Pitfalls to Career Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions can often prompt feelings of déjà vu: Didn’t you resolve to join a gym and eat less chocolate last year and the year before? The problem with these pledges is that they’re easy to make—and even easier to break.

But in today’s challenging economic times, there’s added incentive to make—and stick to—your resolutions, especially ones that relate to your career. If you’ve already abandoned your January vows, consider setting a professional goal for 2009. Following are some common resolution pitfalls to avoid and tips to help you follow-through on your objective:

Pitfall #1: Not being fully committed

If you think of resolutions as commitments—actions you’ve promised yourself to achieve—you’ll be more likely to follow through with them. Consider writing down your resolution and posting it where you’ll see it each day, providing a visual reminder to stay on track. You might even begin the entry with, “I commit to …” so you remain serious in your pursuit of this objective.

Pitfall #2: Too broad of a focus
It’s easy to become overly optimistic about all the improvements you could make. But you’ll increase your chances of success if you avoid creating a laundry list designed to address every one of your perceived inadequacies, from your tendency to procrastinate to your penchant for biweekly stops at Dunkin’ Donuts. Instead, focus on achieving just one or two goals at a time.

Pitfall #3: Lack of specificity
It’s challenging to measure your progress if you set a vague goal such as “doing better work.” It’s more productive to focus on something that’s more specific. If you’re a print designer, for example, you might set a goal of learning HTML. Fortunately, the more measurable the goal, the easier it is to determine what steps you need to take to achieve it. So, if you’d like to learn HTML, your steps might include identifying appropriate classes, registering for one and completing it by a certain date.

Pitfall #4: An irrelevant resolution
In tough economic times, forgo a “learn to mime” resolution and focus on a goal that will increase your marketability. This might mean updating your portfolio or joining a networking organization for graphic designers. In addition, make sure the goal you choose is attainable: If you’re a junior copy editor, it’s unlikely you’ll be promoted to creative director in the next year. Think about what you can realistically accomplish in your set time frame.

Pitfall #5: No accountability
 If you’ve made the same resolution for years, a lack of accountability could be why you are having difficulty reaching your objective. So enlist the help of others to ensure you follow through this time. Consider arranging a monthly check-in with a colleague or manager to update them on your progress. Having to answer to someone other than yourself may provide you with the motivation you need.

Finally, remember that everyone needs some positive reinforcement, so be sure to pat yourself on the back along the way. If your objective is learning a new software program, for example, congratulate yourself on completing a class about it by treating yourself to a movie or eating at a favorite restaurant.