8 ways to line up early successes next year – or principles to apply anytime.
Business, the world of work, our careers and personal lives are all riddled with risk and uncertainty, probably more so today than many of us have experienced before.
It’s not surprising that mistakes are made, that many people struggle with indecision, an inability to prioritise, procrastination, or a combination of all of these. The writer Paulo Coelho noted that the only thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve is the fear of failure. This fear often causes us to hold back. Time passes, and when we look back on our forfeited dream we regret not being braver. Or, we wonder why were afraid at all.
What is regret, and are there ways to avoid the feeling?
Think of your future self. Regret is the emotion you will feel – a disappointment, sadness, or repentance – about something that you did, or didn’t do.
Psychology studies show that the deepest regrets we feel relate to the latter, the things we didn’t do. When we act but make a mistake, our regret generally eases over time. Looking back over the past year, you’ve probably made a few decisions you now regret, and taken certain actions which didn’t lead to the intended outcome. There are lessons in the errors, and you can use your experiences to change your calls when faced with similar issues in the future.
But inaction has the opposite effect: the feeling of regret tends to last, and grows stronger over time. In other words, mistakes can be painful, but there is consolation in knowing we tried. Inaction, however, when never rekindled, plagues us.
Choosing action is important not only for its own sake in getting things moving, but also because it reduces the psychological effects of how we feel about things that may go wrong – even if they do!
No regrets, many possibilities
A no-regret decision or action, then, is one that opens the door to new possibilities. Even if it turns out not to lead anywhere, there is no downside. And the upside may well be important to your future success and happiness.
In the spirit of seizing opportunities, being one step ahead, and avoiding inertia at the start of 2023, here are 8 no-regret moves you can make, right now. They are also valuable guide-ropes to improve productivity at work, and help you to become more content, at any time:
1. Make a bold decision. Studies on corporate strategy by global experts Steve Smit and Chris Bradley prove that it pays to make bold decisions, and then to match these with big moves. Together, these give a company a 47% chance of rising into the top fifth of comparative performance within its industry.
Although it’s a simplification to equate this entirely to personal contexts, many of us have things we really want to do, but something holds us back. It could be a mistake we made in the past, so now we’re afraid (or too proud) to try again. It could be the thought of disapproval of someone close to us. Or, quite simply, we are comfortable. The saying ‘Go big or go home’ rings true. So, give yourself the best chance of success by being bold!
2. Set a small goal for early 2023, and a big one for later in the year. The most important driver of achievement and success is motivation. And to be motivated, we must identify what we wish to achieve, and then set goals along the way towards that definition of success.
It’s true that your goals may change as the year progresses. But the habit of setting targets, and the motivation that comes with that discipline, is a clear no-regret benefit.
3. Plan to capitalise on a strength. The conventional, perceived path to success is to improve on weaknesses. Whilst it’s good to identify and acknowledge areas where we need to improve, more recent studies show that a strengths-based approach creates a greater chance of achievement.
(If you are in a leadership position, the principle of activating and prioritising strengths can be applied to the dynamics of the management team, your company’s operations, and its growth strategy, too.)
For example, do you lag in digital skills, but regularly receive praise for your ability to handle demanding clients? Definitely, you should register for relevant courses to improve your digital skills. But don’t invest too much mental and emotional energy trying to match colleagues who are highly proficient. Rather, find ways to become even better at account management, like finetuning your negotiation skills, approaching an experienced accounts director to mentor you, or requesting a transfer to work on your company’s biggest client.
Whatever your greatest strength, you will not regret building on that. You will be poised to capitalise.
4. Make a new contact with a colleague. The benefits of collaboration are well known. A degree of collaboration is also key to employees’ happiness at work, according to many surveys. Companies with a strong culture of collaboration are 5 times more likely to be high performing organisations.
Chances are that you do collaborate – but, also, that you could collaborate more. For instance, you’ve noted the smart finance person whom you feel could add insights to your projects, or the junior marketing executive who works late and has recently been credited with innovative ideas. Make formal contact. It’s a no-regret move to widen your circle – and it may pay rich dividends in the years ahead.
5. Clear things out! Behind on basic administration tasks? Is your workstation cluttered? Too many newsletters in your inbox?
Some people feel a physical loss of energy when surrounded by clutter. It turns out that this is real: neuroscience shows that clutter is a distraction, and our brains need more energy when our attention is divided. We get side-tracked not only by our physical surroundings, but also because we have, open, a range of digital applications, tabs, tools and windows vying for our attention. This causes us to check our emails, then our mobile phone for messages, then to scan a digital dashboard, then to read an online news report…and then, maybe 20 minutes later, to carry on with the work we were initially doing.
This is called ‘context switching’, and it comes at a cost: it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus. People who context switch frequently can lose as much as 40% of their productive time.
So, if you come back to work next year with a neater space – mental, physical and digital – you will be primed for a smooth start to 2023.
6. Start a January 2023 task, today. There’s a strange expression, ‘Eat the Frog in the Morning’, popularised by motivational speaker Brain Tracy. In a work context, he means that if we do the toughest task first thing in our day, we make progress on a key priority and we build momentum for the rest of the day.
This productivity hack is worth adopting as part of daily habits, but psychology researcher Dan Ariely has built upon the idea. In today’s hectic workplace, when it can be difficult to prioritise, he suggests dedicating the last portion of a working day to starting the main, identified task for tomorrow. This seems counterintuitive – but the intention isn’t to finish it, nor even to make significant progress. Rather, it is to know exactly where to start, tomorrow.
So, the ‘Eat the Frog’ no-regret idea for December 2022 is to start something, just briefly, that you know will be important during your first week back at the office. Put it in your calendar, too; write down or print out the working copy and place it in the middle of your desk. This will save you time trying to kickstart your tasks in the new year.
7. Make one significant outreach. When last did you contact your most valuable client? Is there a client who has yet to revert on your proposal? Was there a possible new business lead that fizzled out due to lack of time and attention?
Reach out, follow up, even if it’s just to say “hi, and have a good break”. This will make the reconnection easier next year, and pave the way for picking up the business relationship again.
8. Commit to better managing stress. Statistics of workplace absenteeism, the increase in mental health issues, low productivity, among many others, reflect the toll that stress takes. One management science estimate, referenced by the authoritative Harvard Business Review, is that stress costs U.S. companies $190 billion a year in healthcare costs!
If you are in management, ask whether your company’s employee experience could be improved, specifically with regard to employee wellness initiatives.
From your own, personal point of view, think about how you could improve your productivity by reducing your stress levels. Doing something about this could be your most advantageous no-regret move – for 2023, for your overall career, for your life.
Mistakes, or regrets?
What follows is a suggestion involving a broader no-regrets issue, one which requires deeper introspection. A recent study concludes that almost 75% of people’s most persistent regret is in not being true to themselves – their unachieved goals and unfulfilled aspirations – rather than what they ‘ought’ to have done. Psychologists call this a ‘self-discrepancy’ regret. So, to prepare for a happier you, start thinking about what you really want from your career, your relationships, your role in society. Your future self will be happier if, starting now, you close the gap between who you are and who you want to be.
Fear is temporary, regret lasts much longer. To invest in your future self, make some no-regret decisions, today.
At DigitalCampus we believe that growing knowledge and skills is always a no-regret move. May we suggest that you register now for one of our courses in 2023?
Senior Partner and Managing Executive
In partnership with Dave Gorin