Don’t worry. This is not another article about suggested resolutions or self-improvements for your already full plate. We’re not anti-resolution or anti-improvement; in fact, we list some of our favorite articles about association- and communication-related resolutions here.
Instead, let’s talk about how to set yourself up to learn, improve and achieve, so that at the end of 2013, you can look back upon the year with satisfaction.
Despite good intentions, most people break their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January. This is mainly because old habits, like smoking or poor eating, are hard to break (and temptations are biologically hard to resist), while new habits, like eating healthier or exercising more, are difficult to establish.
Sometimes, though, people break their resolutions simply because they make vague aspirations with no plan to make the abstraction a habit. Instead, as management expert Dr. George Doran advises in this video, make your communication resolutions and goals SMART.
Choose a reasonable goal
Set small, attainable goals that you have a good chance of completing with your available time and resources, recommends the American Psychological Association. Many associations call this making SMART goals:
S—Be Specific. The more detailed and concrete your goal is, the more able you are to map out a path to achieve it, and the more likely you’ll actually follow through. Imagine being charged with completing one of these two goals:
- Learn how to use social media for my association.
- Set up accounts for my association on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn that will promote increased attendance at our 2013 events and educational programs by members who have joined within 10 years of starting their career.
Which goal are you most likely to start working on first? The first goal presents a vague, undefined challenge with no parameters or purpose. The second goal presents specific actions (set up accounts) that should be taken to benefit a defined audience (members who have joined within 10 years of starting their career) for the purpose of attaining a desired association objective (increased attendance at events and educational programs).
If you’re like us, you’re much more likely to start working on a project for which you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, how you’re going to do it and why.
M—Make it measurable. How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? Will you measure success in terms of money, people or an action other take?
Continuing our social media accounts example, will you define your goal by the number of followers you have on each platform at the end of 2013? Will you consider yourself successful if you have a certain number of followers AND a certain level of interaction? Goals can be quantitative, qualitative or a combination of both.
A—Make it attainable. Consider the resources you already have and the additional resources you can reasonably expect to obtain to help you achieve your goal. If your goal is going to take an extraordinary amount of time, money, staff or sweat, will you need to shift resources from somewhere else? Will you need to get creative with how you manage your resources and find additional ones?
You might have enough people on staff with the time to devote 15 minutes per day to managing one of your association’s new social media pages. Or you might decide to hire an assistant who will work exclusively on the accounts. You might be able to divert some of the money from this year’s training budget to a regional conference or webinar series about managing B2B social media more effectively, or if funds are low, you might have to scour the Web and your network of social-minded business contacts for free or low-cost help. Either way, now is the time to think about how you’ll use your available resources.
R—Make it realistic. Considering what has already been discussed—the motivation for your goal, the way you will measure success or failure and the resources you have—is your goal something you can realistically achieve? For example: If you have never used a tablet in your life, building a mobile app for your association’s membership directory is probably not realistic. But if you regularly use mobile devices, have at least basic design and coding knowledge, and have the time to devote to this project, building an app could be a fun challenge.
T—Make it time-oriented. Establish a time (deadline) to achieve the goal. Is this something you should be able to accomplish within a month? Write down your overall deadline as well as mini-deadlines you will need to meet on the way to achieving your overall goal.
Finishing our social media example, you might decide to set an overall goal of having at least 100 followers or members of your new social media pages by the end of 2013. Because you want to organically build a quality audience, you might also set goals of having 25 followers by the end of the first quarter, 50 by June 30, and 75 by the end of the third quarter.
Once you’ve set up your goal(s), establish a routine that will nudge you to completion. Rearrange your workday schedule if possible and if you think it will help. Tell others what your goals are so they can offer help and encouragement.
If your goal is to learn a new skill or implement a new program, it’s going to take time. Practice, and be patient. Working slowly and thoughtfully toward your goal makes it more likely to happen, says Julie Urlaub of Taiga Company.
Search for help
One of my favorite functions in any software or online program is the Help function. If I can’t successfully configure a spreadsheet function or set up a paid search campaign successfully in two attempts or five minutes (whichever comes last), I’m not ashamed to open the Help function or do a keyword search on the Help blog. Chances are that someone has encountered this technical roadblock before, and the steps to resolve it are written out in stress-free step-by-step instructions. If the program or website offers live help, there is usually a friendly assistant on the other end of the Internet connection who has heard this problem before (probably multiple times) and can correct my steps.
If you become stuck or encounter a barrier to achieving your goal, use the Help function. This may literally mean swallowing your pride and calling Microsoft while learning how to use your new Access program. Offline, it could mean consulting with your peers about how to move forward, joining a professional society or networking group to exchange ideas, or simply calling your spouse or best friend to vent and ask for advice.
If you know someone who has previously achieved your goal, ask them to be your mentor. If you know someone who is also working toward your goal, ask them to be your accountability partner.
New Year’s Day isn’t the only time to set goals
The new year isn’t the only time to make resolutions or goals, and sometimes it’s not the best time. You may find it more natural to reflect upon the past and make plans for the future around your birthday or the end of your association’s fiscal year, for instance. If that timing works better for you, go for it. But keep the above principles in mind. Your future goals should be time-oriented, but these guidelines are timeless.