The start of a new calendar year is traditionally a time to declutter: your home, your to-do list, your inbox. Some people relish a clean slate, others find the process too exhausting to contemplate. With a combination of some reframing and checking your assumptions you can clear a remarkable amount of your mental clutter - a good place to start. Here are a few back-to-work examples to hold lightly this week:
1) So it’s a new year, but back at the coal face it’s all still the same really, you’ve just had your head in the fairy lights for a couple of weeks. When corporate life feels like a hamster wheel that you’re stuck on, you could reframe that as reassuring and even helpful. You know the corporate routine inside out? Great! That frees up a whole block of energy and mental space that you can use profitably - to make plans, allow new ideas to germinate or think about some longer term changes. You just turned the relentlessness into an advantage, without lifting a finger or a dustpan, virtual or otherwise.
2) Ugh, it turns out Father Christmas did not bring your boss/difficult colleague a new personality. If you’re feeling generous, how about you assume they are dealing with issues that you will never be party to? What if the bad attitude is actually a manifestation of some deep insecurity or confusion about what a good boss looks like? After all, it’s often the case that the more senior your grade, the less support and learning you get offered. Remind yourself that no-one starts the day (or year) by deciding to be a complete nightmare to work with/for, and there will be a back story that you will probably never get to hear. At the very least this will save some of the mental energy you are currently investing in feeling disgruntled. Remember there is loads you can learn from a challenging colleague, not least ‘what not to do’ when it’s your turn to get the best out of other people. Turn it to your advantage by being sure to learn specific lessons that will equip you well in the longer term.
3) Check in with yourself – it’s worth a reminder of where you source your energy. You’ll need it for the process of decluttering, making plans, setting goals, delivering change, leading others. Are you actually giving yourself the best chance of success? This will depend on your own preference and learning style. Do you need quiet planning time? Does your diary reflect that? Is it regular learning from experts or networking with like-minded people? Book it in (not once a quarter, regular doses!). Some of us need to book all their holidays for the year ahead, then they can focus on any task at hand knowing exactly when the reprieve is coming. Many of us know exactly what ‘better’ would look like (leaving on time, eating properly, sleeping well, yoga before work, planning time in the mornings, no coffee after 2pm, whatever your thing is) AND we still don’t actually make these things happen. Assume responsibility for identifying what you need in order to be at your best, commit to it, and put in place the support structure to help you succeed (coaching can be immensely helpful here!).
Above all, take the pressure off yourself. January can feel like The Moment to make change and set a new course. Know that it’s an arbitrary moment dictated by a 400-year-old way of dividing up our time. Any Monday (or Tuesday) morning could be just as suitable. A Thursday afternoon in March might suit you perfectly. There is never a bad moment to reset your assumptions and expectations, clear the physical and mental space and position yourself to do your best work. So if January leaves you feeling drained rather then energised to make change and get in control, then adjust your assumptions - of which you are the sole controller - and consider what will work best for you.