Going into the final quarter of the year there is typically a lot on people’s minds. The weather starts changing requiring us to start swapping out clothes in our closets and putting the lap blankets back on the couch. The holidays are right around the corner and planning for where, when, and how to celebrate needs to happen. Kids are running full out for school which means just when you thought you had back-to-school under your belt you’re met with report cards, fundraisers, and activities. To top all of that off the fourth quarter at work also typically means a final push to complete projects, the last chance to improve metrics, and setting goals and strategies for the following year.
Often times it goes like this get pumpkin spice latte on the way to drop off Katie at some sort of practice. Pick up decorative cornstalks for front porch and apple spice scented candle. Work on projects after kids are in bed so you can take off early for family photos in matching buffalo plaid. Load up the boxes of oranges that Johnny sold to support a band trip that may or may not happen this year. Think of ways to fit in one more team training that you forgot to schedule earlier in the year while on the way to the grocery store to get last minute ingredients for the big family dinner. Bake cookies and watch Hallmark movies with the family while ordering their gifts from your phone. Spend so much time worrying about if you got everything done at work, home, and made the most of the season that you forget to make New Years plans and fall asleep on the couch at 8pm. Just thinking about all of that is enough to make me want to take a nap in preparation.
When I think through what this time of year looks like for so many people I can’t help but feel like we’re missing something important. (I know what you’re thinking. Missing something?! You could barely fit in sleep.) Taking care of you and what you need. It can become so easy to lose sight yourself and what you wanted when you spend so much time on the demands of others. We want the kids to have a memorable season, we want our family to be comfortable, we want our friends to be impressed, we want our bosses and teams to be able to depend on us. Where in that list does what we want fall? I know this will sound crazy but, what if it was at the top? Like right at that top of the list you said, what do I want to get out of this time? It would be mind blowing right. For me, and I don’t think I’m alone, I would start with, I can’t do that. Followed by a quick, there’s no time! Then I’d finish it off with, I don’t even know what I would want from this time if I could. Sound like you too? If I asked you right now, what do you want from this season, from this last quarter of the year, what would you say? (By the way ‘I want my kids to enjoy school and any available activities, then have a magical holiday season because they deserve it this year.’ That is not an acceptable answer.)
I am going to guess that there was a long pause there, as there has been for me in years past. All of the gyrations of working really hard during this time of year, putting in lots of overtime, having every detail scrutinized felt like I was running on a hamster wheel. Planning and prepping the home and meals, strategizing which family members to see on what weekends was exhausting. Considering when to go shopping and what I was buying for whom was just too much. I would get to the end of this 90 day sprint feeling like just that, I’d been sprinting for 90 days and all I had to show for it was a drained bank account, a lot of décor to clean up, and 5 extra pounds. By thinking of myself, before anyone else, and what I want to get out of this time I have been able to take back control of this valuable time. I have been able to reprioritize what gets done and how. At the end of it, I might still be exhausted but there is a contentment that comes with owning the time instead of letting it own you.
If taking back control of that time sounds appealing to you too, I would recommend you do 3 things, like today, to have a better answer to the question, and to set yourself up to be able to do something about it.
Think all the way back to the beginning of the year. What did you hope to accomplish this year? It doesn’t necessarily have to have been a resolution but what did you set out to do? What were your personal goals and intentions for the year and what was your goal at work? Sometimes it isn’t as formal as deciding I want to read 1 book per month or I will lose 20 pounds or I will get that next promotion. Sometimes it is more of an intention or even a nagging feeling that you can’t get away from, an expectation, a wish, or a hope. Man, I hope this year there is more time to sit in quiet. I wish I had more energy. I’ve got to get out of this job. Do you remember the goal, feeling, or intention you had? At this point I bet you do, it might even be the same, or very similar, every year. What progress did you make? Did you manage to lose a little weight in the beginning or get a little alone time (even if you spent it scrolling Instagram)? Did you learn what the next step in your career would look like? What that job might be and what it takes to get there? Maybe you blew it out of the water and maybe you barely scratched the surface and then fell away from it completely but either way, take inventory of that. Then, celebrate the progress you made. If you knew you wanted to read a book a month this year and you actually read 36 because you had a little more time on your hands than expected, that is amazing. If you wanted to get a promotion but it turned into a whole career change, throw a party! Even if you didn’t knock it out of the park, that’s ok too. Celebrate that just as hard. Learning what the next step is in any goal is huge. Carving out the time you want is so valuable. Don’t let the “yeah, but…” sneak into your head. Who cares if you didn’t meet it yet.
