Christmas decorations are just starting to go up in neighborhoods and stores, and that means it is time to start planning for the changes you want to make in your life for next year. If you don't just want next year to be a repeat of this one, you have to give yourself a running start to achieve your most important goals.

You might think you are too busy to start planning for next year right now, but that is precisely why you need to get an early start. Studies show that the busier you are, the more that you rely on your habits to help you get through the day. Your life is driven by your calendar. You do the next thing that is in front of you.

In order to make the big picture contribution you really want to make at work, you have to clear time and space in your calendar to make sure that you engage in activities on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis that will ultimately lead you to make progress on the goals at work that you truly want to achieve. If you need a guide to help you begin to make these changes, check out the Smart Change journal available here.

Start by taking a look at what you are actually doing at work. Each day for the next two weeks, make a list of the tasks you engaged in. How much time did you spend in meetings? How many emails (roughly) did you answer? How much time did you spend doing "fake work" where you stared at the internet or mindlessly read a document without really understanding the content? And how much time did you spend on activities that would contribute toward your most important goals?

After you understand what is going on in your calendar, studies suggest that you have to make a list of all of the obstacles in your daily life that keep you from working on the projects that are most important to you. Find the menial daily jobs that soak up the time you could be spending on more important work. Find ways to minimize the time you spend on those barriers to accomplishment. Talk to a supervisor if there are things you might be able to offload to someone else.

Next, research suggests you should make a plan for where you can fit more productive activities in your day. Start marking off blocks of time on your calendar in January and February for those activities. Chances are, you have not overscheduled yourself a few months out yet. So, don't leave the most important contributions up to chance. Get them on the calendar before it gets taken over by jobs that will not lead to satisfying outcomes.

After that, take a look at your work environment. Are there ways to rearrange your space to help you engage in important activities. After all, studies demonstrate that what you see in front of you is what you are most likely to do. If the most prominent thing in your workspace is your email program, then you are going to spend a lot of time on email. So, keep your most important projects out on your workspace where you can easily transition into working on them. Shut off your email for a few hours a day if that is getting in the way.

Finally, make a list of the most productive people you know. Who gets things done in a way that you aspire to? Invite those people out for a cup of coffee and pick their brain to find out what strategies they use to make sure that they make time for their most important goals. If they live in the same work environment that you do, then they are likely to have great tips to help you navigate your busy work life.

In the end, it takes effort to make sure that next year is different from this one. Don't wait until you head out for your New Year's parties to resolve to make next year more productive. Start now.