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10 New Year's resolutions to take control of your work life

3 min read

When jobs pile up faster than you can handle them, your only recourse is to work smarter. Start the year off right with these 10 New Year’s resolutions.

1. Tackle your most important task first thing in the morning. Don’t try to get little things out of the way, because suddenly it will be lunchtime. I’m convinced that you will be successful even if you tackle only the most important thing you need to do each day.

2. Get back to people immediately. Return the call or reply to the e-mail or text message as soon as you get it. The sender will be pleased that you got back to him or her so quickly, and you don’t have to add returning the message to your to-do pile. Make the letter k—short for ”okay”—one of your favorite keys as a quick reply on your BlackBerry or other mobile gadget.

3. Observe the ”three-minute rule.” If something comes in that you can do in three minutes or less, do it. Don’t add it to your to-do list. You’ll pleasantly surprise (even shock) people with your quick response. If you can’t handle the task in three minutes, at least respond to the appropriate parties (see No. 2) and say when you’ll get back to them.

4. Say no. You can only handle so much and maintain the integrity of your work. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t have the time to do something or that you could do it only if something else on your plate is deferred. Be assertive without being impolite or a shirker. Piling tasks on to the point of breaking the camel’s back serves no one’s interest.

5. Control your calendar. Make sure you give yourself time to prep for certain meetings, and clear your calendar for important tasks, even if it means resetting some appointments. Still need more time? Opt out of meetings if you are not really needed (see No. 4). Finally, review your schedule for the coming week first thing Monday morning. Don’t let something on your calendar come as a surprise.

6. Do the things you never seem to have time for, like exercise and fun. If you must, set appointments to do them. Treat them like the important tasks they are. Yes, you can!

7. Enjoy lunch. Lunch is often the only time in a busy day to decompress. Meet a friend, take a walk, or close your eyes for a brief nap. Then go back to work refreshed. Eating at your desk is a trap: you think you’re being more productive, but you’re really just dragging yourself down.

8. Make your current job more enjoyable and enriching. Think of ways to do more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t.

9. Improve your relationship with your managers. Identify ways to help them work more effectively. Keep them better informed of what you’re doing with brief but frequent updates.

10. Tackle the big, complicated, important things. Identify the two or three critical opportunities or problems in your life and break them down into bite-size chunks that you can resolve with action items. Do this at the start of each new week. Here’s a piece of fortune-cookie wisdom: ”There’s a difference between doing things and getting things done.”

However well-intentioned we all are as we wake up on New Year’s Day, resolutions are hard to keep. So resolve to do each of these once, check it off, and then see whether it’s made a difference. You really can take steps to control your personal and professional lives and become at once more effective and happier. As another fortune cookie says: ”Action is worry’s worst enemy.”

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