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by Mary Kate Sheridan | December 31, 2020


I don't know about you, but I am certainly raising a glass to 2020 being over. This past year has brought tremendous change for so many of us—including when it comes to our careers. From layoffs and furloughs to paycuts and pay freezes, not to mention figuring out how to juggle remote work and daily lives during a pandemic, 2020 has changed professional life in profound ways. Given how tied our careers are to our identities, prioritizing your professional life is a valid and important goal for the upcoming year. Below are six resolutions to consider for your career in 2021.

1. I resolve to find a healthy work environment.

If you are one of the lucky ones to have ideal work-life balance, a great relationship with your boss and coworkers, and a company that embraces wellness, kudos to you. But if you find yourself regularly burning the midnight oil, being saddled with more tasks than you can handle, sparring with your coworkers, or feeling demoralized by your professional environment, it's time to make a change. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that life is fleeting and unpredictable—living your life in misery is not worth it. No job will be perfect, and if the positives of yours outweigh the negatives, then you are ahead of many. If, however, every day is a nightmare, consider looking for alternate options. A job search is scary, but risking your mental and physical health is scarier. If switching jobs isn't possible, take steps to improve your situation where you can: Talk to your manager about your workload, spearhead a wellness initiative, or work to develop friendships within your office (or virtual office). If you are in a truly toxic environment that you can't leave, consider seeing a therapist to work through the hardships and strategize a path forward to preserve your mental health.

2. I resolve to make time for myself.

If you are a workaholic, making time for yourself probably seems like a foreign idea. But it is so important not only for your own mental health but also for the well-being of those around you. You may not even realize the toll your 24/7 work style is having on your health—and you may not appreciate how much your friends and family miss spending time with you while you type away on your computer at all hours. Make 2021 the year that you carve out time for yourself. This resolution is an easy one to break, so I suggest setting ground rules and sticking to them. For example, decide that you will only put in extra hours three nights a week. Or pinpoint a hobby or activity that you enjoy, and establish a goal relating to it: I will read 100 books this year, I will make 50 puzzles with my kids this year, I will have a movie night with my partner every Friday, I will play golf with my buddies twice a month—you get the idea. As crazy as it sounds, if you are a workaholic, you have to plan for fun until it becomes a normal part of your life.

3. I resolve to stay organized.

Getting organized is probably a pretty popular New Year's resolution—and that is because it is so important for professional success. Missing deadlines and being unable to find important documents is not a good look, and certainly not one you want to bring with you into 2021. But getting organized is only the beginning—your actual resolution should be to stay organized. Take the next few weeks to come up with a system for your email, deadlines, prior projects, ongoing projects, etc—Excel should be your best friend in 2021. If you're a manager, come up with a way to track your team's workload and progress on projects so that you have a handle on their work and can better guide and oversee them. For those who are working from home, set up a designated work area—even if it is just a desk in the corner of your bedroom—and reserve it solely for work. Keep it clutter free, and make sure there is a place for all of your work supplies, from headphones to laptop to files. And at the end of each day, make sure to update all of your organizational spreadsheets, file your email, and clean your work area.

4. I resolve to set boundaries.

You may absolutely love your job but still feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that pours onto your daily plate. And the tough thing is that when you do a good job, that often means more work will come flowing in. If you are anything like me, you want to do a stellar job and meet your coworkers' requests as much as possible to be a team player. But sometimes, you have to say "no." Learning how to say "no" to work is a tough skill and one that must be done with careful balancing. Sometimes, extra work is needed for a sudden project that popped up or to appease a demanding client. Other times, projects can wait until a later time, or another person on the team can handle them—and you are no less of a teammate for pushing away an assignment if you are already swamped. The important step is to communicate why you can't take the assignment on at the moment and that you will be happy to help in the future. If you are constantly under water at work, your productivity will be impacted, and you will burn out.

5. I resolve to go for it.

Do you have a dream job that you have been too nervous to pursue? Are you wishing you could pursue your M.B.A. but can't push yourself to actually complete the applications? Have you been considering starting your own Etsy shop on the side to sell your handmade jewelry? Is a promotion at work calling your name, but you have been hesitant to inquire? Whatever career aspirations are bursting inside you, make 2021 the year that you explore them. That doesn't mean you should Zoom your boss on January 4th and quit. But it does mean that you can start investigating what it will take to pursue your dream and what you need to do to be in the proper financial and mental position to do so. 

6. I resolve to avoid distractions.

For those of us on computers all day, the temptation to log on to social media, check some scores, or peruse Amazon is real. Training yourself to avoid these distractions is a key goal to start 2021 on a productive note. The crushing thing about distractions is that they don't help your work get done any faster, so when you get sucked down an Instagram hole, you emerge with the same amount of work on your plate—and, as a result, later work hours. This year, establish some rules during work hours. For instance, you may limit yourself to checking social media only during your lunch break. Or perhaps you can set a timer for short breaks throughout the day and return to your tasks as soon as it goes off. You also may consider not checking any personal email or texts during the workday. Without outside distractions, you'll likely be amazed at how much work you get done during actual business hours and will end up thanking yourself for the free time you have after hours.

Happy New Year and best of luck with your career goals in 2021!