by Charlie Gilkey, author of “Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done“
New Year’s resolutions are a time-honored tradition. Though year after year, it’s the usual suspects. You know the ones: Eat healthier. Exercise more. Stop a bad habit. Start a new hobby. Find a different job. Spend your time and money wiser. Be a better spouse, parent, friend, or colleague.
Yet research shows that while most of us make resolutions, a scant 8% percent are actually successful in achieving them. But why is that?
Because our resolutions are too broad. That is, we focus on general outcomes rather than simple, specific practices.
This year, you may resolve to be more productive and do your best work in 2020. And why not? A whole new decade. A whole new, more satisfied and successful you. So here are three resolutions to develop into simple, specific practices.
1. Form a pack with four kinds of people.
There’s nothing like a “success pack” to help you be more productive and do your best work. They not only offer advice and support, but also additional accountability. And depending on the nature of your work projects, you may have more than one pack. No matter, to pick any pack wisely, seek out four kinds of people:
Guides are experts or seasoned pros that inspire you to see things in new and different ways. Whether by personally interacting with them or simply studying their work, you’ll benefit from understanding how they view the world. And the best guides won’t necessarily tell you what you want to hear; instead, they’ll speak truth, regularly sharing uncomfortable or inconvenient information.
Peers are your equals — colleagues and counterparts at or around your level of knowledge and expertise. While peers can be in your particular industry, they should also come from outside those echo chambers lest you stick to the status quo. The key difference between peers and guides is that a peer is like a “phone-a-friend” who you can call on more often.
Supporters are people who help your projects stay in motion. They may do some part of your actual work or see to other stuff so you can fully focus on the job at hand. Think beyond just your coworkers; for instance, a friend or neighbor who watches your kids when you have to work late counts as a supporter.
Beneficiaries are all those who serve to gain from what you do. Consider them the ‘why’ of your work; in other words, without your work product, beneficiaries are at a disadvantage, if not worse off, than they would be otherwise. When you’re stuck on a project, mentally or emotionally, a simple conversation with one of your beneficiaries can be the nudge you need to get moving again.
2. Use the ‘5 Projects Rule’ to prioritize and finish your work.
The 5 Projects Rule is simply this: Have no more than five active projects at a time.
With regard to “no more than five,” my research proves that most people won’t complete more than five projects total at any given time. Since how many projects you finish is a lot more important than how many you start, you do yourself no favors by committing to more projects than you can humanly do.
And with regard to “active projects,” it’s critical not to consider those things you are just thinking about, queuing for the future, hanging on to for no real purpose, or sticking to purely because you started them. Instead, only consider the work you’re vigorously pushing forward in the moment.
Personally, I limit myself to three active projects because it leaves me bandwidth to use on other things that often crop up at work or home. I also take what I call the “project pyramid” into account: virtually every project contains sub-projects.
3. Use firewalls to create focus and momentum.
Odds are you’re not lazy or unmotivated; in fact, you probably work really hard. But you won’t be more productive, let alone do your best work, in the spaces between meetings, emails, phone calls, or the usual workplace interruptions and distractions.
So rather than squeezing your projects and priorities into those in-between times, use firewalls, or “focus blocks,” to get important work done. These are dedicated two-hour periods — enough time to make significant, highly concentrated progress on a given task.
To create focus blocks, you must be willing to go completely dark. Disable your devices. Silence your smartphone. Retreat to quiet spaces. Negotiate ‘me time’ with your boss and coworkers or, if you work from home, with your family or roommates. All to say, do whatever it takes to minimize the interruptions and distractions that prevent the kind of heads-down work and heavy lifting you need to get big things done.
There’s also a bonus to using focus blocks: It helps you understand your real capacity to set limits and see your most critical work all the way to the finish line.
Finally, remember that the more you practice these three resolutions, the simpler they’ll get. You will be more productive, do your best work, and have the happy New Year that you deserve.
Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is “Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done“. Learn more at startfinishingbook.com.