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by Cathy Vandewater | January 06, 2012


It's resolution season! If you're like most Vault readers, you have a few workplace changes you'd like to make. A more organized desk, earlier start time, taking on more challenging work… or maybe you're thinking in the opposite direction, like less quality time with your iPhone, or better productivity so you can make it home earlier.

Whatever your goals, you've likely found that it's easier to get on the wagon than to stay on. That's especially true of long-term goals, like frustrating job searches, or ongoing ones, like being more productive worker, where it's hard to lose sight of an end point or impending reward.

If you've ever heard anyone say that hard work is its own reward, you probably rolled your eyes. But finding satisfaction in the process of working toward a goal, not just achieving it, may be the key to sticking to it for the long haul.

1. Re-energize with smaller accomplishments

Get-things-done expert Russell Bishop once told Vault that when he gets stuck on a project while working from home, he does the dishes. It may seem counterintuitive to switch tasks, but your brain may not know the difference between an on-goal accomplishment or simple tick on your to-do list. The result of finishing something is the same: an energizing charge, and a healthy dose of reward in your feedback cycle.

2. Engage in the task at hand

Powering through may work in the short term, but if your project extends beyond a mere deadline, you'll need to enjoy the process of work, not blast through it. Tune in to what you enjoy about the project. Does it get you amped up to map out different tasks and set up a timeline? Is it fun to brainstorm, or immerse yourself in research? Pick a task and give it your full attention, the way you would a crossword puzzle or mystery novel. Get excited--geek out!

3. Make your own milestones

Making progress will feel a lot less like slogging if you take time to enjoy any forward movement. It may be tempting to shoot for outside rewards, like getting an interview during your job search or a promotion at the end of the quarter. But try to stick to accomplishments you can control. Other people's recognition comes and goes, and can have little to do with the actual quality of your work, or amount of effort. Be your own cheerleader, and by all means, reward yourself. A fancy latte for a morning of laser-sharp focus, or lunch with a friend for meeting a deadline—celebrate!     

4. Look at the bigger picture

Consider a goal like losing weight. If the objective is to lose 10 pounds for a big party, well, when the going gets tough, you might consider just losing the invitation. But if it's about more, like lowering cholesterol, getting strong enough for a 5k, or simply feeling better, it's harder to disengage with the project. Take that approach to your goal, whether it's finding a new job or taking on new challenges at work. When it's not just about one aspect, like money, but rather a series of benefits (greater satisfaction, happiness, personal growth, or more family time) you'll find it easier to keeping chugging.

5. Use the greatest motivator of all: fear

Sometimes it's hard to finish something without a little old fashioned fear. Whether it's a deadline, a promise, or your reputation, having something at stake can light a fire under you. While this will certainly help you finish things faster, you'll want to use it sparingly, since all nighters and heart-stopping stress aren't good in the long term. But in small doses, they can inject new energy into long term goals, and improve your discipline in all areas of life—resolution-related, or otherwise.

Read More:
The Great American Workaround
New Year's Resolutions for Your Career
8 Major Productivity Busters

--Cathy Vandewater,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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