Focus and Strategize
Many people have goals or intentions in multiple areas of life, which I whole heartedly support, but remember, we’re trying to make the most of the last quarter of the year which we’ve already established is pretty jam packed as it is. If you had to choose one personal and one professional goal to keep running toward from what you had earlier in the year, what would they be? Don’t choose based off of what seems feasible for the next few months or for the season we’re in. Choose based on what lit you on fire when you thought back to that New Years Resolution. Perhaps you really wanted to get in better shape and also wanted to make more money. Maybe you wanted some time to yourself and also wanted to complete that one pet project you’ve been dreaming of. You could have been hoping to take up a new hobby and go back to school to start down an entirely new path and change industries all together. Figure out what it is that you wanted to focus on, then create a strategy for both.
This is the part that you get to be a little more realistic. Perhaps you have been making steady progress all year, or for a couple years, and your goal is within reach in these last few months. If that is the case for you, kudos (feel free to celebrate again!). For the rest of us, we likely aren’t close enough to make all of our plans come to fruition in the last 90 days of the year. That’s cool, we’ll get ourselves closer than we were. This is the time to make these actual SMART goals. Each of your goals needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Maybe you can’t (healthily) lose 50 pounds in 3 months but could you commit to something else that would develop a better habit now and set you down the right path? Maybe you could commit to getting 500 steps more a day than what you have been and trying one new produce packed recipe a week. Or if you really wanted to get a hobby, you probably wouldn’t take up waterskiing in November but perhaps you could do few searches or poll your friends about what common hobbies are in your area for the fall or winter. On the career side it gets a little more difficult to make advancements toward a major goal in short order but it can still be done. If you’ve been wanting a change, be it internal, external, in the same role or to another, start tracking your wins. Take inventory of the advancements you’ve made, compliments you’ve gotten, projects you’ve completed, committees you’ve been a part of, etc. Identify all of them. These will help you update your resume and fill in your performance appraisal at the end of the year. If you’ve done nothing else to move you toward a change this year, start doing research on what that would look like. If you know what position you want, start asking questions about what it entails and job shadow. If you want to change industries, read up online on what the requirements are and how you get started (going back to school may not be the right next step for you). If there is a pet project you’ve been wanting to complete, create a plan for it to determine what you’d nee to complete, what resources you’ll need, and even if you can’t get it done by the end of the year, present your plan to your boss. They might say it isn’t a priority but it shows your commitment to the work and your ability to strategize for the projects.
Part of your strategizing was to be time-bound right? That doesn’t just mean knowing this is the rest of the year we’re talking about. It means that we need to carve out the time to get it done. If you’re adding a walk to your day you may need to stop working through your lunch to do it. If you’re researching a new career you may need to give up scrolling Instagram before bed to look into what you need to do and how you’re going to get there. Most importantly, just do it. Even if you don’t get 30 minutes in every day pick it up again on day 4. Even if you forget to start listing accomplishments until the night before the appraisal is due, just do it then. Will you get the best results with consistency, yup. Will you get zero results if you give up again because it wasn’t perfect, you bet.
Remember where we started, we’re doing this to bring clarity and focus to first take care of you so that you aren’t lost in the bustle of the season running on that hamster wheel with nothing to show for it. Reflect on where you want to go and focus that reflection into a strategy, and then act on that strategy but don’t allow this to become one more thing on the to-do list. Only have 5 minutes a day to advance your plans? Use it. Can you get up a little earlier or send the kids outside after school or focus while waiting at practice and get yourself to 30 minutes to maybe even an hour?! Holy smokes, now we’re cooking with gas! Let these habits start small and build on themselves not become one more to-do, that doesn’t get done.
Things I’m reminding myself of
Change your perspective to look for progress and not perfection. I’m really good at quitting if something didn’t look just how I expected it to. That does nothing for me and where I’m going, and it doesn’t do anything for you either. The goal was to read every night before bed and it only happened about 5 times this year? The year isn’t lost, what if we could triple that number by year end. That would be sweet right? Picking up speed to throw next year into making it twice a month, or even once a week! It still won’t have been perfect, but, it will be a huge step closer than it was before.
Setting goals on both the personal and professional sides helps with balance. I believe whole heartedly in work-life balance. Not as a noun but as a verb. Think of kids walking on the parking lot curbs. One foot in front of the other and they can lean pretty far to the left or right and still pull it back to center pretty easily. However if they lean to one side too long, even if it isn’t terribly far over, they will fall off the curb. When you only set goals on one side of the line you lean in that direction for long time. You end up just coasting on the other side, all but completely neglecting it, until you tip completely off. Having goals on both sides allows you to lean left and right more rhythmically keeping you on your own curb. The beauty of it is, if you feel yourself leaning one way for too long, and you end up falling, you can just step back up and try again.