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Opinion | Make February your new January

  • After grand visioning in January, get down to achieving your goals in February
  • Define what work-life balance means for you. This can be just spending more time with the family or not staying late in office

February is a sobering month for all office-goers. To begin with, it has only 28 days, so it offers us that much less time to meet the month’s sales targets and other important goals. Then, of course, the euphoria of a champagne-fuelled new year has faded completely by now, and many grand resolutions are, unfortunately, burning out. Studies show that by the beginning of February, 80% of all New Year resolutions have been quietly buried.

This is precisely why managers should consider making February the start of a fresh new year, for resolutions that we really wish to achieve. Here is a month where realism has dawned, and we are grappling with what we can actually achieve, rather than a fantastic wish list. Even the name February is derived from Februa, the ancient Roman feast which was celebrated to re-establish focus on righteous living. It is the right time, therefore, to focus on your essential resolutions for the year ahead. You can reflect on the month gone by, what has worked and what has not, and also define the first steps that are essential for any grand plan. To use corporate jargon, if January has been a month of grand visioning, February is the month when we can commence brass tacks execution.

Here are some suggestions which may encourage you to pursue this February approach.

Power of Three

First and foremost, cut down your well-intentioned but overly ambitious New Year’s list, to define not more than three essential resolutions for the year. More than three is a bad idea, unless you possess some superhuman managerial and human skills. There is something about the power of three which energizes us, because three is a stretch, yet within our grasp. It is always three medals for winners, the trinity in religion, three musketeers in literature, three idiots in the movies. I have found that three is a good place to begin.

Put down simple objectives instead of ambitious goals, like taking the stairs at work, and not using the phone at night, keeping it far away from the bed
Put down simple objectives instead of ambitious goals, like taking the stairs at work, and not using the phone at night, keeping it far away from the bed

Second, list out your three resolutions in very simple terms, along with an essential first step that you need to take to get them going. Here are three examples that are relevant to office-goers.

Fitness and Health

Most executives I know have a fitness and health resolution for the new year. This could include grand objectives such as wishing to run the marathon, or developing six-pack abs. But remember that we are office-goers who have to be at our workplaces every day, and we also have bodies that are at varying sagging levels of fitness, after endless meetings, eating and travel. So, put down simple objectives to begin with—such as some sort of physical exercise five times a week, ranging from gym workouts to walking up the stairs in office. Based on your office schedules, define whether you will complete this activity in the mornings, or after work. Most importantly, commit yourself to first steps to make this happen. For instance, this could be a commitment to the next 21 sessions of physical exercise. Empirical evidence shows that most things become a habit if you are able to persist for 21 days. February, with 28 days, is a good month to complete these 21 sessions. Don’t drop your grand goal of running a marathon, that’s a cool thing to do, but make it subordinate to these immediate steps.

Work-life balance

Few things are more elusive than the holy grail of work-life balance in the lives of working professionals. We veer between periods of severe imbalance and constant juggling, even as we try to desperately understand what constitutes balance. Grand terms such as work-life harmony and holistic living, used liberally by iconic global leaders, muddy these waters further. So, to achieve some clarity, define what balance means specifically for you, for the year ahead. It could simply mean the ability and bandwidth to spend 2 quality hours every day with your spouse and child, and being fully available to your family for any emergency. It could also mean pursuing one hobby that you are passionate about, in addition to excelling at your workplace. Or it could mean two happy vacations during the year.

Perhaps a first step you can define is that you will not stay late in office any day, unless there is a genuine crisis, and that you will have dinner with your family every night. Try the 21-day commitment here too.

Beating digital addiction

One of my goals for the year ahead is to beat digital addiction, with all its constant distraction and super-connected stress. I suspect this may be true for many executives, because we surely don’t want our mobile phones to rule our lives, though the truth is that they are constantly trying to enslave us, and please note that digital devices are not bound by any laws of slavery. None of us can be digital recluses, though, in today’s connected world.

Here again, a good and practical resolution could be to use digital devices only within a certain time during the day. Never use them during meetings and never after late night, which I have, with great hope, defined as 10pm for myself. A first step could be to place the phone far away from your seat at a meeting, and very far away from your bed at night.

These are only illustrations, and the three resolutions you want to pursue could be quite different. Finally, pin up your three February New Year’s resolutions, with first steps highlighted in green, on your softboard in front of you, so that you can see them clearly each day. Request your boss to include these resolutions in your statement of annual goals, because they will ultimately also make you a better professional. In most organizations, goal-setting occurs during March, for the financial year that begins in April—so all the more reason to make February the start of a wonderful new march towards your goals.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. He would earnestly like to practise what he has preached in this article, and is currently grappling with bringing down his eight unworkable resolutions to three.

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