It is that time of the year where we all succumb to the positivity around us, marvel at the chance of yet another possible new beginning or another go at a fresh start: it is New Year’s Eve!
There are so many different ways in which people approach New Year’s resolutions: some think it is better to start working on new habits, new goals, and new ventures well ahead of December 31st to ease off the pressure; some think it is better to start January 1st with a fresh mindset made possible due the inescapable festivities of the New Year; and for some, the cheer is anything but contagious and they prefer to carry on with business-as-usual.
Despite the differences, the one common thing amongst us all is that the New Year brings to mind a list of things: things to change, things to accomplish, things to do, thing to no longer do etc., Thus one inevitable exercise for New Year’s Eve is people looking over their list of goals from the previous year and, after having checked off barely two out of ten, settling down with the resolve to do better this year. However, I think this year it would be useful to take a deeper dive into what stops us from ticking off all our goals – especially if they meet the SMART criteria i.e., they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound?
1. Organization and Time Management
Perhaps the most critical element that prevents us from achieving our goals is the lack of organization and time management. One quick example that helps me put the importance of organization into perspective is as follows: imagine you have work that is ready to be submitted but different pieces of it are scattered amongst different folders within your laptop and there is no sense to how those folders are organized. It has been a while since you finished working on this deliverable, so you do not remember where all the separate files are located (we are all guilty of this mess). Furthermore, there are several versions of each file so that you do not remember which might be the latest one. As the deadline to submit approaches, the mental fatigue of having to dig through the mess of files and folders in your laptop is the only thing stopping you from checking this off your to-do list. Where it would have taken you 30 minutes to put in the finishing touches, it will now take you days with a consistent guilt of procrastinating and the mental fatigue of the decision-making process weighing on your mind at the same time.
Organization goes hand in hand with time management when it comes to achieving goals. While proper organization takes time to begin with, in the long runs it ends up saving you days of work and mental fatigue.
Stand alone, time management is also a key to success, as many a successful folk will tell you. We all have 24 hours within a day, and the only reason some people seem to have more time is because they have impeccable time management skills. Realize what your priorities are and map your to-do list accordingly to the active hours of your day.
You can start with a trail run and be the judge of whether organization and time management are essential to your productivity. Start by taking one of your regularly used folders and organize it, and then take one week where you create a daily to-do list tailored to your priorities.
2. The Long Run Consequences of Procrastination
One day, while procrastinating my way through a particularly lazy day, I thought about the immediate cost of procrastination. It seemed that there is none! The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, in fact, because I do not recognize an immediate cost and consequence, I prefer to continue languishing in my comfort, putting off work till it’s necessary to do it.
In addition to lack of organization and poor time management, one of the biggest hurdles to achieving all our goals is exactly that, the failure to recognize that the immediate cost of procrastination: it is our time. When we procrastinate, we take time for granted, time that could be done working through the list of things that hold short-term and long-term value for us. I think as a graduate student, I can easily slip into the mindset that wasting one day or one week is not that big of deal, thinking “it’s not like I won’t get my paycheck if I don’t work every single day”. But in real terms, the costs are higher. Procrastination is a luxury I should not afford if I am working towards something.
This concept ties in well with time management and once you realize how much time you waste doing absolutely nothing worthwhile, you will be startled!
So, you can take a whole week “thinking” about completing a 4-hour task and keep putting if off to doom scroll, or you can finish the task and get other things done using the high of having achieved something. The only difference is the by-product of the week: it is either a lot of chill time and one task OR it is the one task, two podcasts, an article, and a book! It all depends on how you value your time.
3. Giving it Your Best
There have been times when we make a feeble attempt at something but still end up accomplishing it. Sometimes, though, we make a habit out of it, of giving feeble half-hearted attempts and expecting great results. This seemingly simple factor has a strong underlying message: we do not give our 100% to things that we are not inspired by or to things that do not hold a lot of value to us in the long run. If you are not going to give it your best shot, that goal/ambition/task does not belong on your list of resolutions. You may still end of achieving it, but think back to priorities, to time management, and reevaluate. Can you be giving this spot to a more important resolution worthy of your time, attention, and a 100% effort?
4. Our Environment
Our environment- this aspect is not very complicated. One of the biggest reasons for failing to achieve a task/goal/ambition is losing the ambition/motivation to do it. And, not shockingly, environment can be a key player in your motivation levels. Remember that our environment includes everything around us that we interact with daily, including people. If interacting with someone puts you in a foul mood, or if being somewhere depletes your energy, leave it behind or avoid at the very least. It might not seem so important, but a clouded mind will yield zero results and will prevent you from putting in a full effort. Constant interaction with negativity and toxicity will affect your work, your mood, your ambition, and your productivity.
5. Towards a Purpose
Lastly, post-Covid, there has been a lot of debate on whether it is prudent to always be thinking about time from the point of view of productivity. That whether it is necessary to be productive ALL THE TIME! The simple answer is: yes! However, how productivity is defined, varies from person to person. Our New Year Resolutions are a reflection of what we deem important and thus productive. It is for each individual to figure out what their purpose is, what they want from their life, including the things they want to achieve. I believe it is our purpose that drives us and while it can be immensely difficult to determine exactly what our purpose is, even a mere illusion of it might suffice. I know that some items on my lists are often dropping off and I believe it is because they do not align with my purpose. Maybe it is the same with you: that you have some unchecked items on your previous lists of resolutions that simply do not align with how you intend to live or who you are as a person! So as we try to discover the hack to check off all the items on our lists, I believe it is prudent to reflect on our purpose, the essence of who we are and where we are headed, and remove items from our list that do not align.
I hope you enjoyed reading this just as much as I enjoyed jotting down my thoughts this New Year’s Eve. Here is to shorter more mindful New Year’s resolutions that mirror our intentional lifestyle! I wish all my readers a very happy New Year!