This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Every year upon returning to work from the holidays, I am reminded of the timeless wisdom of Mike Tyson: "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
The return to work can feel like a gut punch – with hundreds of e-mails to catch up on, a full voicemail box, and colleagues dropping by to say hi and catch up. Oh, and a whole bunch of things that you resolved to do differently or better in the haze of the end of year break.
Inevitably things start to fall off the wagon, and your attention gravitates towards what is most immediate – rather than what is most important. What can you do to get back on plan – and stay there? Here are five ideas for the New Year:
1. Focus on doing less
The easiest way to ensure that your aspirations for the year hold up is to hold fewer aspirations. This may sound like simply lowering the bar – but the reality is that if you focus your energy you can actually significantly raise your standards.
Whether it's Covey's limit of two wildly important goals, Tony Schwartz's classic Harvard Business Review column The Magic of Doing One Thing At a Time, or Jony Ive reporting that it was Steve Jobs' unrivalled focus that made him so productive – the research clearly points to the fact that the highest performers are those that are the most focused.
Take a look at your list of resolutions. What are two that you can un-resolve?
2. Come to terms with the fact that you know nothing, and act accordingly
In a recent interview in the McKinsey Quarterly, to sum up what he has learned from decades of advising CEOs and executives, management guru Tom Peters said: "My real bottom-line hypothesis is that nobody has a sweet clue what they're doing."
Ever since Socrates, the smartest people in the room have been reminding us that it's best to come to terms with the fact that we actually know very little and proceed accordingly.
Make this the year you question your assumptions, and prioritize rapid experimentation and learning over false certainty.
3. Cultivate a developmental bias
How much more could you accomplish in 2015 if everyone around you got 10 per cent better? Take a minute to actually answer this question for yourself.
If you're like most leaders we work with – answering this question immediately clarifies that one of the best investments you can make in your own productivity is to invest in those around you. This year, choose to become biased towards developing others.
This is a life's work – and something that the coaches we work with in sport and business have spent thousands of hours learning and honing – but there is an easy place to start: giving precise, varied, and frequent feedback.
Many of us hold back from delivering feedback because we either feel that we're going to jeopardize our working relationship (in the case of corrective feedback) or give someone a 'big head' (in the case of positive or reinforcing feedback for 'just doing their job').
The reality is that if your feedback stays focused on the behaviour ("you interrupted" instead of "you were rude") and looks forward ("please wait until the customer finishes talking" instead of "why did you interrupt?") it almost always helps rather than hurts both performance and the relationship.
4. Develop a positive relationship with pressure
If you want to make 2015 a year in which you grow, develop, and move beyond what you've done before, you are going to encounter pressure along the way. Pressure is inherent in the journey of human growth and development.
Underneath pressure is power – and just like the power that heats our homes, it is terrific when channelled properly – and can be devastating if left unchecked. So, take the time to develop a positive relationship with pressure. One of the best ways to do this is to play an active role in managing your energy.
5. Manage your energy in addition to your time
In our work with the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario on leadership, one of the key points that has been driven home by Troy Taylor, the Director of Sport Science and Medicine, is that the highest levels of performance occur as a result of variation in effort. "We monitor our athletes' training loads on a daily basis – and one of the main things we are looking for is that, over time, we see peaks and valleys: periods of high intensity training followed by periods of rest and recovery. Training consistently at high intensity is not only bad for your health – it's bad for performance."
Take some time to integrate the principles of recovering energy into your routine (summarized wonderfully by my colleague Garry Watanabe here). At the very least, take breaks every 90 minutes in your work day. It's not being lazy or wasting time. It's being smart with your most valuable resource: energy.
6. Don't do all five of these things
It's important to add a sixth item to this five item list: do not attempt to do all of these things. In line with the research I mentioned at the start, focusing on all five will make it almost certain that they join your "no sugar" resolution in the February scrap heap. And, in line with No. 2, try one out, see if it works for you, and – if it works – keep doing it. If it doesn't, try something else. Don't think of them as rules – but rather as suggestions to kick off an experiment in how productive you can be this year.