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Your New Year's Don't-Do Resolution

Instead of making to-do lists, focus on avoiding critical mistakes.

It’s that time of year for making resolutions—which always are about doing something: finding a new job, improving your work-life balance, expanding your network.

But it turns out that many career pros say a critical mistake with New Year’s resolutions is not realizing how important it can be to actually do the opposite: stop doing things. Some people tend to make decisions based on fear. Others are reactive in too many workplace scenarios. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to stop these habits and more?

A critical mistake with New Year's resolutions is not realizing how important it can be to do the opposite: stop doing things. 

After all, four out of five people make New Year’s resolutions each year, and yet by the end of January, a third of those resolutions are already broken. So instead of setting out a grand to-do, resolve to work on a don’t-do this year. If you need a nudge, consider the psychological advantages of deciding to stop doing something. “It frees up time and energy, and feels like you’ve gotten lost time back,” says Elizabeth Pearson, founder of an eponymous coaching firm in Southern California and a Forbes Coaching Council member.

Here’s our don’t-do list for 2019.

Stop starting the day on the minutiae.

We’ve all come to work with an inbox full of dozens of emails and meeting reminders popping up on our screens. But small tasks, like responding to email and attending meetings, can often eat up some of your most productive hours. Hallie Crawford, a career coach in Atlanta, says when she stopped checking email and taking care of administrative tasks first thing in the morning, she saw a positive change in her work life. Now she begins her mornings by looking at big-picture goals for the business. “A quick planning session first thing steers my business where I want it to go, so I don’t get bogged down in minutiae,” she says.

Stop making fear-based decisions.

It’s easy to get in a cycle of focusing on all the things you don’t want to happen. So you come up with worst-case scenarios to talk yourself out of taking a risk, which leads to getting stuck. To end this cycle of fear-based decisions, focus on the positive outcomes that could happen if you take a risk, whether it’s leaving your job or asking for a longer maternity leave. “Fear is just false evidence appearing real. Nothing has happened yet,” Pearson says.

Stop saying yes to everything.

Being hardworking and agreeable are wonderful traits that often get high achievers where they are. But the antidote to all that hard work can also ruin success: the inability to say no. “There are 24 hours in a day, and when we don’t include time for things that bring us joy and inner peace, we are actually less effective at work,” says Jennifer Davis, a leadership coach in Hopewell, New Jersey.

Skip meetings that aren’t worthwhile, and draw boundaries around your time where you can. Often you can handle action items in an email or with a quick phone call. “Saying no to one request is actually saying yes to something else, even if it’s simply our own sanity,” Davis says.

Stop being so reactive.

The to-do list is always getting longer. On top of your demanding job, you have extra events at the kids’ school, errands to run, laundry to fold. But if you’re constantly in a state of reacting, it’s difficult to find fulfillment in life, much less take a second to really think things through.

To get off the reactive train, start by slowing down your thinking, allowing yourself to take a time-out of sorts. This can help you gain self-awareness and the ability to really assess the situation. Then you can respond thoughtfully—instead of just reacting blindly.