When you come back after a festive break, the year ahead can appear a long and winding road.
There might be a sense that there is a lot of time at your hands as people settle back to their daily routines, rusty after the break. There could be an "abundance mentality" when it comes to time. Deadlines seem far away, meetings are a bit more relaxed and people are still catching up with what they were up to during the break over coffee and lunch.
But we also know that this is a very tiny window in what would normally be a busy work life for us and the lull is not going to last. Before that window closes down, this is an opportunity to pause and think of how you might want to organise the year ahead of you.
This is what I am thinking, and some of it might be relevant for readers as well.
Sharpen the saw
This is a term that I have borrowed from one of Stephen Covey’s books on leadership. He gives the example of a carpenter who "sharpens the saw" each day before he starts working on his orders, however busy he may be, for he knows that the few minutes he devotes to doing so is an investment in terms of producing good quality stuff.
For each one of us, sharpening the saw will mean different things depending upon where we are in our careers and what we identify as our learning and development needs. But it is worth thinking about it for a few minutes at least. It could be the reading, the training, the seminar, a change of career, a different role or, indeed, doing something new, different and stretching.
Set your priorities
Many of us set objectives at some point during the year, but I would recommend this one step before we do that. Ask yourself what two or three things you would like to achieve or contribute to during the course of the year. This requires some stepping back and concerns broader goals on organisational culture, leadership and profile rather than some very specific or tangible objectives. If the priorities are clear, the objectives help in ensuring that you progress towards delivering on your priorities.
Control your time
I believe that if we do not control our time someone else will. And if this happens, you risk not achieving what you would like or are expected to achieve.
There will always be demands on your time from various quarters and you will feel the need to respond to them. Some of this is inevitable and some of it is required, but you need to make sure that there is enough time for what you are expected to deliver because that is your primary accountability. This extends to work-life balance so that you have enough time for yourself. A colleague once told me "plan for only 80 per cent of the time, because there will always be something unpredictable coming your way".
Giving and receiving feedback is not easy for many people. And receiving feedback that is challenging can be extremely difficult – it requires lot of courage to be able to accept it and work on it.
Not all feedback will be objective or evidence-based – some could simply be perceptions. One of my ex-trustees once said "even if it's a perception, take it seriously because it means someone believes it and, before you realise, it may well be the truth". It is quite normal to have periods of self-doubt. "Am I doing my job well? Am I doing the right thing? Am I making a contribution? Is there any impact from what I am doing?" These are all valid questions.
Seeking feedback, especially from those who know about your work well, within and outside the organisation, can help you answer some of those questions – how they see you can be very different from how you see yourself.
Create space for reflection
In a busy world, this can be very difficult. I don’t think there is a set pattern for this, but many colleagues find reflective spaces in away days, once or twice a year. Others find coaching or training very effective. Some find reading and writing a reflective process. Some teams are good at creating spaces during each business meeting. What works is an individual or team preference, but the key is to create the space deliberately and use the space creatively.
So here’s to a great 2019. A final thought: if there is one thing that the past couple of years have taught us, it is to expect the unexpected. As someone said, "plan for the worst and hope for the best".
Girish Menon is chief executive of ActionAid UK