The New Year typically marks a time of reflection and planning for the year ahead.
For many, that includes setting professional targets to get to the next career stage — and 2022 will be no different.
As we enter the third year of work much changed by the pandemic, many workers will be considering how they can get the most out of their job, or change things up entirely.
“It’s an interesting time and there are lots of great opportunities for individuals looking to pursue new career goals in the New Year,” Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M University who coined the phrase “The Great Resignation,” told CNBC Make It.
Often, however, defining goals and sticking to them is easier said than done. CNBC Make It spoke to psychologists specializing in workplace behavior to find out their top tips for understanding your goals and staying on track through the coming year.
It may seem obvious, but the first step toward achieving your career goals is figuring out what they really are.
“For many people, they’re not really goals; they’re vague thoughts about career direction,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.
Goals should be “concrete and specific,” as this makes them easier to recognize and monitor, said Ariely, author of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.”
Such examples might include tangible targets such as taking on a new project, getting a raise or finding a mentor.
“Once you have defined concrete goals, you [can then] figure out the steps towards them,” said Ariely.
When you’ve tied down your goals, the next step is making sure they’re achievable within a clear timeframe — one year, for example.
“The key is ensuring they are achievable, realistic, what you actually want — not what people tell you you want — and allowing for margin of error,” said Melissa Doman, an organizational psychologist.
Too often, people set huge aims that would typically take several career phases to achieve. Instead, said Doman, they should streamline their goals to make them achievable within a year.
“Micro-goals are the key,” said Doman, author of “Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work (Here’s Why And How To Do It Really Well).”
Next, work out the steps required to reach those goals, whether they relate to your current company or elsewhere.
With many organizations trying to accommodate their employees better amid the Great Resignation, your manager may be more willing to help you work toward your aims, said organizational psychologist Klotz. In fact, many employers want to “reward” loyal employees, he said.
“It’s always good to have a conversation [with your current employers] and say: ‘Can I turn the job I have into the job I want?'” he said.
If, however, your career goals lead you away from your current company, try speaking with other people in your chosen field to help you figure out the steps required to meet your targets.
Lastly, to keep on top of your goals throughout the year, find a way to make yourself accountable.
That could mean finding an accountability partner or network to share your journey with — including both its successes and challenges. Alternatively, it could mean creating visual reminders to keep your goals front of mind, said Doman.
Doman recommended scheduling regular check-ins, either with yourself or your accountability partner, to monitor and reward your progress. That could be weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on the cadence that works best for you.
“Personal accountability can be painful,” said Doman, “but it’s an important way to stay on track. [There’s a] balance of finding when it’s okay to be soft on yourself and when it’s not.”
As well as defining your aims, it’s also important to know when to say no, according to Vanessa Bohns, a social psychologist and professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University.
One thing that “derails” a lot of people from their goals is their reluctance to turn down external requests. But if such requests are “peripheral” to your main goals, they can ultimately become a distraction, said Bohns, author of “You Have More Influence Than You Think.”
“Be more mindful about the things you agree to,” she said. “Each time you agree to something, you are necessarily taking time away from something else, so you want to weigh your decision carefully.”
That doesn’t mean saying no to all external requests. That’s often neither possible nor advisable, said the professor. Instead, you should think carefully about how such requests fit with your goals and take time to provide your response.
“Buy yourself the time and space to think about whether this is really something you want to agree to, or if it’s actually something that might take too much time away from your work [and life] priorities,” said Bohns.
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