Around this time last year, I was happily surprised when my Harvard Business Review blog Five Things to Stop Doing in 2012 drew an intense response, with nearly 200 reader comments. In retrospect, though, it makes sense: so many of us are pushed to the edge with competing responsibilities, the thought of not having to do something (whether it’s checking email every five minutes or slogging through a boring professional journal) comes as a welcome relief. But it also raises the question – busy as we are, is there anything we should start doing in the year ahead? What resolutions could actually improve our lives, without adding one more to a list of guilt-laden impossibilities? Here are five suggestions I’ll be trying in 2013– and perhaps you should, too.
- Read at least one book a month for professional development. One survey revealed that 27% of Americans didn’t read any books in the past year – not even John Grisham. If nearly one in three people aren’t even trying, think how much professional development you could soak in over the course of a year by reading one targeted book a month (or listening to it on your commute). Now’s the time to make your wish list – what do you want to learn about in 2013? If office politics is getting you down, try Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Want to understand the origins of our present economic malaise? Time for 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Meltdown by Simon Johnson and James Kwak. Without a learning goal, many people fall back on pop music in the car or thrillers at the beach – instead, strategize now.
- Sleep more. What’s the secret ingredient for top performers? They sleep about two hours more than we do every day. As author Tony Schwartz has pointed out , slumber can seem like a wasteful luxury next to the demands of a hard-charging boss or cranky child – but its absence can seriously impair your professional success. Researchers estimated that insomnia results in over $3100 in lost productivity per worker, and if you’re really pushing it – four hours of sleep for five consecutive nights – you’re basically legally drunk. Getting enough sleep allows you to reap the benefits of your hard work and avoid toppling over at inopportune moments.
- Join a charity board. Joining a charity board can help you make powerful connections while building new skills – and doing something meaningful. If you’re a high-level executive, every board in the world is after you, but it’s all too easy for up-and-coming executives to be overlooked as board prospects. So despite the career and personal benefits, they’ll often sit on the sidelines because they think they have to wait to be asked. Except for the very largest nonprofits (which are looking for “big names” to sit on their boards), almost every organization would be thrilled to have a talented professional willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Pick your cause – one of my favorites is animal welfare – and reach out today to express your interest.
- Ask for referrals. Referrals aren’t just a nice thing for people in the sales department to worry about. There’s a massive market premium on executives who can bring in business – the New York Times reported that star rainmakers in the legal profession earned ten times more than their fellow partners – and the differential is only becoming more extreme. Moving forward, the best investment you can make in your job security is to learn to bring in clients. You get business by asking for it.
- Leave work at a reasonable time. Poets have long extolled the benefits of constraint on their craft (Shakespearean sonnets pack a lot of punch with iambic pentameter). Just as there are infinite words to choose from, we have infinite tasks that could occupy our time, from meeting with clients to updating Facebook. We have to prioritize, or we’ll be at the office until midnight, still feeling like a failure for not accomplishing everything. The best way to ruthlessly triage? Set a time limit. If you insist on going home by 5 or 6 p.m., believe me – you’ll find a way to get the essentials done, and cut out the rest.
The beginning of the year is the right time to start thinking about what we want to do differently in our lives moving forward. So – what are you going to start doing right now?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on January 2, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.