, and there is usually one person that vents about the state of affairs. I empathize: there really aren’t many ways you can vent frustrations about the issue, and the Internet is one way of doing so. Except, when this happens, the person looks like a blamer and not a fixer.

    Had something else. Forgot. So here: become a fixer:

    http://games.disney.com/wreck-it-ralph-fix-it-felix-jr

    #7 It’s good to learn skills. Now, lots of people link here:

    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/

    It’s a good site. What people care about though is what you’ve done, not necessarily what you know. Some good sites for making things include:

    http://www.instructables.com/

    http://www.youtube.com/user/thenewboston?feature=watch
    (thenewboston is probably my favorite internet person right now)

    http://www.w3schools.com/
    (coding)

    and some others. LinkedIn groups are also very helpful if you want to get some information on specific fields, and some people are willing to help out there.

    Lots of rambling. Here, a video.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kqy9hxhUxK0

  8. Poe

    Thank you for pointing out the vacation thing. I just had the following conversation with my mom (which I am not proud of):
    Mom: When are you going to take vacation time?
    Me: Well, you’re coming, and that’s a whole week off, and then I am just a bit worried about taking too much time so I’ll probably just wait to take a few days in the summer when friend comes.
    Mom: Why don’t you take some time in April to do that trip? It would just be 2 or 3 days.
    Me: Yes, but someone has to cover for me while I am gone, and it can be a real pain for them.
    Mom: Do you think anyone else thinks about that while booking their FIVE WEEKS OF VACATION THAT YOU ALL GET?
    Me: I am just trying to be considerate.
    Mom: You are being an idiot.
    I love my mom, but I will never tell her that my favourite blogger is on her side, I will just quietly book my time off :)

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