News Article

CAREER TIPS-Plan Ahead in 2020 for a Great Start in 2021

Posted 22nd December 2020 • Written by Mark Murphy of •

We all know the eager anticipation of having a few days off over a holiday. It’s not dissimilar to the eagerness we felt as schoolchildren, counting down the final few days of school before summer vacation. But as much as we want to, literally or figuratively, rush out the door, there’s an exercise you need to complete before you mentally disconnect for a few days.

We’ve all experienced the anticipatory dread that occurs as we mentally end our time off and prepare for the stress of our first day back from break. For many people, the dread they feel on the Sunday before their first Monday back is so painful that it’s actually like losing one of their days off. But you can fix that dread with this 15-minute exercise.

Develop A Success Plan For Your First Day Back

Before you leave for that holiday break, develop a success plan for your first day back. Now, I’m not talking about a blow-by-blow of every activity you’re going to attempt that day. Instead, you need a list of the one or two or three things that must be achieved on that first day back in order for that day to be considered a success.

This is radically different from your to-do list. The typical to-do list is a massive catalogue of every single activity we could possibly complete. And if you give yourself 50 items to complete in a normal workday, you’re virtually guaranteed to feel disappointed. It’s also really overwhelming to look at a list of dozens of to-dos, even if you intellectually know that many of those items are optional (or at least wouldn’t be noticed if they were never completed).

Your success plan, by contrast, is simply a list of the essential activities you need to complete on your first day back. It’s simply an answer to the question, “What are the couple of activities I need to complete today in order for this to feel like a successful day?” 

After you itemize the achievements that will make your first day back successful, you need to then plot out when and how you’re going to accomplish them. And here’s a little secret about success plans; if you start your day with a clearly articulated plan, you will often find that, with an hour or two of uninterrupted work, you can successfully complete the one or two items on your plan.

You Need To Make Your Success Plan Before You Leave For The Holiday

Developing a success plan before you leave for the holiday allows you to disengage from stressing about your first day back. Once you’ve got a clear plan for how you’re going to make that first day back successful, there is no point in pondering it any further. And that’s the key to disengaging from work and allowing yourself to enjoy the holiday.

For many people, leaving for a holiday break with incomplete tasks or unfinished business creates an unproductive psychic tension (also called the Zeigarnik or cliff-hanger effect). And that results in waking up the next day feeling anxious about everything that didn’t get done the day before. But when you make your success plan, you’re essentially wrapping-up your pre-holiday work which, in turn, allows you to fully disconnect and enjoy your time off.

People Who Make Success Plans Are Happier And More Productive

Developing a success plan for each and every day is one of the most important time management habits you can develop. Thousands of leaders have taken the online quiz “How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?” And one of the questions asks respondents to choose between two statements:

  • In the morning, before I check email or voicemail, I develop a plan so I know exactly what I need to achieve that day to make it a successful day.
  • In the morning, the first things I do are check email or voicemail.

If you start every day by making a success plan for the day, you’ll have far more control over where your time is spent. But if the first thing you do is start checking emails, voicemails, etc., you’re essentially giving everyone else control over where your time will be spent. Rather than starting on the activities that are most important to your career success, you could end up responding to dozens of emails that aren’t terribly important or that add little value to you, the company or your customers.

Unfortunately, the data from the quiz shows that 66% of people do not plan their days; they begin their days by checking email and voicemail. And this gets even worse: Only 47% of people who begin their days by checking email say they often leave work feeling like "today was a really successful day." But 68% of people who begin their day by developing a plan say they often leave work feeling like "today was a really successful day."

It's going to take you 15-minutes before you leave for your holiday to develop your success plan. But that little bit of work will be well worth it when you’re able to fully disengage from the office and actually enjoy your time off.

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