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Our efforts to improve in the new year often end shortly after we make the resolution to do so. A month later, perhaps even a few days later, it’s forgotten.

Consultant Kate Northrup suggests you adopt microplanning, a process that’s particularly helpful when the future is foggy, as it is in the pandemic era. This involves taking a larger vision and breaking it down into yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily check-ins, when you can adjust as necessary. “We get some of the same stabilizing effects that a five-year plan may have given us, but with shorter chunks of planning that make more sense in our current economic and cultural context,” she writes in Harvard Business Review.

It has six elements:

  • Purpose: Identify your compelling purpose in a way that allows flexibility in terms of how it be achieved. “So many people are in a reboot phase when it comes to their careers,” she says. “New directions can feel risky, but when we look back at our career history, we often find a thread that connects what all of our different roles have had in common. That thread is a great place to start when it comes to identifying your compelling purpose.”
  • The year: Reflect on 2021 – what went well and what didn’t, and what lessons you learned – and make a plan for 2022. Limit yourself to three priorities, she advises, as any more than that becomes overwhelming and the overhaul fails.
  • Quarters: These crucial junctures should be used to reassess. Carve out time in your calendar to ask yourself these questions: What themes emerged in the past three months? What worked, and what didn’t? What did I learn? How can I apply what I learned in the next quarter? What needs to shift in my plan based on new information and circumstances? After that reflection, set no more than five goals for the next quarter. “The fewer the better; the fewer things you do with more focus and attention, the better results you’ll get,” she stresses.
  • Months: Break your goals into specific projects and then divide each project into phases. She outlines four phases to consider for each project: Planning and initiation, launching and making it visible, completion and integration, and rest and reflection.
  • Weeks: At the start of each week, make a to-do list for the next seven days, a period of time that allows a broader view of what’s ahead and gives you more flexibility to plan than your average to-do list. It also differs from your normal to-do list because it’s not related to the endless tasks your boss or clients want completed. It’s the other stuff, of improvement and betterment. She urges you to give attention to movement, sleep, time outdoors, hydration, and healthy food. “Optimizing your physical energy makes you significantly more effective at executing your plans than buying into the common, yet inaccurate, belief that our best work comes exclusively from our intellect,” she says.
  • Days: Track your energy each day, which will help you optimize your work flow. Take five minutes at bedtime to write in a journal what you worked on, how it went, and what you’re grateful for.

It may seem like too much organization, but then the average New Year’s resolution is underorganized, with little staying power. At the same time, it’s flexible in a period in which we have learned flexibility is vital. “Letting go of our need and desire to know what the future holds does not mean a free fall into anxious indolence. By breaking down our planning processes into smaller chunks, we begin to check in more frequently and adapt more naturally,” she concludes.

Quick hits

  • Author and entrepreneur Michael Bassey Johnson says: “There are greater things to be achieved in every new year, and each and everyone must prepare themselves to be great, not by words of the mouth, but by a lot of sacrifices.”
  • Every great opportunity has many reasons why it could fail. You have to trust your ability to solve problems along the way, says Atomic Habits author James Clear.
  • Turn boredom to your advantage by noticing it, suggests physician and author Hannah England. Try something completely new, an activity outside your comfort zone, which might spark an unexpected interest. Or wallow in your boredom, treating it as a luxury.
  • People are much more likely to agree to help when requests are made in-person, rather than through text-based media, research shows. But most of us don’t realize that, underestimating the face-to-face advantage.
  • The job of an ad is to lead people to imagine taking an action, says advertising guru Roy H. Williams. And that requires you first to meet them where they are now. What does your customer already believe in?

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