New Years Resolutions that Work

New Year’s Resolutions That Work
By Maryann Murphy, MSW, CPO®, Speaker, Trainer, Professional Organizer.  President of NSA-New England.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions this year?  Are you hoping to make improvements in how you do your work?  In your personal life?  The start of a new year is a  great time to evaluate your work and personal lives, identify what’s working and what you’d like to improve.  But how do you ensure that your resolutions actually make a difference this time around?

The five keys to successful resolutions are:

  1. Setting Realistic Goals that will make a difference in your life
  2. Writing them down and making them public
  3. Planning ahead for challenges
  4. Tracking your results and celebrating your success
  5. Getting support.
  1. Set Realistic Goals that will make a difference in your life.

    Success breeds success, so make your resolutions attainable.  Even though they’re New Year’s resolutions, focus on sub-goals that you set for just 3 months or less at a time.  Most people give up within the first couple of months, largely because the goals were set too high, and we’re not wired to think long-term when we’re trying to make changes.  Set a 3-month goal that you can reach without too much difficulty, and then re-evaluate and set the next goal at the end of March, and then again in June and September.  You’re more likely to succeed when you can see the end in sight. 

    Consider your busy schedule, your available resources, and your level of commitment to these goals  - in other words, be realistic.

    Focus on one or two resolutions at a time.  Sure, we love to think we’re going to make ourselves better in every way over the course of the New Year, but change is difficult, and picking too many goals just about guarantees that you won’t hit any of them.  Pick one major goal in your work life and one in your personal life, and focus there.  Choose the ones that will make the biggest difference in your life.  If you can follow these resolutions successfully and see real change, you’ll be much more motivated to work on other goals later in the year.

  2. Write your goals down and make them public.

    We think we’ll remember our resolutions, but writing them down ensures that we do.  The act of writing also makes it more likely that we’ll think the resolutions through and write clear descriptions of what we’re intending.  Be specific with your resolutions (“I’m going to respond to all phone calls within 2 hours” rather than “I’m going to be better at returning phone calls”). 

    Post your resolutions where you can see them every day.  Share your resolutions with at least one other person.  Knowing that someone else knows of your commitment makes you feel much more accountable.  Share with friends on social media, or use an app that helps you track your progress.  Self-help groups work in part because of the public accountability.  It will be much harder to blow off your new resolution if you’ve told the world about your plans, so if you’re serious about making a change, go public with it!

  3. Make a Plan (and be specific here too).  There are 3 key elements to the plan:
    1. Structure your environment to support your goals.  If you resolve to get more exercise, you may want to purchase a treadmill desk for your office.  If you want to keep a more organized work space, be sure to have a good sized trash bin and recycling bin, and set up a file system that you’ll actually want to use.
    2. Plan specific times for accomplishing your goals.  If you resolve to do more networking at various events, set aside time on your calendar and plan ahead at least once/week to schedule in upcoming events. 
    3. Be prepared for challenges.  They WILL happen.  Success depends on you being prepared for them.  Think ahead about what is most likely to stop you from following through on your resolutions – Will you forget what made them feel so important? Will you get discouraged and give up? Will you get bored?  Plan NOW to keep those challenges from stopping you.  Write down the “Why” for each of your resolutions.  Set smaller goals to keep you from getting discouraged.  Plan some changes that will keep your resolutions fun.  You know what usually stops you.  Plan to overcome it now while you have the commitment to succeed.


  4. Track your Results, and Schedule Regular Reviews.

    What gets measured gets done.  Seeing your results on a checklist, a chart, or in a report on your app helps you stay motivated, and keeping at it is the only way to succeed with a New Year’s resolution.  When you see positive change, it’s exciting and reinforcing!  Yay – I think I’ll keep doing it!  When you see challenges in the data, it’s useful information – hmm, maybe this strategy isn’t working so well; I need to try it a different way.  If you don’t review your resolutions until the following December 31st, you can waste a lot of time along the way.  By tracking your results daily and reviewing them at least weekly, you can keep yourself on track and make adjustments as needed.

    Consider the stock market.  Your stocks may go up or down on a given day, but when you look at the longer trends, the progress you see is either encouraging or a signal to change your strategy.  You don’t just put your money in and hope for the best 10 years from now.  You have to monitor it to see how it’s working.

    Don’t forget to celebrate your success along the way.  If all you focus on is what you need to do, or how far you still have to go to achieve your ultimate goal, you may get discouraged and drop your resolutions as so many do.  Plan to celebrate your progress, however small, and do it frequently!  Give yourself a gold star, buy yourself a treat, take an extra break whenever you meet one of your goals along the way.  Positive reinforcement is a tried and true psychological mechanism that works to support new behaviors, so celebrate by yourself or with others.  You’ll be more successful at reaching your goals, and you’ll enjoy the process a whole lot more! 

  5. Get help. 

Successful self-improvement isn’t a one-person job.  The most successful New Year’s resolvers aren’t afraid to ask for help, whether it’s for information, inspiration, accountability or celebration.  Think about who you already have in your life who could support your resolutions, and then think about who you might need to add.

There are lots of other people setting resolutions and goals similar to yours.   Joining with them will make it more likely that you will stick with your plan and make positive changes in your life.  Create a Master Mind group with your colleagues in MPI, join a LinkedIn group and ask for advice and support, hire a professional organizer to offer suggestions and help keep you focused, or find an app dedicated to supporting your goals.

Here’s wishing you the best in 2017 and beyond.  Make this your best year ever!

Maryann Murphy, MSW, is a Certified Professional Organizer® and Time Management Expert who helps professionals and business people organize their spaces and their schedules to be more efficient, more productive, and less stressed by all they have to do.  She is a professional speaker and trainer, and President of the New England chapter of the National Speakers Association.  She can be reached at, (508) 292-6706, or through her website at