New year, new you. Right? Well, maybe not.
Most of us are aware that trying to make too many changes at once can set us up for failure. For the first couple working days of January, we may do a great job of tackling that pile of to do’s we’ve been putting off since last January, taking regular walking breaks at the office, signing up for a new tool or organizational system, volunteering for that new project, and resolving never to get impatient with our stakeholders.
By week 2, the usual chaos returns. Overwhelmed and exhausted by the volume of new changes we’re trying to implement simultaneously, we give up on the elusive inbox zero in favor of the urgent fire that needs extinguishing. Instead of focusing on our long-term goals, we settle for short-term survival. We tell ourselves that the mythical new you will have to wait until next January.
The flaw in the “new year, new you” philosophy is that it implies that changes must happen overnight. Most of us know by now that the most effective way to sustain changes long-term is to make small incremental changes. While these changes may not seem significant in the short-term, they can add up to make a real difference in our lives.
For project managers, it can be particularly difficult to avoid getting swept away in the daily grind. So much of what we do is dependent on other people and is therefore outside of our control. While there may always be some element of chaos, don’t let yourself drown in it. Here are a few small examples of steps that project managers can take to maintain momentum against their professional goals this new year:
Issue: My organization requires me to set professional goals at the beginning of the year, but I never seem to get around to looking at them until the last quarter.
Solution: Make sure you set goals that you care about, not just goals that your organization requires. This makes it a lot more likely that you’ll want to work towards them. To make sure your goals are top of mind and not just an afterthought, create a 15-minute calendar appointment with yourself to review them monthly. Anybody can spare 15 minutes and, if you do it once a month, it should only take that long. Use that “meeting” to assess your progress, log positive feedback from others, and plan what you’ll do in the coming month to maintain momentum.
Issue: The phone rings with an opportunity to lead an exciting new project. Unfortunately, your resume never seems to be up-to-date, and you wind up having to stay up till 3am to pull together your application. You don’t get the position because someone else who was more organized got their resume in sooner.
Solution: Create a calendar appointment to update your resume and LinkedIn profile quarterly. It’ll take less time because you should only have to make minor changes quarter to quarter. It should also be easier to remember the details of the projects that you worked on most recently. One of my favorite times to update my resume is during a flight because you likely don’t need the Internet for this task. If you have any business travel coming up, forego the WiFi and commit to dusting off that latest copy. If you’re looking to develop something more comprehensive, check out this great resource for developing a project management portfolio.
Issue: Your project ends, your team is dispersing, and you still need to pull together the lessons learned. Given other, more pressing demands, you skip this step. You never seem to be able to gather and apply lessons learned in a systematic way to benefit you or your successors.
Solution: Record lessons learned monthly as a recurring project management task, the same way you would update your risk register or project schedule. I also have a database of lessons learned regarding my own professional development that is separate from the lessons learned recorded for my projects. To avoid overburdening yourself, make the team responsible for the project lessons learned, and make yourself responsible for recording your own lessons learned for 15 minutes a month.
It may not feel like a new year, new you—but you’ll thank yourself in six months for becoming more organized and more focused on your personal career growth. Happy new year 2019!