It’s that time of year again: new starts, fresh beginnings, and creative resolutions.
There’s no more perfect time to kick-start your creativity and plan for a new year that’s bursting with productivity and inspiration — but if that’s what you’re craving, the standard resolutions just aren’t going to cut it.
So how do you set resolutions that you’ll actually want to stick to (and not end up with the creative equivalent of an unused gym membership or an unread recipe book on clean eating)?
The answer is to set resolutions that will help make your next year a happy, motivated, and creative one by keeping your professional ambitions at the forefront of your resolutions. By following a few simple tips, you’ll be on your way to a new year full of productivity and inspiration.
When you haphazardly pick a goal because it sounds “right” or like what you’re “supposed” to say, or select a generic and bland resolution just for the sake of having one at all, you won’t be motivated to stick with it — because it’s not actually going to matter to you.
Select resolutions that speak to you, personally and specifically, and that get you feeling excited and motivated by merely thinking about accomplishing them.
But to pick resolutions that matter to you, you first have to figure out what’s really important in your life or your business.
Set aside time to sit down and brainstorm everything you want to accomplish, every goal flitting around in your head — no matter how small and “easy” or massive and seemingly impossible. Travel to a new country, become a digital nomad, triple the audience for your blog, redo your wardrobe, sell your business or invest in a new one, learn how to ride a bike (hey, some of us missed out on a few childhood lessons).
Once you’ve got a list together, organize it in order of what matters most to you, with your highest priority items at the top of your list. What would break your heart if you didn’t accomplish it in the next 12 months? What makes you giddy when you imagine yourself doing it?
Keep in mind, the most important goal to you doesn’t have to be the most important goal to society. Maybe you want to ditch your steady, lucrative corporate job and launch your own startup — despite the massive pay cut and risk. Maybe you’d rather be a digital nomad than go after a promotion. Maybe you just really, really want to learn how to ride a bike.
No one gets motivated to work hard for something they don’t really want in the first place. If you’re finding your creative side is often silent or your productivity is waning, it may very well be because you’re aiming for the wrong target.
Whatever it is that you want professionally, commit to going after that specifically, and you’ll increase your productivity and creative thinking in order to achieve those results; when a goal truly matters to you, you’ll find it’s easier to feel motivated and stay focused. It’s much simpler to keep your eyes on the prize when the prize is something that you actually care about.
Having a hard time figuring out what you really want? (Trust me, you are so not alone.) To determine what will get you truly motivated, jump straight to Tip 2:
Is there something you did in the last year (or even years ago) that makes you beam every time you remember doing it? Finishing your manuscript? Starting a new e-shop? Adopting a dog? Landing a steady client as a freelance writer?
That. Do more of that.
If you were thrilled each time you had to post to your business’s social media accounts, and not so much when it was time to go over the budget, seek out a career built around that type of work. If you were happiest when you finished your manuscript, commit to editing it (or having it edited), as well as outlining your next writing project.
If adopting a dog made you happy, volunteer at an animal shelter or add posts about your pup to your company’s blog. (One of the clients I write web copy for posts photos of their owner’s dog every week, and it’s one of the things that drive customers back to the site over and over again. They’re also some of their most creative posts; the client writes a short paragraph from the dog’s point of view to accompany the photo, and the “dog’s” take on the business offers a fresh perspective for their copy.)
Unfortunately, we’re often taught that work just isn’t fun, that happiness in our career isn’t the most important thing in life. Especially if your goal is to be productive; I mean, you should be putting your nose to the grindstone, keeping your eye on the finish line, and not getting sidetracked by frivolous distractions, right?
Wrong. Your happiness is anything but frivolous; in fact, when you get down to it, it’s really all that matters. (What’s the point of being “successful” if you’re miserable while you’re succeeding?)
Not only that, happy people are actually more creative. When you increase your personal happiness, you increase your creativity — and you’ll work much harder when your work makes you smile.
Counterintuitively, another way to get happier?
