Ideas to beat the January blues and start 2019 in a positive way
So you’re back at your desk. It’s 2019. You’ve hopefully enjoyed a few lie-ins and days of excessive eating and TV watching over Christmas. (Wasn’t the return of Luther, awesome?) You’ve managed to put work out of your head for a few days, whilst battling through crowds on the high street looking for a bargain. You may have treated yourself to a new bed in the sales (I did), because you’ve been reading about the importance of sleep on just about every aspect of your life, and quite frankly, if a new mattress helps you lose a few pounds by doing absolutely nothing, you’re willing to give it a try. Plus, you’ve had an unread copy of Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution on the nightstand for about two years now and you’re pretty sure she would recommend it. (Just read the book, Rakhee.)
So how can you ensure your return to work doesn’t become an continuation of last year’s inbox and meeting mania; endlessly responding to emails and spending time in pointless meetings, not feeling like you are taking control of your career or business in a more impactful or strategic way. Or worse, feeling as if those big life and business aspirations eluded you last year and the year before, and sadly, the year before that. The ones that you get fired up when you think about them, but just don’t ever seem to have the time to execute, because the day job gets in the way.
At the end of 2016, after a particularly unfocused year, I decided to ‘take back control’. That’s right. I had a referendum on my own procrastination and lack of planning, and voted to leave. Where do you start when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, demotivated, lazy or just needing some clarity, so you don’t pick up where you left off from last year?
Here are some activities that work for me:
Trying to work in a cluttered space never gave my mind the clarity it needed to move me any closer to my big career or business goals. My creativity was stifled, and I meandered from task to task busily and reactively, never feeling on the front foot. You only need to google ‘the science of decluttering’ to find numerous articles by psychologists informing us of the negative impact of living and working in cluttered environments. Once the decluttering process begins, people have found their mood and relationships improve, they lose weight, can concentrate more, and are more successful and productive. All of these things happened for me. Don’t ask me how!
My office is at home these days, so I use the time between Xmas and New Year for its winter ‘spring clean’. Do this in your first week back if you can. (It helps to distract you from the back to work blues!) If you work in a paperless environment, great, but make sure your inbox and filing systems are organised and minimal. If it’s hard to see your computer’s lovely Niagara Falls wallpaper, it’s time for a desktop tidy-up. If you are still addicted to paper-based systems, then it’s time to reflect on why, when we have the technology to be paperless. Consider investing in storage systems and archiving if you need to hold on to paper for legal reasons.
Go to the very bottom of your email inbox – yes, I mean it – and work your way up to today. I’ve discovered all kinds of hidden gems and unfinished tasks in there, which I’d forgotten about, as well as important business leads that did eventually lead to a sale. Don’t fall into the trap of starting to action every email you read, or you’ll get dragged back into inbox mania. Make an action list as you go through your emails, which you can prioritise and work through later.
If the thought of tackling the mountain of paper you have been collating since 2001 is scaring you, then dedicate 15 minutes a day and spread it out over as long a period of time as you need to. Once it is done, you will not need to spend that long on it again – unless you have a terrible relapse.*
Create a positive and ambitious vision for 2019
One that excites you just thinking about it! Whether you make lists or create story and vision boards, imagine yourself in the place you want to be in 2019. Last week, I wrote a ‘2019 year in review’ list, which states everything I want to be able to look back and say I have done this year.
Visioning exercises can be done alone, or with others. Take a step back from the day-to-day and think through what you would like to achieve for yourself, your business and your teams this year. If you’re in a leadership position, this is a great team activity, which can help to motivate your staff, make them feel more a part of the organisation’s future, and one that helps you to understand what makes them tick. And that will help you to lead more effectively.
I encourage my clients to set any limitations aside – “I can’t set that as a vision, because we don’t have enough money in the business at the moment” is no reason not to think big, think creatively, or just in a more positive way. Everyone needs a direction of travel. Don’t talk yourself out of your excitement. I find the route to the vision reveals itself eventually with some headspace and conversations with others.
