If you want to make this year extraordinary, New Year's resolutions are a must—even if you don't call them resolutions. The best New Year's resolutions are the ones that excite you.
Here are some practical tips for how to make New Year's resolutions that last, along with resolutions to help you dream bigger, engage your team, and achieve more of what you value most.
How to keep your New Year's resolutions
Among the challenges for entrepreneurs is the need to stay focused. Here are five tips to keep your resolutions focused and relevant:
1. Get beyond your "should" list
It's easy to make resolutions that sound good to someone else, but don't stir something inside of you. To get beyond this, it helps to add a visual. For example, which is more compelling? To lose 10 pounds or be able to fit back into your favorite jeans? To write the business plan or walk away from the investor meeting with the requested funding? Incidentally, I've not fit into my favorite jeans for ages. And I'm okay with that.
2. Put your resolutions in writing
This step alone greatly increases your chance of success. Make your resolutions specific enough to be actionable, yet not so granular that you'll never look at them again. If you've ever helped develop a strategic plan, you know what I'm talking about.
In addition to putting your resolutions in writing, here are the results of a study that reveal four other ways entrepreneurs can put the odds in their favor.
3. Find a better word for "resolutions"
Use language that inspires you. For example, if the word resolutions feels too formal, try any or all of the following instead:
Perhaps better than any of these: dreams. Every entrepreneur I know started not with a resolution but a dream. Use the language that works for you.
4. Try outcome goals and process goals
"You don't need a life plan. What you need is a life approach." — wisdom from a family friend
For example, if your outcome is to fit back into your old jeans by March 1, your process goal might be to walk 45 minutes, three days per week.
Sometimes you may find it more helpful simply to build better habits—for example, taking a walk at lunch, or giving three sincere compliments to your staff, every workday. These are likely to produce good outcomes, yet the emphasis is on simply improving quality of life, for yourself and those who work for you.
5. Don't make it all or nothing
Last year on Jan. 1, I set up an app to track my new daily habits. All was going well. But then one night mid-month, some tough family news arrived by text. The next morning, I missed my routine. That silly app set the daily counter back to zero.
It was like getting my hand slapped with a ruler. I took the day to regroup, got right back the next morning to crushing my habits, and ditched the app. The point is, cut yourself some slack. You are human, after all. Perfection is so overrated.
Best New Year's resolutions for entrepreneurs
The best New Year's resolutions are the ones that come from inside you. I offer the following resolutions not as a slap with a ruler but simply as an encouragement. Anyone who made it through 2020 deserves to be encouraged—and congratulated.
1. Set boundaries on your workday
"Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week." — Lori Greiner
I get it. Your business is your baby. Running a business takes tremendous amounts of time, especially in the beginning. Yet even then or especially then, you may find it helpful to establish non-work routines, such as breaking for regular mealtimes.
When I finally decided to put a hard stop on the workday at 6pm, my productivity increased. Why? For one thing, I like a good meal. There's something soul-satisfying about preparing and enjoying good food. Second, the hard stop gave me a reason to stay focused.
Yes, I sometimes return to my office after dinner. But it's a different and better experience. What's one boundary you could put into your workday that would give you more time for family, leisure, or yourself?
2. Manage your energy and your time
There's a reason we make resolutions in January. The New Year offers a fresh start. We often feel a renewed sense of resolve and optimism. Why not take advantage of that?
Likewise, what are the rhythms built into your day, week, month and year? And how can you structure your work accordingly? For example, science has shown that Monday mornings are the worst day to hold meetings. Yet that's what a lot of companies do.
Why not take a closer look at how you're structuring your time? Or managing your energy?
It may take you time to come up with all the answers, or bring your workflow into perfect alignment. Again, perfection isn't the goal. But what if every day, or every week, you could take small steps toward making better use of your time? Your energy?
Those small improvements add up. Taken together they make a world of difference.
Here's the other good news: Every day is a fresh start. I get so tired of hearing about how many people "fail" at their New Year's resolutions, when all that's needed is to get back up and start again.
3. Help your team be more productive
Once work-from-home became necessary, a lot of bosses seemed to assume their employees either knew how to stay focused—or couldn't possibly be trusted to do so. The truth for most teams is probably somewhere in between.
Helping your team be more productive starts with a spirit of respect
If you've hired the right people, trained them well and treated them well, they can be trusted. But even with all of that, they may still need some guidance and support.
To turn this into a resolution, find your own practical way(s) of helping your team stay focused. Example: by resolving once a month to ask your team, "What would help you be more productive?" Then listening and responding to the answers.
Get the team talking and sharing ideas
Normalize the difficulties. Working from home is hard. Talking about it openly will probably bring a collective sigh of relief. It may also build empathy and teamwork, which is going to make your job of leading that much easier.
4. Commit to quantum improvement in one key area
What are your biggest entrepreneurial challenges for the year ahead? Often as your company grows, so do the growing pains. Examples:
- The funky startup that now requires more structure and sophistication to move forward, especially when it comes to recruiting, hiring and retaining the best people
- The entrepreneur who must learn to delegate and relinquish control
- The introverted leader who's now expected to be a dynamic presenter
- The successful business owner whose family life is suffering due to overwork
My mother used to tell me, "If you're going to grow, you're going to have to leave some people behind." When I went from being an employee to a business owner, the person I had to leave behind was the old me.
What is it time for you to leave behind? What is the one skill, trait or competency, that if you focused on improving it for an entire year, would make the greatest difference in your business? How about your personal or family life?
5.Treat yourself to a hobby (seriously)
In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm still figuring this one out. I don't eat sourdough bread, much less make it. I gave away my knitting needles over a decade ago. Likewise for my digital piano (gave that to one of my nephews ... he took a pass on the knitting needles).
But as of last January, I do volunteer to bake birthday cakes for Cake4Kids. So that counts.
To be a more effective, more humane leader, you need a life outside of work. That means building in fun. This point was driven home last week when my entrepreneurial brother—one of the hardest-working people I know—sent me an mp3 of his recent guitar and keyboard work. The file was called "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
As of this writing, he's not given me permission to share it. But I smiled all the way through, because the song means something to me, and because I could tell he put in a lot of effort. You could also tell he was having fun. That's what it's about.
If you're inspired to put down your work for a time and pick up a guitar, a pair of drumsticks, a pair of knitting needles, or any other hobby, I'm confident you'll become a happier, more effective, more well-rounded leader. Your team will notice and appreciate your humanity. Not a bad way to kick off the New Year.