As the holiday season arrives and the year comes to a close, it’s an incredible feeling. After months of hard work, the holidays offer a chance to rest, spend time with the family, and look forward to the year ahead. Ideally, you won’t have to spend this break bogged down with a ton of work. But it doesn’t hurt to use some of this time to reflect on what you’ve achieved professionally over the last year and what you hope to accomplish moving forward.
For many of us in our professional lives, things tend to slow down a bit during December. Between reaching the end of a yearly budget and so many employees taking time off to spend with family, a lot of companies feel more relaxed and some even shut down entirely for a week or two. It’s a well-earned break, but you can also use this extra downtime wisely by assessing your performance over the last year, reflecting on your career goals and where you are now, and creating an action plan to help you get closer to where you want to be in the coming months.
One of the joys of entering the new year is feeling like you have a fresh start and a new perspective. If this isn’t something you can realistically do in the office (not every industry slows down during the holidays, after all), then it’s worth setting aside some time at home to work on your goals. While personal resolutions are significant, so are professional ones. So, grab yourself some cozy socks, a cup of peppermint coffee, and a couple of iced sugar cookies and settle in to do a little career work this holiday season.
Reflect on The Last Year
At the beginning of January this year, where were you professionally? Have you earned a promotion or raise since then? Were you able to get involved in more projects or start refining your expertise a little more? When you’re living in the moment, it’s easy to overlook the small wins and appreciate the progress you’ve made, especially if the progress has taken a while or you still have a long way to go.
By looking back, you can get a better picture of how far you’ve come this year. Maybe you’ve accomplished more than you realized, or perhaps you didn’t make as much progress as you had hoped. No matter how much or how little you achieved this year, this reflection helps you develop a clear picture of where you are now so that you can start to look a little deeper into it.
Assess Where You Are Now
Now that you can see the difference in where you were professionally at the start of this year compared to now, you can assess your current situation, finish out the year strong, and decide what you’d like to do differently and achieve in the coming year.
First, are there any projects or loose ends that you can realistically finish up before the end of the year without compromising too much downtime? Sure, the difference between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 is technically no different from a change in any other day, but we all know how different we feel at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it’s like a weight has lifted, and the more stressors you can leave in the past, the better. Wrap up what you can now so that you can set your sights on what’s to come.
Next, think about what your work situation looks like right now. Is there anything you wish you could change about your schedule, work location, salary, or title change? Maybe you’re pleased with where you are (that’s great!), but the chances are high that there’s still something to improve, even if it’s small. Don’t assess what makes you feel miserable about where you are, but rather help you focus on what you want so that you can refine your career goals for next year.
Finally, combine your list of what you’d like your working situation to be with the career goals you’ve listed. You may discover the need to make some adjustments to your long-term plan or that you’ve come closer to some of your dreams than you realized (if so, go ahead and cross off any small goals that you’ve already reached—it will feel so satisfying!). Now, you should have a revised career path and updated goals to focus on when the new year begins.
Develop a Plan for the Coming Year
You’ve assessed where you are now and created an updated list of short-term and long-term goals, so it’s time to start working on a targeted plan for the year ahead. Admittedly, this will be a more time-consuming step, so be realistic in how much planning you can do without sacrificing time with your family and the opportunity to recharge. If making a detailed plan will put more stress on you and pull you away from the joy of the holiday season, just create a rough outline for now (you can always add more detail later). The purpose of all of this is to get ready for next year, not to exhaust yourself.
Assuming you have the time and energy to dig into your plan, start by creating specific big goals. What a “big” goal looks like depends entirely on your unique situation. It could be finding a new job, collaborating with a different department, or getting a raise. Once you have your big goals mapped out, make a list of mini-milestones that you’ll have to meet to accomplish each larger goal. For example, suppose your big goal is to get a raise. Then, you may start researching your industry-standard salary, create a portfolio of your work, collect positive feedback over the last year to strengthen your argument, and actively schedule a meeting with your boss.
Again, the most important thing you should be doing during the holiday season is taking advantage of the time to unwind and be with the people you love. But if one of your primary goals is to land a new job, it’s a good idea to set a little bit of time aside to work on this during the holiday season. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to be spending 2+ hours a day on LinkedIn actively searching for and applying to jobs, but spending just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, will add some serious value to your job hunt. Plus, it will give you an early start to your New Year goals. Here are some actions you may want to take (other than actively applying to jobs):
Reading professional development books to help prepare you for interviews for more challenging jobs
Of course, applying to jobs during this time will be helpful, too. However, it’s important to remember that a lot of companies wait until the start of the new year to fill open roles (it’s hard to schedule interviews in December and new budgets usually begin in January), so don’t get discouraged if you’re not hearing back on your applications.
Looking Forward to the New Year
All of the reflection, assessing, and planning you do now is going to set you up for that fresh start in the new year. Try not to look back on this last year with regret or frustration if you aren’t quite where you had hoped to be by now, instead celebrate what you did achieve and get motivated for what’s next. Above all else, don’t forget to have some fun this holiday season and make the most of it.
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