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Forget New Year Planning & Goal Setting!

When do you set your goals for the year ahead?

Traditionally, 1 January is synonymous with the time to make our goals for the year. Often for family lawyers, we are on holidays at New Year, so we don’t turn to think about our annual goals and planning till later in January when we return to the office. This "New Year Planning" approach is certainly how I used to plan for myself, both personally and for my practice, but I have turned that upside down in more recent years and here’s why.

There is no hard and fast rule that says we must do our planning for the year in January. In fact, waiting till the new year to set our goals can undermine our achievement of them. If we turn our minds to our goals and our annual plan when we get back to the office in mid to late January, it will be February before we lock them down. We realistically then won’t start properly implementing our plans until March by which time we are down to having 9 months left in the year! Only 9 out of 12 months left to achieve what we have planned for a whole year. The whole first quarter gone just on holidaying and planning. We are behind before we even begin!

So, I recommend locking in your annual plan and goals before the new year rolls around. This can be done by setting aside time in October or November so that when you hit the office in January, you are completely focused and have a full 12 months to work your way towards achieving your aims.

Getting your goals and plan for the year ahead locked in place well before January allows you to hit the ground running. Often you will have started working towards the goals before the year end, giving you a head start. It can also rejuvenate your achievement of your current year’s goals – in reviewing the year as you plan for the next, you are likely to get a boost in motivation to knock off a few of those goals for the current year that have lapsed or need an extra injection of focus and drive.

Planning well before the year ends also allows you to give your planning process the valuable brain space of the holidays. Alain de Botton wrote one of my favourite quotes: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train”.  I am repeatedly surprised at how a great idea for achieving an upcoming goal or dealing with a planning problem will come to me while ruminating during a long trip on vacation. In a more relaxed state, you can percolate your plans further and allow your creativity to bubble away, allowing you to come up with more ingenious ways to ensure your success. Personally, I find my annual plans benefit immensely from the extra dose of “special sauce” they get while marinating in the background of my brain while I am in a more chilled holiday mode.

I hear your cries of “I barely have time to eat lunch in November and December, let alone take a chunk of time out for planning”. With that in mind, perhaps schedule now in your diary for next year, time for your planning in October and November. You don't need to do it one chunk of time. If carving a sufficient block in one hit isn't possible, break it down to smaller, more achievable, blocks of time.

Instead of planning before the calendar year ends, another option is to align your goal-year around your financial year, removing the need to be kicking off your plans on 1 January. So, for those of us who have a 31 March financial year end, you can start your planning when you get back to the office in January and be completely ready to activate all those plans come the start of your goal/financial year on 1 April. This approach can be more realistic for family lawyers than being asked to take time out for planning during pre-Christmas, which is usually a chaotic and immensely demanding time. It also means your financial goals can be tracked in line with your financial year.

So, forget your New Year planning - when are you now going to set about your goal setting and annual planning?

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