Now that Christmas is over, you’ll be mulling over what the next 12 months will bring. Sure, you’ve got a few resolutions when it comes to your work life. But you’re not feeling especially hopeful about the next few months. You’ve never been very good at sticking to goals in the past. So why should things be different now? We’re only human, after all. And it’s easy to slip back into bad habits and a self-defeatist attitude – especially when it’s cold and dark outside, and the winter months seem to go on and on forever.
But wait. This is where 2016 could be the year that you finally realise some dreams. All it takes is a little imagination, commitment and dedication, alongside a few small steps forward and a sprinkling of positivity to make everything come true.
Are you stuck in a job you hate and long to break into something more creative? Have you had enough of your boss and fancy going solo this year? Don’t believe you can do it? Read on to discover my tips and tricks, along with a few trade secrets, to ensure you achieve your career goals and enjoy your most successful year to date.
1. Set yourself three goals for the year
It almost sounds too simple doesn’t it. The idea of coming up with three little goals to achieve over the next 12 months. But it’s surprisingly effective. Your goals could be anything: leave full-time work at a design studio to go freelance; set up a wedding photography business on the side or finally turn that creative hobby into cash by selling your products online. Whatever you want to achieve, set yourself three little goals to help you get there.
I’m not talking unrealistic, overwhelming goals where you instantly become ‘that thing’. I’m talking small and gentle steps in the right direction. For example, someone very dear to me exclaimed how they’d love to become a wedding photographer. This was roughly about two years ago. On telling her about my annual ‘three goals’ trick, she initially didn’t believe it could be so effective. But after thinking about it, she came up with three goals – firstly to set up an online portfolio, then to do a few free weddings to build it up and finally to book her first paid wedding for the following year. She was realistic and she felt positive. By April she had not only smashed all of her goals; she had also booked eight paid weddings for the following year. Amazing.
By setting yourself three goals, you’re literally committing yourself to a task. You’re forcing yourself to say “Ok, I’m not going to become a wedding photographer overnight, so how can I at least get the ball rolling?” This is what my dear friend did. Two years later, and she’s flat out busy and wondering why it took her so long to fulfil her dream.
So, write down your three goals on paper. Hang them on your bedroom wall. Make them this year’s focus.
"Write down your three goals on paper. Hang them on your bedroom wall. Make them this year’s focus."
2. Put your goals into action, and ensure they happen
Now that you’ve figured out what you’re going to do, it’s time to put your words into action. What three realistic steps can you take in 2016 to achieve your goals? Could you take a part-time course? Do you need to save up for some equipment? Is there a way of building up your portfolio before you go freelance? By having those three goals written down, you’ll start to introduce things into your life that will help you get there.
Add things to your calendar, so they become certain. Tell everyone about your goals, so they become even more real. Do everything you can to ensure that you don’t back out and give up on your goals halfway through the year. Keep telling yourself that by the end of 2016, you will be successfully on your way to whatever it is that you’re trying to become.
And then when December comes around, you’ll get the chance to think about 2017’s three goals. Goodness knows where you’ll be by then! But make sure you put your words into action, so you can be proud of what you’ve achieved so far.
3. Ditch the booze... seriously
If there’s one thing that can make an absolutely huge difference to your mental attitude, energy and positivity – and I mean colossal – it’s the avoidance of alcohol altogether. Boo, I hear you say. And I hear you… Especially as a nice refreshing pint and a cold glass of white wine has often passed my lips over the past two decades.
But alcohol is a depressant and it can damage the central nervous system. It robs you of energy, positive mental attitude and motivation to do things. It interrupts decent sleep and it can even damage your self-esteem and confidence. Not the things you want when you’re trying to make 2016 your most successful year. You want to be on top of your game. You need all the energy, motivation and happiness you can get. Now is not the time to enjoy that nightly tipple.
But can I drink on weekends? Sure, if you can moderate and keep it to just a few, and avoid drinking during the week. Personally, I’m cutting right back on the booze this year. It’s not one of my own three goals – just a ‘step’ to help me achieve all of them. I want to leap out of bed every day and have the energy to do things. I think you’ll agree, this is something you’d benefit from as well.
