My main 2017 New Year’s resolution is basically the same as always: Stop eating Christmas cookies, cut back on drinking and get back to the gym. This resolve tends to stick for much of the year – only during the next holiday season does it crumble.
I’ve had some other resolutions on my mind, though, and it struck me that they might be of wider applicability for a year that many people are approaching with a hangover – literal, metaphorical or both – and trepidation. Also, while I don’t really believe New Year’s resolutions are the key to ending the productivity-growth slowdown that has been weighing on the economy for the past decade-plus, they can’t hurt, right? So here goes.
Modern professional life generally happens indoors. That’s inevitable, but for me staying inside often means getting stuck in a rut. Just walking around the block shakes things up a bit, but I’m lucky enough to have a job where wandering around a California alfalfa field or a Chinese theme park are work. Why am I not doing that more often? And on weekends, why am I not spending more time exploring my gigantic, endlessly surprising city? Seriously, I need to get out more. Maybe you do too.
Talk to human beings, in person.
This is obviously key for a journalist, but it seems important for all of us. Virtual interaction is efficient. It can open up new worlds. It’s also incomplete and often one-dimensional. Interacting with data can be great, too. But it comes with its own biases and blinders. Actual conversations take time. They complicate things. That’s why they’re so important.
You can’t be generous to everybody. But it’s too easy to use that as an excuse not to be generous to anybody. I’m not just talking about panhandlers on the subway. It’s also that friend whose book manuscript is waiting to be read, that family member who could use a little encouragement and help, that good idea that might wither without some attention and promotion. I’m never going to be another Adam Grant — the tireless Wharton School professor who has made helpfulness into a personal and professional credo. But I do think Grant is right that generosity benefits the generous. (Which is, of course, a terribly ungenerous reason to be generous, but still.)
Have a plan.
Benjamin Franklin famously asked himself every morning: “What good shall I do this day?” After that he would, “contrive [the] day’s business, and take the resolution of the day.” This is the basic rule of personal effectiveness – have some idea of what you aim to accomplish before you head out to face the day, week or year. As a self-help skeptic I’m a little alarmed to realize I’m basically writing a self-help column. But I’m also alarmed at how often I start my workday or workweek without any plan. Plans aren’t necessarily for sticking to. It’s just that without them, all you can do is react. This goes for organizations, too.
Go out on a limb.
No, I haven’t chosen the limb – or, more likely, limbs – yet. But at a time when the consensus view has been repeatedly wrong, departing from that consensus seems like almost a safe bet. This isn’t the same as being contrary. It means coming up with unique, independent arguments – or at least giving attention to those who have. I’m big on being reasonable, but reasonableness risks settling into consensus-seeking caution. What fun is that?