By now, you've probably already broken most of your New Year's resolutions. You're not alone: Only about 8 percent of those who make them keep them. But it may not be that you'll never lose weight or learn a foreign language.
If you aren't being productive or if you feel off track, it could simply be because you haven't set yourself up for success in a way that suits your individuality.
Take a typical New Year's resolution like running. The overall goal is to lose weight. So someone sees thin people running and thinks, I have to run to lose weight. The problem is, running really isn't the person's thing--it never has been--so the person tries it, hates it, and quits. He or she is frustrated, exasperated, and hasn't made any progress toward the goal.
Let's apply this to work. Think about a co-worker who just gets things done. Chances are there's a method to his or her productivity that you might consider emulating. But, remember running: There is no one-size-fits-all path to productivity.
In my work, we've uncovered four ways of thinking that every person exhibits. These are built from innate, brain-based preferences and relate to the way people actually perform work.
Here's your challenge: Find which way of thinking (or what combination of ways) fits you. This is the foundation for your productivity.
Structural. Jack is an accountant and a structural thinker. He creates and prints a traditional to-do list each day to help him stay productive, literally checking things off the list as he goes through his day. He builds his calendar around when he'll work on a project. If everything's checked off the list at the end of the day, Jack has been productive.
Analytical. Kelly is an analytical thinker, which serves her well as a purchaser. For her, productivity is all about finding value and maximizing her time. Every decision--whether to travel to do research, to make a buy, to call a meeting--is well thought out and has to make sense in the grand scheme of her business.
Social. Don is a vice president of sales and a very social thinker. He plays to his social preference by involving others in order to stay productive. He holds regular staff meetings, emphasizes open communication, and has frequent lunches with his team to discuss progress. This way, he's accountable not only to himself but also to his staff. Don does use a traditional, handwritten to-do list for each week in order to keep things manageable, but ultimately, productivity is driven by his relational nature.
Conceptual. Natalie is the CEO of a small business and undoubtedly a conceptual thinker. Her co-workers marvel at how much she gets done in a day's work but without anything remotely resembling a traditional to-do list. To her, there is no to do. There is only doing and done. She gets a call or reads an email and takes action as soon as possible. Same thing if she has a new idea. If she doesn't stay in the moment to be productive, there's a chance something will slip through the cracks.
In all four scenarios, the goal is the same: getting things done. How each person goes about achieving that goal is based on how he or she is wired.
Imagine Jack vowing to "be a little less rigid this year, maybe a little more like Natalie." Jack's head would explode after a week. Imagine Natalie vowing to get a little more organized, to maybe be a little more like Jack. Her to-do list would be useless.
Behavioral preferences, such as expressiveness, assertiveness, and flexibility, will also play a key role in your productivity this year. Whatever your style is, go with it--whether or not you have a to-do list in hand.