I'm great at making New Year's resolutions. I'm also great at forgetting about them.
This is probably because of my total lack of discipline, which…I'm working on. But I think it's also because the entire culture of New Year's resolutions encourages improvements that are so vague as to be useless.
For example: we recently published the Work Resolutions Report by Zapier, focusing on what knowledge workers hope to accomplish in 2020. Here are the most common career resolutions, according to a survey we commissioned that was conducted online by Harris Poll among over 880 American knowledge workers.
People want more money, a promotion, and a pony. No real surprises here. But these aren't really resolutions—they're outcomes. You can't magically bestow upon yourself a raise, a promotion, or a new job. You also can't plug your brain into the mainframe to instantly learn a new skill, or become more productive. Resolving to achieve these things doesn't give you any sense of direction, which makes such resolutions nearly impossible to act on.
This isn't to say that these aren't worthy goals—they are. And it's good to have goals. It's just that goals make for terrible resolutions. If you want to achieve these things, you need to think up practical ways to move closer toward your goal. The resolution is the work you're promising to do, not the outcome you're trying to hit. To use some non-work examples:
Eating healthy is a goal; replacing your daily grilled cheese sandwich with a salad is a resolution.
Being in better shape is a goal; actually using that dusty treadmill you bought and then never used, every day, is a resolution.
Being more social is a goal; actually attending events you're invited to, instead of texting your friend at the last minute to say you can't make it only to watch Netflix alone in the dark, is a resolution.
You get the idea. Resolving to accomplish something broad doesn't actually prompt you to act. You need to think about tangible steps you can take to work toward a goal, then resolve to take those steps. Seems intuitive enough, right? But let's talk about what that looks like for some of the most popular work resolutions for 2020.
Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill is one of the best ways to advance your career, so it makes sense that one in three knowledge workers wants to do this. But how does someone even get started on learning a new skill? By making a plan. My Zapier co-worker Evan is doing just that.
Notice what Evan is doing here. He's decided what he wants to learn and which resources he'll use to learn it. Then, crucially, he's scheduled time every week to work toward his education. He's also not trying to rush through things, to get the resolution out of the way. He's acknowledging that this will take a while and scheduling time to get it done.
Learning a new skill takes time—at least, it will if it's a skill worth learning. Give yourself that time.
This might sound a little intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Even resolving to work on a skill for one hour every day can go a long way. That's what my co-worker Fran is doing.
Don't resolve to learn a new skill—resolve to put in the work it will take to learn that skill. You're on the internet right now, which means you have access to resources. There are plenty of online courses for professional development, many of them free. But remember that giving Udemy your email address doesn't count as learning a new skill. You need to actually take the class.
"Don't resolve to learn a new skill—resolve to put in the work it will take to learn that skill."
Need a little more guidance? Check out our strategies for learning new skills.
Get a promotion or raise
If you can give yourself a raise or a promotion, you're already rich, in which case I'm not sure why you're reading this post. You probably can't do that, meaning it's ultimately up to your manager.
There are two sides to turning these goals into a resolution. First, you need to be doing the work necessary to deserve a promotion or raise. Second, you need your manager to actually notice how productive you're being. Keep both of these things in mind, then try to design resolutions that make them more likely. Here are a couple of examples:
I will ask my manager for clarity on what is expected from me in order to get a raise.
I will make a list of those expectations and review them every week to be sure I'm following through on them.
I will send my manager weekly updates, outlining everything I've accomplished.
The first resolution is about understanding what's required of you; the second is about the actual work you're doing; the third is about making sure your manager is aware of it. Resolutions like this won't guarantee a raise or promotion, of course. But just saying you want to get a raise, and not following up on that, will guarantee you don't.
Be more productive at work
I've written about productivity professionally for almost a decade, and I've learned that which system you use doesn't matter half as much as finding a system that works for you. The same goes for resolving to be more productive. First, you need to figure out what productivity means to you. Then you need to identify a specific way in which you could be more productive.
Here are a few ideas for productivity resolutions:
I will turn off all notifications and focus on a single task for two hours, every day.
I will start keeping a daily productivity journal.
I will set up a time tracking app and review it every day.
I will set up a to-do list app and actually use it.
I will set up automations to save time at work.
Look for a new job
Admit it: You've spent time at work looking for another job. Don't panic, I won't tell your manager. But your next job won't just fall into your lap—you're going to need to do some work. And, arguably, job searching is even harder now, in the age of AI.
So don't resolve to find your dream job. Think up tangible steps you can take, then commit to them. Here are some examples:
I will send out two customized cover sheets and resumes every day.
I will set up a job search spreadsheet and keep it up-to-date.
I will reach out to three people in roles or at companies I'd be interested in and ask for an informational interview.
While you're thinking about switching jobs: we're hiring at Zapier. The company offers full-time remote positions with competitive salary and benefits. Plus you can DM me on Slack anytime (which I'm told is pretty fun).
Resolutions are about action
Most resolutions fail. Yours don't have to. The trick is to avoid vague goals. Design tangible steps you can take regularly, then actually follow through on those steps. It's not the sort of thing people crochet on pillows, sure, but it has the benefit of actually working.
Related: Learn how to use the SMART system to reach your goals and build habits that stick.