With any luck, the job market will start to turn around in the coming year, but it’s still a good idea to make some positive changes in your work habits. Who knows—they might help you keep your name off your employer’s list of possible layoffs. Aside from potentially increasing your job security, setting some New Year’s office resolutions can also renew your motivation for going to work on cold January mornings.
1. Suck Up (Subtly)
No one wants to be the office brown-noser, so don’t start polishing your boss’s shoes or anything, but a little gab at the water cooler won’t hurt you. It’s much harder to fire someone when you can put a face to a name, so developing personal relationships around the office is a wise strategy for protecting your job. It’s also a good networking opportunity; in case you do get laid off, you’ll have solid contacts, good references, and excellent chances of landing another job quickly. Being more social in your work environment can also make going to the office more enjoyable, since interaction with others has been shown to both elevate mood and ease stress.
2. Set (and Demonstrate) Personal Goals
Do you want to communicate more effectively with your coworkers? Manage your staff more efficiently? Increase your productivity? Bring in new clients? Whatever your objective, it’s important to set personal goals that will keep you motivated and moving forward along your career path. But don’t forget that it’s also important for others to see you setting these challenges for yourself. Pushing yourself to reach new benchmarks in your career shows initiative and integrity and will inspire others around you. It’s a unique quality that will set you apart from the crowd.
3. Declutter Your Desktop
It can be difficult for busy professionals to maintain a clean, organized workspace, but it is possible, says Helen Volk, author of Beyond Office Clutter. “It’s like teeth brushing,” she says. “It doesn’t take long, but you’ve got to do it every day.”
A messy desktop can harbor illness-spreading germs and, despite being a sign of a creative mind, can signal to coworkers and supervisors that you are disorganized. They may think, “Cluttered desk, cluttered mind” and assume that you have too much trouble sorting through your piles of stuff to get any work done, which may actually be true.
If this idea hits close to home, tackle the clutter, increase your efficiency, and change your office image. Volk recommends storing unused office supplies, keeping garbage and recycling bins by your desk so that you’re not tempted to keep things you don’t need, cleaning food messes promptly, using a filing system, and learning to love desktop organizers.
And remember, organizing ten minutes a day keeps the chaos away.
4. Organize Your Schedule
Your schedule could probably use a little decluttering, too. You’re avoiding empty calories in the new year—how about avoiding empty office “work,” like constantly checking email, as well? In 2007, the New York Times reported that a group of Microsoft workers took an average of fifteen minutes to return to serious mental tasks, such as writing reports or computer code, after reading and responding to incoming emails. They were more likely to reply to other messages or browse the Internet than to return to their work immediately.
Print out a blank copy of your daily schedule, divide it into fifteen-minute units, and start compartmentalizing your time. Give yourself an hour (four units) in the morning, and maybe one unit before you leave the office at night, to read and answer email. Assign a time of day and a fixed amount of units to the rest of your daily responsibilities, and consider adding two to four units of creative brainstorming if your job requires you to generate ideas. By organizing your time this way, you’ll be more productive and find you have more time to do everything—and even relax a little.
5. School Yourself
The best way to stay on top of your game is to keep your skills sharp. If you’re trying to hold on to your job or find a new one, familiarity with current technology and practices and the ability to learn new concepts are valuable assets. And even if you’re secure in your position, additional skills and certification may qualify you for higher pay and improve your job satisfaction. Gaining knowledge and educating yourself is never a bad idea.
If you want to expand your leadership skills, the American Management Association offers professional-development programs and resources across the country. If you’re interested in adding to your Internet and software knowledge, the cheapest and easiest way to learn is by finding a class or private tutor on Craigslist. You can also enroll in a local community college for courses in any subject. Approach your boss about your goals, since many employers will help pay for your education.
6. Match Yourself with a Mentor
If you’re looking to develop new talents and chart your growth, a mentor is a great person to have in your life. Mentors lead us through both advice and example, but we have to be open. Don’t limit your search to your superiors at work, since that can create a conflict of interest; look instead to your peers, former professors, family members, and local business owners. You can also check out professional mentoring organizations like the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), or the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
7. Work on Your Work
We spend most of our lives at work, yet we rarely think of directing positive energy there when it comes time to making New Year’s resolutions. Instead of just dieting (again) this year, try thinking about little professional changes you can make, like the ones above, to be a more productive and more motivated employee.