7 achievable work goals for a happier, healthier year
Last updated on
March 18, 2021
The new year hands hands us a precious opportunity to pause, recalibrate and make plans to improve. Thanks to the “fresh start effect”, it also provides the motivational juice to help us actually commit to them. We tend to focus on personal exercise and nutrition goals, but setting work goals are arguably just as important for leading happier, healthier lives.
What makes a good work goal?
Work goals can help us restore a sense of control over our daily lives, making work more manageable, productive and rewarding. Yet not all work goals are created equally. To be useful, work goals need to be achievable. Keeping up with any new resolution can be hard at the best of times, but in the midst of a global pandemic things are that bit more challenging. Rather than aiming for intimidating, abstract changes, we should all focus on smaller, attainable work goals we can easily put into practice and measure. To that end, we've put together seven straightforward work goals that you can actually achieve.
Our top work goals for 2020
1. Protect more space for deep work
We all want to become more productive – but not all of us are sure how to do it. One of the easiest ways to feel more productive is to make more time for deep work – where you can immerse yourself in the complex thinking and problem solving that produces your best work. Deep work comes with a host of benefits – namely, helping to create a state of Eudaimonia, where we feel we’re achieving our full human potential. So, if you’re looking to produce at your peak and feel more fulfilled at work, doing more deep work is a great place to start.
How you do it
Block out regular sessions for deep work in your weekly calendar, so no one can book you for meetings or commandeer your time. Choosing your most important piece of work, define a clear goal for each deep work session so you know what you want to achieve by the end of it. Each session should have a time limit – ideally no greater than 90 minutes. When each session comes around, block yourself from all digital and environmental distraction, and find your flow state.
To become truly productive, you need insight into where your time is really going so you can make sure your energy is concentrated on your highest-value work. Most of us grossly underestimate how much time we spend on inconsequential tasks, like responding to email and Slack, or managing our work tools. At the same time, the move to remote working during the pandemic has meant that most of us are working for far longer than we should be. Good time management starts with good self-knowledge, so commit to finding a system to keep your work day visible.
How you do it
While some people like a long-hand method of writing a productivity journal, it’s extremely time consuming, difficult to skim read and often produces a subjective account of your work day. Taking the tech route, consider using an automatic time tracker that can capture everything you do in a work day to a secure, private timeline. At the end of the day, you can review how long you spent on different tasks, projects, websites and documents, and stay on top of how long you worked to stick to your contracted hours.
We know that productivity means spending more time on the right work. Deep work is one way of creating space for it, but one of the easiest things you can do right now to immediately supercharge your productivity is to cut out unproductive daily admin using automation. We all have annoying, repetitive parts of our work that we can’t simply ignore – think essential admin like expensing, invoicing, managing tasks and logging timesheets. But so many of these “shallow tasks” can now be outsourced to computers to execute for you. Clear space for meaningful, important work by automating as much daily admin as you possibly can.
How you do it
The first thing you need to do is identify unproductive admin you can automate. You might want to do a full time audit to find this out, but the problem areas tend to be pretty obvious – it’s all the essential coordination, management, accounting and organization admin that supports your work but doesn’t further it. Then just search for the specific automation tool you’re after.
So many work goals fail because they’re focused on lag measures. Lag measures represent the outcome you’re trying to achieve, like “write a book by the end of the year”. The problem with lag measures is that you only know whether you’ve achieved them once the deadline is upon you, by which time it’s too late to change your behavior. So when you’re set monthly or even quarterly targets for your work, try focusing instead on lead measures: the short-term practical steps that help you achieve the greater goal.
How to do it
Your lead measures will depend on the type of work you produce. If you’re writing a book, for example, your lead measure could be “write 2,000 words on Friday” or “finish the chapter by the end of the week”. By focusing on lead measures, you can take concrete steps to achieve your goals, giving yourself more time to remedy things should you veer off track, and turning a target that might sometimes seem insurmountable into a smaller, more manageable set of points.
5. Try a new productivity technique
Novelty is a very powerful tool allowing you to breathe new life and energy into your work. Workflows, routines, processes and team relationships can all benefit from a healthy dose of novelty. So if your current work methods aren’t giving you a sense of achievement, why not try shaking things up with a new system? There are hundreds – potentially thousands – of different productivity techniques out there for you to choose from. Once you find one that works for you, you will be able to produce more quality work with significantly less effort – and probably find work considerably more fulfilling.
How to do it
When it comes to productivity, one size definitely doesn’t fit all, and just because a certain productivity technique works for a friend, doesn’t mean it will work for you. The beauty of productivity systems is that because there are so many out there, you’re sure to find one that works for you – whether it’s the 80/20 rule, task batching, the pomodoro technique, or eating that frog.
When you’re working from home, the barriers between your personal and professional lives can easily dissolve. While working remotely provides welcome flexibility, it can also mean that days blur together, without structure or defined boundaries. In this setting, it can be extremely difficult knowing when to stop working – especially when your day is threaded with childcare and other responsibilities. Studies from 2020 show that many home workers started to begin work earlier and end work later than they would have in the office. So one of the healthiest things you can do in 2021 is to add a baseline structure to your day – not only to ensure you get more work done, but to protect your leisure time too.
How to do it
Take regular, well-defined breaks. Schedule important work. Time block communication so you’re not a slave to your inbox. Create a mock commute, if it helps you get in and out of work mode. Everyone works differently, play around with it to find what gives your work day form and borders.
If modern life is chaotic and “always-on”, minimalism is its antidote. More people are going beyond applying the concept to their home or wardrobe to set a healthier relationship with their tech. The idea of digital minimalism essentially boils down to using tech more intentionally – something that might sound simple, but that many of us struggle with. The lure of social media, app notifications and unread emails bring tremendous digital noise into our day, which often distracts us from the things that matter and leaves us feeling empty and passive.
How to do it
Make 2021 the year you start practicing digital minimalism: use your devices with intention; organize your digital space; manage digital distractions. Just as you would spring clean a house, spring clean your devices. Be ruthless: if a tool or app doesn’t help you or bring you joy, delete it.