Do you want to feel more rested or spend more time with your family? Then, set a vision around work/life balance; whether it’s picturing yourself saying ‘no’ more, or thinking about leaving the laptop at work a few nights a week. (Yes, humans, it is entirely possible to leave the office without one!)
Make a list of the things that bring you joy at work
Yes, I know this sounds like hippy dippy nonsense that new age spiritual types who have found themselves are into, but it works. If your list doesn’t compare to the reality of your work life, or life overall, it’s time to assess if you are in the right place or focusing on the right things. For example, if what really gets you buzzing are the creative aspects of your work, but you only spend 5% of your time doing this, who are you kidding, my friend? It’s only by knowing what you want, that you can focus on getting more of it.
Have a plan
You knew I would get here eventually. Even if you are not required to submit a business plan for the year, write one for yourself or your areas of responsibility. It doesn’t have to be a cumbersome document or very detailed. It could be one page, focusing on the key strategies and actions that need to happen in order for you to achieve your 2019 vision, or move you closer to it. If you want to keep it really simple, have strategic activities on one side of a piece of paper, and actions on the other. An example could be: ‘create six opinion pieces to promote your business’ – then you would need to write a list of actions to ensure this happens, for example: ‘create a list of compelling topics by mid January’; ‘create a bi-monthly timetable by mid-January’; ‘hire a copywriter’, etc.
You may not have all the answers right now. You might know what you want, but may not have all the pieces of the puzzle to get you there. Write it down, anyway! These are perfect opportunities to brainstorm ideas with others or spend some time alone reflecting.
Review your 2018
What could have gone better? Did you miss your revenue targets; was staff turnover too high; or did you end up working too much? It’s important you have a solution for this before you embark on the brave, new world of 2019. Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” If you allow last year’s failures and weaknesses to continue, you are jeapordising this year’s successes.
Ask yourself, “what could get in the way of a brilliant 2019?”
Although, I am optimistic by nature, you have to anticipate what could get in the way of achieving your vision. I am loathed to mention the ‘B’ word in an otherwise positive post, but if you’ve been burying your head in the sand about Brexit, for example, now is the time to plan for all contingencies.
Ruthlessly rid yourself of things you don’t need anymore, and only prioritise what will get you to where you want to be at the end of the year. If it’s not focused on the bigger picture, in the words of Elsa, “‘let it go!”. That’s easier said than done when you have to deliver all the other trivial things people expect of you, I hear you say, but if you are not focused on YOUR plan most of the time, it’s going to be harder to feel satisfied looking back on your year. Use this year as a way of getting those around you to focus on the bigger picture, too. You may need to do things that make you feel uncomfortable – turn down meetings, delegate more or say ‘no’. Make sure you build that into your vision; the type of person you would like to be.
Schedule in more downtime!
Whether it’s stopping at your favourite coffee place in the mornings, and allowing yourself 20 minutes of people watching or day planning away from your desk, or crossing the bridge to speed walk around the Tate for 30 minutes at lunchtime, if the January blues are getting to you, take a bit of extra time-out. Forcing yourself to be somewhere you are not motivated to be is emotional torture. Take a breather, remind yourself of the awesome vision you have set yourself for 2019 in your newly decluttered – and now – paperless office, and imagine how good it’s going to feel this time next year!
Happy new year!
By Rakhee Verma
Rakhee Verma left PwC in 2011 to pursue a successful career as a management consultant and interim director; helping her clients to fulfil their strategic and commercial objectives, with an emphasis on building successful growth. With clients in the private, public and third sectors, she brings a unique insight from across a spectrum of businesses and not-for-profit organisations. To contact Rakhee for a discussion about your needs, email firstname.lastname@example.org
* For advice, refer to Marie Kondo, a tidying expert, who also has a new Netflix series.