If you want more energy, confidence and happiness – and all you had to do was go teetotal now and again – you’d seriously consider putting down that wine glass as well wouldn’t you? Think about it. Stop drinking so much. You’ll even lose weight, look great and find all this extra time to do things.
One final tip on the booze – don’t think about ‘giving up’ something you love; think of gaining so much more. Does alcohol really enhance your life? Anyway, enough of the preaching. You get my point.
4. Eat well and cook real food
With the above tip in mind, you’ll want to adopt some additional healthy lifestyle choices. You know how it goes. Avoid processed foods (what I love to call ‘brown food’) and cook real, fresh food. Make your plate colourful and full of variation. I tend to avoid cereals, pasta, rice and bread these days – opting instead for good fats, protein, fruit/vegetables and things like quinoa. I feel lighter, healthier and have no problem with my digestive system. My skin has never looked better and I’m full of energy. If you’re going to have refined carbs, go for the wild rice variety. And swap white potatoes for sweet ones.
Got a sweet tooth? Buy some little pots of natural yogurt, drizzle a little honey on top with a sprinkling of cinnamon and voila - a lovely little desert for after dinner. Or put some pipless grapes in the freezer (great for the summer months) and eat them frozen whenever you need something to nibble on.
I can highly recommend Sainsbury’s healthier recipes for some ideas for dinner.
5. Move your body
Stop being lazy, dust off those trainers and do something. You don’t need an expensive gym membership or equipment. Walking, running or cycling are all great ways to stay in shape and feel great. Try and throw in some weight-bearing exercises as well, using your body. Push-ups, tricep dips, squats, lunges. Check out Amanda Bisk for some workout plans that don’t involve any equipment and you can do at home.
Personally, I love a few workout DVDs. Check out Nell McAndrew's Peak Energy and Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred. Nothing wrong with those. And I’ve got a spinning bike at home. Rented and eventually purchased via Rowhire. Can’t recommend them enough. There are a shed load of free spinning class videos on YouTube to help you along.
A final tip is to whack a pedometer on your phone and try and squeeze in 10,000 steps a day. Sounds tough but if you get off the bus one stop earlier than usual, get outside for some fresh air at lunchtime, and perhaps enjoy a stroll after dinner – the steps soon add up.
6. Meditate and stretch
I always used to hate the idea of meditating. How on earth was someone like me going to sit still for more than a few minutes and quieten the mind? Well apparently, that’s almost impossible to achieve for even the most practiced meditators. Because the whole point of mediation is to help us understand our own mind and become aware of our own thoughts, allowing them to pass while turning negatives into positives. The thoughts won't stop entirely, but you can learn to control them somewhat.
I do try and sit still occasionally, or lie on the floor, to meditate. But I read somewhere that meditation can also be achieved through monotonous tasks. So I take great pleasure in housework, ironing… even exercise, as they allow me to completely switch off, empty my mind and focus on one thing. Cooking has the same effect on me as well.
The benefits of meditation are obvious. We learn how to stop our minds from controlling our thoughts and actions. We reduce stress and boost wellbeing.
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
"The benefits of meditation are obvious. We learn how to stop our minds from controlling our thoughts and actions. We reduce stress and boost wellbeing."
Oh and whilst we’re on the subject of wellbeing – remember to stretch every single day. Take up yoga. Sure, a class would definitely help. But there are plenty of apps and online training videos to help you do stuff at home or at your desk.
Yoga Studio is my personal favourite. Great for the iPad, and you can take it everywhere you go.
7. To bed early, start early, finish early
I’ve never been an early bird. Getting out of bed on a cold and blustery morning is my idea of hell. But once I’m up, I’m thrilled to be awake. Because nothing beats being at work early and then being able to leave early. Every day I get to the office for roughly 7.30am and I leave around 4pm. I’m back home for 4.30pm and then have an insane amount of free time to do whatever I want with.
