If there’s one thing a project manager loves, it’s lists, and your friendly Upswept PM is no exception. I make “New Year’s” resolutions every other week in my Evernote App. I put things onto my to-do list that I’ve already done just so I get the dopamine hit from checking it off.
“Should I make that into a task?” has become a punchline in our weekly Upswept team meetings.
But no love for planners, software, or stationery can overcome the reality of being a human.
Humans, despite our best intentions, have fluctuating energies that often produce a gap between what we think we can accomplish and what we actually do. I’ve been learning this the hard way in 2020, as I imagine many of you ambitious business-oriented types have.
How Resolutions Tend to Go
A lot of people in my circles, and possibly yours, are giving up on New Year’s Resolutions altogether. It makes sense—they don’t work for most people (80% of people ditch them by February by a recent estimate).
On the other hand, we constantly hear how important it is to make SMART goals, ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. But that doesn’t always work for everyone either.
When I started to write this blog, I began by going back through the past few years of my resolution lists, and I discovered something a little disconcerting. I’ve been making similar resolutions every year for the past three years. Even though I’d made well articulated plans with manageable milestones to hit month-by-month, I still hadn’t made the progress I’d set out to make.
Time to try something new.
Looking Back on What Really Happened
I know, I know. You probably think you didn’t do a thing this year, but that probably isn’t true. When I spent a little time pondering the past year and journaling, I came up with a whole list of accomplishments and insights that surprised me.
Your resolution to visit your relatives more may have been torpedoed, and you may have given up on learning Mandarin on Duolingo after a few weeks. You may have lost all motivation and abandoned your blog. However, I’m going to bet that one of the following still took place.
You achieved something that you haven’t given yourself credit for.
You nurtured a relationship with someone in person or remotely. This could be a family member, friend, partner, or pet.
You developed a new method of self care. For instance, I finally got into different kinds of tea, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years.
You learned something new. Yes, a comprehensive knowledge of Kate Bush’s musical catalogue counts. So does figuring out how to set up your Mailchimp account or host a webinar.
Reflecting on the things you did manage to do in this nightmare of a year will tell you something about your values and the things that bring you comfort. What can you take away from this list and apply to the year to come—whatever challenges it may hold?
Do More of What is Working for You
There has been enough upheaval in our lives in 2020 that trying to force ourselves into the patterns that we think make people “successful” is asking for intolerable stress. Instead, I suggest you take the things you’ve learned from your reflections and focus on what you know you can do rather than the results that you think you’re going to get by doing things “the right way.”
Maybe you’ve discovered that your creativity comes alive at night. Loud online entrepreneurs might be screaming that only morning people are truly successful. Forget ‘em. Instead of forcing yourself to wake up at 4 a.m. every day to do 2 hours of writing, keep doing your work at night and let yourself sleep in a little.
Maybe you managed to land a new client that you enjoyed working with. What did you like about them? How did you connect with them? Instead of saying, “I’m going to find 5 new clients,” upsell that client so you can work with them more, or ask them for a referral.
Maybe you spent a lot of time connecting with other businesses on Instagram. Instead of saying, “I’m going to bring in 500 new social media followers by using Facebook ads,” you could focus on nurturing those connections you’ve already made on your preferred platform and seeing how you can partner with them.
You might need to widen your net later on, but for now, start with what’s been working.
Change Course Whenever You Want
You might burn out on Instagram. You might get too tired staying up late and working. Maybe your client’s needs have been fully served. There’s no shame in shifting tactics rather than doubling down.
While the turning from one year to the next is a wonderful time to reflect, regroup, and create goals, our motivation and preferences shift. Don’t fight it—use it. The paper you’re writing your resolutions on is two-dimensional, but you’re not. Instead of flattening yourself, build your resolutions around who you are.