This won’t be fun. But if you take the time and courage to face up to what’s most wrong in your professional life, you’ll find the next year will be infinitely more satisfying.
Put on some soothing music, light a calming candle, and think about all the things that sucked in the last year, that kept you from reaching your goals, that stole your creative energy, that made you feel unproductive and blocked and stuck.
What instances make your heart race to recall and fill you with dread when you think of facing them again? Were you short on cash, even to the point of being late on payments? Did a major deal almost fall through because you were too busy to check your email? Did you end up not only not going on that trip to Asia, but not even finding yourself taking off a full weekend?
Figure out what your biggest problems were in the last year that you’ve yet to solve. The problems that kept you from being productive and creative, the problems that made you stressed and snappy and afraid. Make resolutions to solve those issues so that you aren’t stuck in the same position all over again in the coming months.
That doesn’t mean that you have to figure out the solution itself right now. It may be something complicated that will take time to figure out, or it may be a process of trial and error to see what works. For instance, if cash flow was a big problem, you may have to experiment with different ways to cut costs or try out several new advertising methods to see what actually brings in more dollars.
Resolve to find the solution in the next year. When you cut out the things in your life that stifle your creativity and productivity, you’ll find yourself flourishing — instead of getting in the same stressed-out rut over and over again.
Want to avoid even more productivity-robbing stress in the new year?
I know, I know, entrepreneurs have a reputation for being Type A, and writers are often known for being perfectionists. (And I relate on both fronts; I may or may not be a mutant combination of Monica and Paris Geller.)
Pictured above: me and me.
While hard work, dedication, and a commitment to excellence are all useful traits, they’re useful only in moderation. You may think doing everything (running every aspect of your business, saying yes to every client, taking the lead on every project) and insisting on doing it perfectly makes you Superman or Wonder Woman.
But actually? It wears you down, runs you dry, and saps any energy for creativity. And is it really productive to fill every second of every day trying to get as much done as possible (and ending up having to rush through tasks instead of actually focusing on them)?
If you’re finding yourself overworked (or think you may be on the verge — it’s good to catch it early, if you can), make a resolution to find a way to do things a little easier next year. (I know, I know — it’ll be okay, trust me.)
Figure out what you can let go of, and delegate. Hire someone to write your web content, seek out a social media manager, or hire an assistant to check your email (and maybe stop checking it at 2 a.m. on a weekend, period). Don’t take on more projects than you have the time, staff, or energy for, and don’t take on every element of whatever projects you are working on.
This can be incredibly hard to do; additional money and prestige are always tempting. But if you end up doing sub-par work and stressing yourself out so badly that you can’t even think straight, you’re not actually being productive or creative.
You’re just being busy.
Let go, breathe, and give yourself the space for true creative and productive energy.
Ready to let go a little more (and see even more results)?
Anyone can suffer from burnout. Even if you delegate tasks. Even if you love what you do. Even if you have a fulfilling family, a loving partner, or volunteer commitments, you can start to feel like you exist for everyone but you.
Which makes all the work seem kind of pointless, in the end.
Make a resolution to find ways to refuel your inspiration in the next year by doing some things just for you. Take yourself out on Artist Dates. Take time to read poetry or your favorite author, instead of just reading industry blogs or professional memoirs. Take a class in something you’ve always wanted to study.
Let yourself be self-centered once in a while. While it can be noble to focus on your career, your company, your partner, or your family, there’s also nobility in spoiling yourself now and again.
And note: I’m the queen of finding ways to make it sound like I’m doing something for me when really, I’m not. For instance, I’d probably read this tip and figure, “Well, I am doing something for me by following Tip 2 and doing what makes me happy! And what makes me happy is submitting articles for work, so I’m actually doing something for myself when I’m working!”
You need to be selfish. You need to be indulgent. You need to do something that has no productive purpose whatsoever other than making you feel nurtured and inspired and pampered and cared for.
