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Ten questions to take stock of your work and career going into 2018

As we close 2017 and move into 2018, it's a good time to take stock of our work and careers.

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself, the first six from consultant Kevin Eikenberry:

  • What did I accomplish? Think about what you are proud of over the past year and then, lowering the bar, consider what else you accomplished even if not quite at the level you hoped for. “When you review the list, you might have a variety of feelings. You might have immense pride about some items or even the full list. You might feel disappointment, as the list isn’t what you had hoped it would be. Whatever your feelings, notice them and then reflect on whether that is the feeling you want associated with your list at this time next year,” he writes on his blog.
  • What did I learn? You will have learned from accomplishments, mistakes and the run-of-the-mill. He also suggests not just focusing on new learning but also relearning that is having an impact on your life.
  • What held me back? You probably didn’t achieve all your goals for the past year. What got in the way, limiting results? He notes that might involve things you did or didn’t do, thoughts or habits. “Time spent identifying this list will be invaluable as you begin to look forward,” he says.
  • What are my “final four?” The final four are your biggest goals for the New Year – the most important things, just four, you want to accomplish. It starts with making a list of your goals, intentions or targets, which will probably be quite a number, and whittling it down to four (although you can have fewer). “If you get far beyond four, your focus and productivity will drop,” he warns in another blog post.
  • Which habit will aid me the most? You won’t get to your goals and aspirations if you don’t change anything. Often there is one habit you could alter that could have a significant impact on your results.
  • What is my focus word? He is one of many thought leaders who seek a word to be the guiding focus for a year, something like intimacy, purpose or relax. “There are no perfect words here; just start writing words down as they come to you. At the end of the ten minutes, pick the one that is calling to you. You will want to ‘try this word on’ and live with it for a day or so. Chances are if it doesn’t quite fit, you will identify a new, better word (whether from your original list or not) within a couple days. Just make sure that soon you do pick your focus word for the year,” he explains.

New Zealand life coach Louise Thompson also offers six questions to end the year, two – on accomplishments and lessons – that duplicate Mr. Eikenberry. But here are four unique ones she suggests you can add to your reflective arsenal:

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  • What would you like to say farewell to and leave behind in 2017? Consider what you have outgrown, be it your career or an element of it, a social situation, an obligation or a relationship. What would you like to gently close the door on, she asks?
  • What are you most grateful for in 2017? Think of what worked out well for you, perhaps better than anticipated. Who do you feel appreciative of for their contribution to your life in 2017 – and have you told them?
  • Where did you give the most of yourself in 2017? Now move on to considering giving and balance. Are you happy with where you put the share of your time, energy and attention? She suggests considering areas where you wish you had invested more – and less. Take time to write down three ways you could balance your time or energy distribution differently in 2018.
  • What were the best-feeling moments of 2017? What are the highlights you will treasure down the road and the people or events that contributed? Think about what lay beneath them – what made them special. And she suggests writing down three words that sum up the year for you personally.

"Taking time, out of the hamster wheel frenzy of doing, to pause and reflect is so important. Effective change and growth comes from awareness of what's working for us, and what is not. If we wish for a better tomorrow it is best built on the foundations of the lessons of today," she concludes.

Setting New Year's resolutions – one week at a time

As you contemplate the year ahead, it's easy to make ambitious resolutions to tackle beefy goals. Author Nicolas Cole suggest that's a mistake. Instead, think one week at a time.

"Every time you set a goal, ask yourself if you can realistically accomplish it in seven days," he writes on Inc. "If you can't accomplish it in seven days, the goal is too big. It's all right to have a big goal on the horizon, but you'll never get there if you can't break it down into actionable steps."

So set a seven-day goal. Then reverse-engineer it to determine what you need to do over the week to accomplish it. For starters, how many hours do you need to devote to it each day? What will you be doing? How will you know when you've accomplished it? For a massive goal, you will need a series of one-week goals.

"I have always found the seven-day rule to be the most effective when it comes to goal setting, primarily because a week is always more than enough time to get something substantial done. The problem is, we rarely stay focused on our goals for a week straight. We daydream about the big shiny reward at the end, and then when it comes time to work we say, 'Eh, I don't really have time today – and besides, I have all the time in the world. I'll do it tomorrow.'"

But tomorrow never comes. Or when it does, the goal is not achieved. So give yourself just seven days. Then reflect again about the next week, and on, and on, and on.

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Quick hits

  • Avoid making 2018 a Groundhog Year, in which you have the same year as you have had each recent year before it, says consultant Anthony Iannarino in an e-mail blast. Become the person that comes after the person you are right now.
  • Maintain a deep work tally this year, says productivity author Cal Newport, marking down each day the amount of time you spent in a state of distraction-free concentrated work.
  • Be a master of no in 2018, advise Inc. editors Leigh Buchanan and Kate Rockwood.
  • Instead of setting out one huge, perhaps unattainable goal for the year, create a bucket list – a series of things you want to do, says blogger Kayla Matthews.
  • In the coming year, marketers should be using artificial intelligence to analyze everything, says Melbourne Business School branding professor Mark Ritson (while admitting he has no idea what the concept means or how to go about using it, but insisting the time has come to experiment and learn).
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