According to my credit card statement, the holiday season is upon us. During this time, when people are busy wrapping up their year and combing Groupon and other websites to get the best deals possible on gifts, don’t forget to plan for 2015. What are your top goals that you’d like to accomplish? How will you get there?
While how to do that may be for another blog post, before you do that it’s important to look back on your year and take a fresh look at your successes, failures, and lessons learned. With that in mind I’m looking back at the biggest lessons I learned this past year.
Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Like most people, I have a lot of stuff going on at any given time. I’m an employee, a supervisor, a son, sibling, boyfriend, friend, grandchild … the list goes on. Like most people, my mind tends to wander and think about the aforementioned stuff fairly often. Studies have shown that men aren’t particularly great multitaskers, so it’s become really important for me to break things down into their simplest parts and prioritize them.
How have I started to do that?
- I’m ruthless now about throwing away most items I don’t use or think about after one year. This doesn’t include mementos. This does include clothes, electronics, books, appliances, and paperwork. I live in a studio apartment, so maximizing space is important – but the less things around to distract you, the less cluttered your mind becomes. I’ve done the same thing in my office as well.
- I plan for the week ahead every Sunday. This includes work and personal life – any big items I know I need to accomplish or remember, I write it in a planner so I can keep tabs on it. Once I write it down, it becomes real to me. I also read this cool article that gives a way to reframe every week. Everyone plays multiple roles in their life – and if you want to keep balance among all of them, you need to plan for it. I started doing this a couple of months ago and it not only helps me stay on top of things, it also helps me keep perspective that I’m not just defined by one role in life that I play.
- Each day when I get to work, before I check my email, our company’s Intranet, or internal social feed, I write down the major items I want to accomplish for the day and complete at least one before I open my email. Email and social media (yes, even work-sponsored ones) have a way of trying to take over your day’s agenda. Don’t fall into that trap. Give yourself flexibility to deal with the most urgent items that may come up, but make sure you are still driving toward major tasks you know you need to complete.
- I’ve set ground rules for myself on what social media networks are for what purpose, and how often they need to be updated. For me, Facebook and Instagram are for personal purposes. Twitter and LinkedIn are more for professional purposes. My blog, which I’m terrible at updating, is a mix – but leans more toward professional purposes. Is this the same for everyone? Certainly not. But now I have allowed myself the freedom to know what needs to be updated when, and where.
Insurance and warranties are worth the money spent.
2014 is the year I officially became a car owner for the first time. 2014 is also the year where I popped a tire on the way to work, woke up to my car not even bothering to unlock, and getting turned away for necessary service at a car dealership.
Car ownership can be thrilling, but at the same time expensive and stressful should something happen to your car. While I don’t need it for my livelihood day in and day out, it’s a big investment. While I avoid protection plans on simple technology purchases like the plague, I don’t skimp on a $10,000+ investment.
AAA costs me $95/year, and they came within an hour and got my spare tire on so I could go on my merry way. My extended warranty on my car allowed me to work out with the dealership where I bought my car (not the closest one to where I live) getting priority service completed and a rental car for a week, free of charge. It just turned out to be loose wires (yes, really, that’s it) but knowing I was insured and backed by a warranty gave me peace of mind I needed in a moment completely devoid of it.
Listening to finance reporters every day is stressful and unnecessary.
I try to invest money when I can, whether it’s an IRA, 401(k), etc. I don’t pretend to be Warren Buffett, so I’m more of a passive index funds diversified across different asset classes kind of guy. With that said, if you watch finance news or read it on a day-to-day basis, riding the highs and lows of the manic market will drive you nuts. September and October alone (and now, the middle of December) would be enough to make your stomach churn, with the market going on a roller-coaster ride you’d sit in line for at Six Flags for hours.
I now refuse to read daily stock stories and only check my investments on a monthly/quarterly basis, since this is money I won’t need in the next five years. Stick with your guns and the market will give you a return in the long-term. I found that I can accept moderate risk, but not as aggressive as many advise those who are 30 years old like I am. Knowing that means I have to accept less long-term gains, but know that my stocks won’t all drop to nothing if the market crashes. Now that I understand my risk profile and have a clear plan for stock allocation, I can stick with that ruthlessly regardless of market conditions. When I do check my investments, then I can make a decision as to whether I should change index funds, rebalance, etc. Will it change when I get (much) older? Sure. But for now, this works and is one less thing for me to worry about.
Focus on the present, otherwise life will pass you by. (Read: Be grateful.)
I’ve always been very much focused on what I need to do next that I’ve often forgotten to enjoy what’s right in front of me. While I think it’s important to always look for the next opportunity and keep yourself focused on your ultimate goals, you need to take a step back and be grateful for what you have, right then, in that moment. And you should do it more than just at Thanksgiving. For those who celebrate this US holiday, going a full 11 months without thinking about how grateful you are for what has taken place that entire year means you’ve missed 11 months of positive energy.
You can do this in any number of ways, whether it’s through prayer, journaling, talking to friends, or setting aside a fixed period of time every day/week/month to simply focus on what you have. You’ll realize that you have more than you think – and even if you are going through legitimately tough times, it can help bring some positivity to what may be a very negative situation.
Do your best and everything else takes care of itself.
When I was in elementary school, I had a principal who used to tell us all the time, “Do your best and it’ll take care of the rest.” Being seven years old, I didn’t fully grasp or have any sort of perspective on what that could mean, but thankfully I never seemed to forget it. (I guess repetition really does work.)
What I’ve taken that to mean now in my personal and professional life is that you’re not always going to know exactly how to do something, but if you give it your honest, best effort, everything always works out the way it should. And 99% of the time, you’re better off because of it.
Does it mean everything you do will always be a success? Absolutely not. I’ve tried things many times and failed, but I’ve learned something valuable from most of those obstacles and become better as a result of them. Taking on additional responsibilities at the office this year, many times not have a lot of experience handling those tasks, helped me stretch myself in ways I never knew possible. Some things worked, some things didn’t – but I learned a lot each step of the way.
And ultimately, for Type A personalities like me, knowing I gave the best effort I could gives me peace at the conclusion of each task. Whether it works out or not, I won’t always know right away – but I can move onto the next thing knowing I did the best that I humanly could. I have faith that everything works out the way it needs to, good or bad.
As we have just a couple of short weeks until a New Year, my hope is that these lessons I’ve learned will carry me into the new year with a new perspective, ready to tackle the new challenges that come my way and goals I have set for myself.