Ditch the ‘busy work’ and make 2018 the year of your big idea

So we’re 19 days into January and already past so called ‘quitters’ day – the second Friday in January when most people give up their new year’s resolutions. I say thank god for that, the pressure’s off. I gave up setting myself a long list of should-dos, years ago.

Setting meaningful goals and making real change requires more than list making just because everyone else is doing it. It takes motivation, time and effort. But of course a new year does mean a fresh start, an empty calendar and a full 12 months to make your “dent in the universe” to quote Steve Jobs. So what can you do if you want to achieve your creative ambitions this year?

I love the old Japanese proverb: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.’

So starting today, and over the next few weeks, I thought I’d share some of the ideas and exercises from Creative Review’s new e-learning course, Mastering Creativity. These combine the vision-setting and the practical actions to help you make 2018 your best year yet.

Michael Bungay Stanier is author of ‘Do More Great Work’, a book that had a big impact on how I approach the start of each year professionally.

It’s a simple idea really. Stanier suggests that we can all be preoccupied every single day doing what he calls ‘busy’ or ‘bad work’ – that might be being in meetings we don’t need to be in, answering emails or writing endless reports.

‘Good work’ is better, but it’s treading water, maintaining the status quo and working on projects that never really move the needle or drive the organisation ahead. Stanier suggests instead that we focus on our ‘great work’ – expanding on the innovative, interesting ideas that stretch us, and move ourselves, and our companies forward.

At the start of each year I think about what my ‘great work’ project is going to be (or could be, no matter how embryonic), and this is the North Star that provides focus and drives my actions on a monthly, weekly and a daily basis. It’s not always straightforward because of course we all have a limited range of time, energy and resources. But if I reach July and I haven’t started on the project that I identified as important, or I’m stuck, then I know something’s gone awry.

So the start of a new year is a great time to ask yourself: ‘What is my great work project for 2018 going to be?’

This might mean reprioritising. Perhaps you’ve come across the ‘stop, start, continue’ framework for managing change, which is useful in a range of situations, including here. Ask these three simple questions, which can then lead to further questions:

  • What are some things I should stop doing?
  • What should I start doing?
  • What should I continue doing?

I’ll leave the last word on this topic to Stanier and this great question to help you prioritise: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”

Next time we’ll look at representing your great work plan and 2018 goals with imagery, bringing them to life by creating a vision board.

Find out more about our Mastering Creativity online course here.

This article first appeared online at Creative Review on 18th Jan 2018.

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