While it may be something productive you end up doing (finally starting to write that children’s picture book that’s been in your head, or starting a YouTube channel that may end up bringing in money, or setting up an Etsy shop for trinkets you make while you relax), you need to make sure it’s not just work masquerading as play. Only do something “useful” if it feels like playing, if you have no obligation to do it, and if there’s no great harm if it doesn’t get done.
As hard as it may be, you know what you’ve got to do. You have to make a resolution to:
Trust me. When you take the time to care for yourself, those stressful obligations won’t feel as overwhelming, and you’ll feel like there’s more to your life than to-do lists and deadlines and assignments and have-tos.
A burnt-out, resentful, stressed you isn’t good for anyone. To be your best for everyone else, you have to focus on you sometimes.
And one last, positive, self-loving tip:
One of the best things you can do for your productivity, your creativity, and your happiness in general is to make a resolution to celebrate your progress.
Don’t only celebrate a finished victory, a met goal — celebrate every step of the process of attempting to achieve that goal. Give yourself credit for taking steps to improve yourself, your life, and your work process at all. Be thrilled that you even made the commitment to try in the first place.
So many people never go even that far. They don’t take the time to examine their life, their flaws, their dreams. They get stuck in a rut, doing things the way they always have, not bothering to take the time to figure out if there’s a way they could do those things better, if there’s a way they could be happier. They convince themselves that being unhappy is what adulthood is, that this is what life is.
They don’t realize that’s not the way it has to be.
By taking the time to even read this article, you’re taking steps that others often don’t. If you decide to make just one resolution based on these tips, that’s another step. And if you keep up with it for only three months of the new year?
That’s three months of trying. Three months of progress. That’s nothing to be ashamed of — that’s something to be proud of. And that pride will keep you motivated to keep trying; beating yourself up for “failing” is only going to sap your energy and hold you back.
Also, it’s not always solely up to you if you get to meet your goals or stick with your resolutions. Bad things happen, and life gets in the way.
You can’t make people buy your product or read your blog. You can’t make publishers accept your manuscript or make your dream company give you a job.
The economy could take a nosedive. Your industry could hit an unforeseen hard time. You could get sick, or your car could need a new engine, or a tree could land on your roof.
Things happen. Goals have to be put off, or shifted, or may not be able to be met through no fault of your own.
Again, that’s okay.
If you tried once, you can try again. And again. And again.
You can change tactics the next time you try, or maybe you’ll have a better attitude now that you’ve done a bit of it before, or maybe life will work with you this time and things will go smoother.
Give yourself credit for any progress, however small it may seem. Let yourself feel gratitude for every attempt, instead of resentment and anger and self-hate over goals you didn’t reach. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from ever trying in the first place; if you never try, you’re guaranteeing that you’ll never succeed.
Make a resolution to try, and be proud of trying, and view every step of progress as a victory.
And if you do fail?
There’s always another New Year — and another chance to start again.
The close of another year is the perfect time to reflect, and the beginning of a new one is a chance to start fresh and get a jump on being the person you most want to be (or to simply figure out who that person is).
To make the most of this time, don’t fall back on the same, overdone, impersonal resolutions that leave you feeling unmotivated and unexcited. Find out what you really want to accomplish, what makes you happiest, what problems you want to kick out of your life, how to focus on yourself, and how you can embrace every step of your progress.
When you do that, you’ll find yourself full of drive, passion, and purpose. And the next year will be one of creativity, happiness, productivity, and inspiration. You’ll be ready to slay your professional goals and be the best possible you for your business.
Whether or not you succeed, whether or not you reach every goal, you’ll know you’ve given your all and really tried — and that you’re on the right path toward the life you truly want.
And what’s worth celebrating more than that?
So pop the Champagne, throw the confetti, and get ready for your year.
Amanda Kaye Stein graduated from the Academy of Art University with an A.A. in Fashion Design (focus on Fashion Illustration and Creative Writing). She’s worked as a freelance writer, editor, social media manager, graphic designer, artist, and comedy improv performer. She’s an aspiring novelist, YouTube creator, and ukulele rock star.