Odds are, most of your New Year's resolutions will probably fail. Sad, but true.
On January 1, you'll promise to keep your desk clean for the rest of the year. But by the end of the week, you won't be able to find your cell phone, which happens to be under some e-mails you printed out, and on top of those is your coffee mug, which needs a refill -- even though you also said you'd cut back on the caffeine.
We love making promises to ourselves. Diet and fitness resolutions are the most common, followed by career goals and personal finance, according to myGoals.com, an online service that helps people set and stick to personal and professional goals.
But some research shows that we may not be so good at keeping them. Rosalene Glickman, president of the World Academy for Personal Development in Los Angeles and author of Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self, teaches executives and employees at companies around the world how to best use their time. For several years, she's been asking her clients if they made a New Year's resolution, and if they kept it. Out of more than 3,000 responses, only 6% said they had stuck with their resolutions.
Glickman has watched people struggle with how they approach their work, how they manage employees, and how they contribute in meetings. At the end of the year, she says, many ask themselves, "It's a fresh start... What can I do?" The most common answers she hears: I'm not going to shoot from the hip. I'm going to keep my desk clean. I'm going to finish everything by 6 p.m. I'm going to listen to my employees more. "That's what they all say and that's why they fail," Glickman says, noting a common lack of follow-up.
To Glickman, it's not that these goals are unattainable -- cleaning up a desk isn't that hard. It's doing it consistently that's difficult. She recommends treating smaller, more personal work-related goals just like you'd treat a new strategic vision -- make a commitment to clean your desk every day at 5 p.m., just like you'd demand a regular update from the sales department if you wanted to move more units. Glickman says that recognizing the problem is meaningless unless it's associated with a specific timeline and measurable results.
Bill Burnett is a venture partner with Roy's Restaurants, where he oversees seven high-end dining spots along the East Coast with $26 million in revenue. His job takes him on the road frequently, and away from his family. Of New Year's resolutions, he says, "I'm really good at making them, and I'm equally good at breaking them."
Last year, he made two: To spend more time with his kids and their sports teams, and to overcome his lack of computer know-how. "I had finally grown tired of being the butt of jokes about my technical skills," says Burnett, who was spoiled by a secretary in his previous career, who took care of everything from Excel to Xeroxing. "Being of the baby-boomer generation, computers came late in my life."
In 2005 he kept the first resolution -- better managing his work and travel schedule, so that he could coach his 10-year-old son's football team, never missing a game. The other required a bit more discipline, and unfortunately, Burnett will be making it again in 2006. He plans to hire a computer coach to teach him what he needs to know.
Burnett says he recognized the weakness of his computer-literacy resolution last year, a problem that many New Year's self-improvers struggle with -- he didn't have any accountability. This year, he'll have a hired guru to make sure he can wield a mouse before 2007. But while paying somebody to keep you in line can be effective, just articulating your goals with a pen and pencil can do the trick for a lot less money.
"The discipline of writing something down is the first step of making it happen," says Karen Leland, president of Sterling Consulting Group and co-author of the new book, Watercooler Wisdom. For Leland, learning how to say "no" is a resolution she'd like to see some of her clients take in 2006. "There are things that are not in line with your goals, priorities, or resolutions, that you really need to say 'no' to," says Leland. "People that are smart know how to say 'yes' to the things that really matter, and 'no' to the less important ones." In other words, granting an extension to one of your employees may seem like the nice-and-easy thing to do, but if it throws a whole project out of whack, you need to learn to say no.
For Leland, the New Year's resolution is a national pastime, though she says Jan. 1 may not always seem like the best day to start fresh. "Is it the ideal time to plan?" she asks. "Probably not. You've had too much to drink, you're with your family." But still, we choose New Year's Day because "it's mythologically the do-over day. It's like you get a feeling of getting to start from a clean state."
As for herself, Leland has a few goals she's written down. She wants to loose "that last 10 pounds," "spend a month in Hawaii," and "start a new division in the company." And what's right at the top of her list? Even the pros have desks that could use a little cleaning.