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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Things You Must Do by the End of the Year

There are only 67 days left in 2013. And while I love the fresh beginning of a new year, as you head into the next couple months, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the resolutions you want to make for next year, rather than focusing on finishing this year strong.

You see, I don’t want you to wake up on January 1 thinking you should have—and could have—done something better last year. You’ve still got time! Whether it’s a big project you want to attack or a small habit you want to change, you can go into the new year feeling triumphant.

And so, since I’m all for making progress by achieving small wins, here are three common challenges you can master before the end of the year: one thing for today, one for next week, and one before year end. Then, when the new year rolls around, you’ll be way ahead of the game—and ready to tackle a new set of resolutions.

Today: Stop Living Out of Your Inbox

There’s a reason that you probably struggle with this one (and many of my clients do, too): Responding to the constant “ding” fills your brain with dopamine, a little squirt of happy juice that gives you satisfaction.

Despite that good feeling, centering your work around your inbox isn’t exactly effective—constantly stopping to check and respond to messages is a distraction that keeps you from staying focused on your bigger tasks and priorities.

The good news is, there are some quick steps you can take to break this habit today.

1. Check Your Email Only at Certain Times of Day

At the beginning of the day, determine a few designated email checkpoints—maybe once in the morning, once at midday, and once before you leave for the night.

2. Turn Off Your Email Feed

Instead of letting new email alerts interrupt your work, try using an app like Freedom to turn off the internet and allow you to focus on the task at hand.

3. Change Your Outlook

Essentially, your inbox is a place where other people get to send their priorities, issues, and demands for your time. And so, when you base your workday around your email, you’re letting others control your time. Once you realize that, it’ll be a lot easier to prioritize the things that are important to you, rather than simply what comes into your inbox.

By Next Week: Stop Hating Monday

Ask anyone, and you’ll get a pretty universal consensus: Monday is the worst day of the week. The weekend’s gone, and it’ll be another long five days before another comes around. And so, most working hours are spent complaining about how awful the day is. (Sound familiar?)

The thing is, hating Monday doesn’t actually do anything to make it better. The way I see it, Monday offers huge opportunities—if you approach it the right way. Regain control over your Monday with these three steps over the next week.

1. Create a Clear Plan for the Week

This fresh start to the week is the perfect opportunity to create a road map for what you want to accomplish over the next five days. So, take some time Monday morning to identify your key priorities and block off the time you’ll spend on each one on your calendar. (This step is essential to help you leave work on time and feel good about the work you’ve accomplished!)

2. Visualize Friday

Once you have your plan for the week, think about how you’ll feel when you leave work on Friday with these key priorities completed. (Hint: It should get you excited to get going on the uber-productive week you’re about to have!)

3. Put Something You Look Forward to on Your Monday Calendar

Maybe you bring (or buy) a splurge of a lunch. Or maybe you set aside a new outfit to wear. Perhaps you bring fresh flowers to your desk to make the day a little more cheerful. One thing’s for sure: You'll dread Monday less if you put something on the calendar that you'll look forward to!

By the End of This Year: Crush Procrastination

Putting off a few small tasks until tomorrow seems OK—until tomorrow turns into next week, and next week turns into next month. And suddenly, you have a lot more stress, tighter deadlines, and longer days at the office.

When you’ve waited until the last minute to do something, there’s no time to go the extra mile; usually, you just have to settle for whatever you can churn out at the last minute. Procrastination keeps your work ordinary, at best.

Now, tackling a challenge like this won’t take just a day or a week. But with these three steps to get you started, you can certainly help turn your procrastination around by the end of the year.

1. Schedule Your Priorities

When you tell yourself, “I’ll do this tomorrow,” actually block off some time in your calendar the next day to work on it. Scheduling helps give you both the structure and the dedicated time you need to actually make significant progress.

2. Practice Focusing

Try this: Pick a task you’ve been putting off, and work on it for 20 minutes without looking up. Take a short, five-minute break, then do it again. This will help you form new habits that will, over time, allow you to be (and feel) more productive.

3. Phone a Friend

Tempted to procrastinate? Ask a friend or colleague to hold you accountable. Give this person the details on what you want to accomplish, and the deadline that goes along with it. Then, ask him or her to check in with you for daily updates on your progress. You’ll be much more motivated when you know someone’s keeping tabs on your work.

Sure, you’ll have plenty of resolutions in just a couple months. But why wait? Start practicing now—while there’s less pressure and no one’s looking. Think about how great you’ll feel waking up in 2014 knowing you’ve mastered these three simple ideals. And everyone else? They’ll be amazed at how much progress you’ve made so quickly in the new year!

Photo of woman smiling courtesy of Shutterstock.