(Note: I originally wrote this post last year for GovLoop, but as the year’s end has rolled back around I think it’s still relevant. I’ve adapted it for this blog.)
Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, And Play When No One Has The Time uses the word “time confetti” to describe the harried mishmash of time in modern life. Our days are sliced to ribbons by hordes of overlapping responsibilities, our constant connectivity to work allows it to seep into our personal lives, and the demands of our families seep into our work days. And any free time we manage to find? It gets contaminated by planning or worrying about what will come next, or what we’re forgetting to do.
Sound familiar? It certainly does to me.
The ability to plan and reflect on our lives has become increasingly difficult, which is why so many of us complain of being constantly overwhelmed, and rushing headlong through life.
The year’s end is a traditional time for reflection, but although most of us probably make the obligatory list of resolutions, most of us don’t take the time to truly, deeply reflect.
Part of the reason is that it’s hard to find the time. Between year-end work sprints, holiday parties, family visits, and the usual chaos of everyday life, it’s tough to carve out as much time as a true period of reflection takes.
But here’s the problem: If you’re never taking time to reflect on how your previous year went, how can you expect next year to go any differently?
- You promised yourself that 2015 would be year you wrote that novel, but it never got written. Why will 2016 be any different?
- You swore you’d quit your dead-end job and start making a living at your passion project in 2015 – but you’re still punching the clock and hating it. Why should 2016 be a better year?
- You promised yourself you’d start taking care of your health, but you’re still in as rough shape as you were this time last year. What’s to change next year?
Part of making your dreams and aspirations actually take shape is to understand what factors are standing in your way.
- If you want to be happier, it helps to understand what has been making you unhappy.
- If you want to have more time, it helps to understand where you’re spending the time you have.
- If you want to have better relationships, it helps to understand what relationship habits you’ve been in.
If you want to have a healthy, happy, amazing 2016, it helps to understand just what happened in 2015.
To do it, I want you to schedule an entire afternoon to yourself in the next few weeks – no distractions, no obligations, no excuses. You can take more time than an afternoon, if you want. I have a friend who takes a weekend vacation by herself every year on her birthday in order to reflect on her life and examine her goals.
In the time leading up to your Afternoon of Reflection, grab a fresh notebook or Word document (notebook is better, because no internet), and start jotting down notes as they come to you. Then, when you actually sit down to reflect you’ll have a head start and can dive in deeper.
In a season of celebration and giving, make this the gift you give to yourself.
Here are some topics to get you started.
Think back through your year. What goals did you achieve? What personal or professional milestones did you pass? Maybe you were too busy to celebrate at the time, or maybe it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal. But this is your time to remember those achievements. Take the time to list your accomplishments, and to do something fun to celebrate them. I can think of several for myself this year that I’ve completely rushed past without acknowledging!
Your first assignment – leave a comment with a goal you achieved this year, AND how you plan to celebrate it.
You’re not the only one rushing through life without celebrating your accomplishments. Think about your friends, family, and coworkers. Did any of them meet a goal or do something huge that they haven’t gotten recognition for? Take a moment to help them celebrate it, or to spread the word (such as writing a note praising their accomplishment to a supervisor, if appropriate). Who made your year a little brighter? Who helped you out? Celebrate these people’s positive influence in your life with a heartfelt “thank you.”
Start a list, but don’t let yourself get caught up in the enormity of it. Just send an email today, take someone out to coffee tomorrow, and work your way slowly through your list.
Consider your time
How did you spend your time last year? Probably a mix of at work, at home, and on other duties. Think back through your biggest time commitments, and evaluate what you liked or disliked about each. What did you love doing the most in 2015? When where you happiest? What times were the most stressful, frustrating, or dark? What can you do to shift that balance for next year? What could you have done differently this year?
Get specific – don’t just say “I liked spending time with my partner,” rather, list out your favorite moments and remember how they made you feel. Remember to list out the hard moments, too, and try to understand what you learned from them.
Consider your regrets
This is a tough question, but it’s not meant to get you into a funk. Think about the frustrations of last year. What opportunities (both professional and personal) did you pass up? What do you wish you’d spent more time doing? Less time doing? What words do you wish you could take back? What words do you wish you’d said? What fears or procrastinations held you back?
Take time to learn the lesson in your regrets. Some things may have been out of your control, but others may hold important lessons to help you live better in the future.
Consider the goals you missed
Was 2015 definitely going to be the year you changed careers, wrote that screenplay, started a business, or ran a marathon? Did you not, in fact, do that?
Rather than simply saying, “Well, then 2016 is the year I’ll finally do X,” take a moment to really examine why you didn’t accomplish the goal this year. Did life get in the way? Did you forget about it? Did you go in a different direction? Is it a goal you feel obligated to do, but don’t actually want to do?
Don’t simply transfer goals from one year’s to do list to the next without truly thinking about it. Then, decide either to let it go and be at peace, or to double down in 2016 and actually accomplish it.
Make a list of what you want to leave behind
Along with goals that aren’t aligned with you anymore, make a list of hurtful emotions, unhealthy relationships, bad habits, and anything else that you’d like to leave behind in 2016.
All these lists and considerations will help you hone in on your goals for 2016, and form the basis for a great year. I’ll talk about how to turn them into action steps and goals in my next post.