For most of us, this year started with set budgets, plans and goals – professional and personal. Then it all got shaken up, flipped upside down, and our only plan became adapting as quickly as possible.
It is an understatement to say that this year has looked nothing like we thought it would. Next year may not either. That being said, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still plan for the year ahead.
Whether you are looking to advance your career, promote from within, or change directions, planning ahead will help you stay focused. We just need to acknowledge that our plans must accommodate some uncertainty.
Sure, you can keep on working the same way you have been. But if you do, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the same position this time next year. Take some time to create a plan for the year ahead that is worth your time and energy.
1. Plan your professional and personal year separately
You may want to make one plan for the year ahead that includes both your professional and personal lives. Don’t. These plans should be kept separate.
Your work goals will be very different from your personal goals. Yet they still need to work in tandem with each other. Otherwise, you may not achieve as much as you expect to.
Remember that you only have 24 hours in a day. Be kind to yourself when you plan your goals so that they are achievable and you still maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
2. Review the past year
Before you can plan, you need to review the year you have just had. And don’t only assume everything was awful.
No doubt there were victories, mistakes, and experiences that grew your skills and those that didn’t. Look at what moved you forward and what held you back. Write these details down so that you can use them to make a strategically sound plan for the year ahead.
identifying three large wins and three areas that needed work
look at how you spend your time through the year – did it align with your goals, and what didn’t
write down all the important dates, meetings and deadlines you know about for next year
decide what you need to prioritise for your mental health
You may have to generalise at first. But knowing these details will set the foundation as you plan for the year ahead.
3. Make a plan
Think of exactly where you want to be by 31 December of next year. Now, plan the steps you will need to get there.
Note down key activities or achievements along the way that will help you reach that outcome. These could be projects, mentorships, or skills development.
Also, take into consideration possible obstacles. If this year has taught us anything, its that you always need to have a plan B. And maybe a vague idea for a plan C. You may never need these alternative plans. Yet having them helps create some peace of mind.
Develop your SMART goals from there. Make them achievable and very specific. Be realistic about what is possible to accomplish in the time you have. We are only setting a plan for the year ahead, not the next five.
4. Create your not-to-do list
A not-to-do list isn’t only about getting rid of the tasks you don’t want to do. It is also about getting rid of the ones that prevent you from greater productivity. Identifying which tasks should be delegated will allow you to be more efficient. This will save you time, day-to-day.
While these tasks may be a time waste for you, they may be a huge learning opportunity for your team. Make sure to incorporate your task delegation into your teams' goals and professional development plan for the year ahead.
5. Establish a routine
Think about those tasks that reappear regularly, those that you need to do on a perpetual basis. Add them to your calendar on repeat for the whole year so they become part of your schedule.
Think about big quarterly events and schedule those in too. It helps you plan your week in advance instead of scrambling to get everything done. It also helps with delegation.
While accounting for those tasks, plan time for quarterly reviews to monitor how you are achieving your goals. Readjust your plans accordingly to keep you on track – or set new goals if you are ahead of schedule.
Even if you find yourself not meeting the expectations you’ve set for yourself, this allows you to reassess and reset any goal or plan for the year ahead.
6. Set time for yourself
Plan and book your holidays in advance. If you think you want to go away in April, put your request in now. No more “but I don’t know what the world will look like then” type excuses.
Don’t be the person who brags about how many vacation days they have accrued because they haven’t taken a day off for 15 years.
The stress and burnout of continuously working aren’t good for you personally, nor do they increase your work productivity. Only by putting vacation into your plan for the year ahead can you ensure it becomes a priority.
If it helps, pencil it in. You can always move your plans. You just can’t cancel them. You have a vacation for a reason – use it!
7. Work on a side project
Explore your passions by working on a side project. Side projects help you learn new techniques and skills that you may otherwise never learn in your daily job, and can benefit your career.
They encourage creativity, self-development, confidence and training – all skills not often developed in a traditional work environment.
Don’t dismiss your side project as that thing you do when you have some downtime. You will need to set aside and invest the time and energy into making it work. Be patient with yourself. Get excited about all the things you are learning.
Your side project shouldn’t always be optimised for efficiency and output. Not everything meaningful can be measured. Your plan for the year ahead should include things that you do for sheer enjoyment.
8. Commit to celebrating the wins, no matter how small
No matter how much you plan for the year ahead, it is sure to have surprises and diversions. That is why it is so important that when you reach a goal, no matter how small, you take the time to congratulate yourself.
Celebrate every win. Every step is an achievement that will help you reach your goals for the year.
Life happens. Things may not work out exactly as planned, and you may find yourself getting overloaded. Leave gaps of time within your schedule throughout the year so that you have a buffer to step back and assess any situation that arises.
Reschedule all your hour-long meetings to 45 minutes — no more back-to-back scheduling. Set reminders in your calendar to stop work on time, work out, and take breaks. Give yourself space to decompress.
If you are everything for everyone, you’ll have no time to be the best version of you.
10. Adjust your attitude
Remind yourself every day that your attitude determines everything. Life isn’t all roses, and things will happen that aren’t pleasant.
But how you choose to allow those things to affect your attitude will change how you approach every task and person you meet. The most important decision you can make is to be positive, hopeful, and open every day.
Remind yourself that while you cannot control the outcome of your year, you can control how you react.
Having goals and a plan for the year ahead will help you decide which direction to go when you need to make any changes – because you’ll already know where you want to end up.
11. Allow for flexibility
A plan for the year ahead is only as good as your ability to understand that things happen outside of your control. It’s about patience, consistency, and flexing your plan when you need to.
Get your team involved where you can, especially when you need to decide on change. Your combined thinking can produce ideas you would never have imagined on your own.
Here’s to a safe, planned new year!
Make plans for your future
At this time of year, we often think about career goals and start making plans to grow.
If your growth plans involve technical staff, contract workers or permanent hires, we would love to help move your business forward.