The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what worked for you in the past and what you want to do differently in the future – which for many people means creating new year's resolutions for things they want to change in their lives. If you're a resolution-maker, don't forget to include work in your planning. Here are seven resolutions for your career in 2014.
1. Set one or two big goals – and create plans to meet them. If you've spent this month wondering where the year went and what you have to show for it, vow not to let that happen in 2014. What do you want to achieve in the coming year so that you're not sitting around next December wondering how the time got away from you? Figure out now what would make the year successful for you and create a plan to make it happen, complete with monthly or quarterly benchmarks. (But when it comes to big goals, stick to just one or two, so that you're not pulled in so many directions that none of it gets done.)
2. Delegate more. If you're at a level in your career where you can delegate work to others, you're probably not taking full advantage of the opportunity. If you're like many people, you're holding on to projects that someone else could do because the work is comfortable or you don't trust anyone else to do it right. But refusing to delegate means that you won't free yourself up to take on bigger and more important pieces of work, which will hold you back. This can also hold your junior colleagues back too, by denying them the ability to grow into the work you currently do.
3. Stop taking criticism personally. It's easy to take criticism as a personal attack or as a signal that everything you've done right isn't appreciated, but that approach will harm you in the long run. It prevents you from truly hearing feedback that will help you in your career, and even discourages people from giving you valuable feedback in the future. Instead, try to remember that even if you ultimately disagree with the criticism, it's still valuable for you to understand how your work is perceived, and resolve to respond to criticism the same way you would any other business issue – because it is business, not personal.
4. Start a "kudos" file. Set up a file (electronic or paper) to keep the kudos that you receive from people throughout the year – whether it's an email from your boss praising your work on that big project, a thank-you from a client for making his or her life easier or a note from a co-worker thanking you for your help on a last-minute emergency. When you're having a bad day, looking through this file can remind you that you're good at what you do – and it can also help you remember things you've done well when performance evaluations roll around at the end of the year or when you're asking for a raise.
5. Take a real vacation. Working for a whole year without a real respite is bad for your mental health and even bad for your productivity, so vow to take at least a full week – and preferably two – off from work in 2014. If you can't afford to travel anywhere, spend the time relaxing at home, unplugged from email and other demands of your office. (And do this without guilt. If you get vacation days as part of your benefits package, that time is as much a part of your compensation as salary is. Don't have qualms about using it.)
6. Turn off the complaining. If occasional venting about your job, your company, your co-workers or your boss has turned into regular complaining, resolve to go cold turkey on Jan. 1. Chronic complaining can create a toxic environment for you and the people who have to listen to you, and it can color your own perspective to the point that you become even more unhappy. Put a moratorium on complaining and see if it changes your mindset. If it doesn't, decide whether you're willing to live with whatever is making you so unhappy, complain to someone who can actually do something about it or change your circumstances.
7. Stretch yourself. If you're like a lot of people, you prefer to contain your work in areas where you're comfortable and know that you can succeed. This approach is a safe one, but it also lowers the chances that you'll make major leaps beyond where you currently are – and it can mean that you're left behind by more risk-tolerant peers. Instead, make 2014 the year you do something well beyond your comfort level – whether it's learning a new skill, proposing and leading a new project or even just showing up at networking events.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.