What are the five things you really want to do in the new year?

Peter Bregman of the Harvard Business Review wrote one of the most inspiring books I read in 2012. It’s called 18 Minutes, and what sets it apart from the average book about productivity or time management is its simplicity; instead of laying out some complicated system, it focuses on a few basic principles and ideas.

One of these ideas is to pick five areas of focus for the year ahead. These five things are the standard by which you make choices about all the little things you might want to do in a day. “(Almost) everything I do must fit in one of these five areas,” Bregman writes. “If it doesn’t, then I politely decline.”

I’ve never been great at “doing one thing and doing it well,” but I figure I can stick to five things, or at least five types of things. Take a look at the five I’ve chosen:

  • Be committed to my family and friends. Be a good husband, father and friend, in other words. Be there for the people who need me, and make the most of the time I get to spend with them.
  • Develop my career strengths and talents. My line of work is full of constant changes and challenges. Being good at my job depends on researching new trends and developing new skills, all while making sure the daily routine doesn’t fall through the cracks.
  • Develop my creative strengths and talents. Things like writing, blogging and DJing fall into this category, but only if I’m pushing myself to accomplish something. Phoning in a blog post doesn’t count; working to develop more income and opportunities as a DJ does.
  • Work for social change. Fundraising, volunteering, advocacy and general rabble-rousing fall into this category. Yelling about politics on Twitter doesn’t count.
  • Improve and take care of myself. Develop and maintain good habits. Identify and drop bad habits. Relax and have fun every once in a while.

These are priorities, not goals. I’m never going to be able to check a box next to “be a good husband and father” and say I’ve done it. But I can plan each day with these priorities in mind, and I can look back on each day by asking myself if I’m really living up to them. Success in all of these areas is a matter of making smart choices about what to do – and what not to do – with the limited amount of time we get each day.

To be honest, in a sense, I’ve made it easy on myself. These are some fairly broad choices, and they give me a lot of room to move. Even a couple of hours of video games could count as “taking care of myself” at the end of a hectic week. The trick for me won’t be to find ways to fulfill these priorities; it will be to choose only the best options, and to say no to all the others.

It’s good to make resolutions, and to try to improve yourself, but it’s better to think about what you really want to do with the year ahead. You don’t have to run out and read 18 Minutes from cover to cover by Tuesday, but I do encourage you to pick your five points of focus – or three, or seven, or however many you like – and keep them in mind as you tackle each day.

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