Last night, I went on my spinning bike for an hour whilst watching a film on my iPad. It was a beautiful meditative hour of unwinding after a super productive day. I felt happy, full of pride for getting some exercise in and by 5.30pm I still had loads of time left for other things. I cooked some fresh food for dinner with my husband. I played an hour of Fallout 4. I read two chapters of my book – Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, if you’re interested. I had a bath to candlelight, whilst watching something else on my iPad. And then I happily collapsed into bed at around 10pm.
Ok, I appreciate I have no children… by choice, I might add – but if you have children, it’s even better because you get more wonderful family time.
I can’t preach this enough – get up, get out there and don’t work more than your eight hours. Get home to embrace your free time and your home life.
8. Make the most of your evenings and weekends
It’s easy to fall into the trap of working long hours and forgetting to rest during evenings and weekends. I should know. I made myself ill on a few occasions, trying to set up my own business and run Creative Boom – doing too much. But overwork only leads to stress and burnout. It’s also scientifically proven that working longer than seven or eight hours a day is pointless because there comes a point when you lose all productivity and focus. The mind, as you would expect, becomes tired.
So it makes complete sense to relax and embrace your downtime – if you are to perform at your optimum best during work hours. Give yourself a chance to unwind and prepare yourself for the next stint of hard work.
If you think you should be doing something, or guilt starts to set in, remind yourself that rest and rejuvenation is part of your secret to success.
9. Take some time every day to learn something new
Whether you're listening to an interesting podcast on the way to work (check out these suggestions to get you started), watching an insightful talk on your iPad while eating breakfast (nothing wrong with a few TED Talks in the morning), catching up on a few chapters of a business book during your lunch hour (here are my book recommendations for some ideas) or engaging with an online course at home (these 50 free online courses might do the trick) – try and find some time each and every day to learn something new and boost your skills. Anything and everything that will help towards achieving this year's three goals.
For my dear friend, she opted for a few online training videos on photography and watched them on her smart phone on the way to work. She also saved up enough money to attend a photography course in London, but that's another story.
Just try and avoid learning anything heavy two hours before bed. That's the time when you should be staying away from technology and blaring screens, winding down and preparing yourself for a good night's rest. Instead, it's an ideal time to pick up a work of fiction and get lost in another world.
"Remind yourself that rest and rejuvenation is part of your secret to success."
10. Be kind to yourself
So it’s March and you’ve not even thought about your goals? Or you’ve fallen back into bad lifestyle habits. Go easy on yourself. These things happen. Just try and take some steps to get back on track and do better next time.
Nothing good will come from beating yourself up. In the wise words of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi: “You are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.”
11. Surround yourself with positive thoughts and people... yeah man!
Now you've taken all these steps to lead a super healthy and productive life, allowing yourself to achieve all your career goals, it's time to surround yourself with like-minded people and free yourself from anything or anyone holding you back.
That might mean moving away from a few friends who adopt unhealthier habits that encourage you back to your former ways. It might also mean changing your routine to embrace new opportunities. Whatever it entails, take steps to ensure your own little world is as positive and peaceful as possible.
And while you're doing that – to keep mental strength and clarity – follow a few inspiring Twitter accounts and blogs. I love to follow Daily Zen on Twitter for some inspiring quotes and Tiny Buddha for some awesome articles on leading a happier life.
"Surround yourself with like-minded people and free yourself from anything or anyone holding you back."
12. Write a diary
Finally, keep track of your progress by writing a diary. It doesn’t have to be endless pages of copy. It could just be a few daily thoughts jotted down throughout the year. And then – when December rolls around and you’re considering 2017’s three goals – you can read back your experiences and see how far you’ve come, helping you to determine what happens next.
Grab a nice Moleskine notepad. Or download something like Day One – a lovely little journal app that allows you to track your progress by writing down your own thoughts, and you can even sync it with your iPad and iPhone for journaling on the move.
And that’s it. Those are my tips to ensure you have your most successful career year to date. This is certainly what works for me, but what works for you? What will be your three goals for 2016? What resolutions are you putting into place so you realise your dreams? Jot them down and start taking positive steps towards your goals today.