Setting the Tone for 2006

With only 15 business days left in 2005, I'm sure you -- like millions of Americans -- have a massive to-do list. And while most of the tasks no doubt involve preparation and celebration surrounding the holidays, there are a few important business and career-related actions that all of us should take. Investing the time now can pay dividends in the New Year.

Clean out your inbox.

Some people are diligent about responding to, erasing or filing e-mails every day. Others of us let things pile up in hopes of one day getting to it. Today's that day! Get ready to tackle your inbox. Go through every single old e-mail and take an action. Delete it, respond to it, forward it or move it to a folder for future reference if you really need to keep it. This also applies to papers that have gathered on your desk and in your drawers. It's time to clean out all the unneeded clutter so you start the new year with a clean slate. In the process you might discover people with whom you should follow up and reconnect. And of course the cleaned-up, clutter-free environment sets the right tone for a fresh start.

Send holiday cheer.

Even though nobody really looks forward to pulling together their list of names and addresses, let alone sitting down to address the envelopes, it's worth your time. You don't have to send fancy photographs, but you should do more than "happy holidays." Holiday cards -- whether a hand-written note, an electronic e-card or a basic e-mail -- are the perfect vehicle for reconnecting with friends and colleagues from over the years. Update everyone on your activities and successes, and encourage them to fill you in on theirs.

Update your resume.

Even if you're not in the market for a new position, everyone should be in the habit of keeping track of their accomplishments from the previous year. You never know what's in store, and it's smart to be ready. If you wait until you need that resume, you're likely to forget some of the skills and successes that belong in the document. Plus, this little exercise enables you to recognize all that you've done and to feel great about having done so. Encourage your friends to do the same. While you're at it, resolve to record your weekly or monthly achievements throughout the year ahead.

Identify goals for 2006.

Don't just get by doing the basic requirements of your job. Next year, push yourself to step out of your comfort zone by accepting a challenging assignment. Learning a new skill or developing an existing one should be among your career goals for the next 12 months. Set two other goals as well that relate to your professional growth and advancement. Maybe it's as simple as altering the way you do things now.

For example, two years ago I resolved to attend networking events alone. I finally realized that when I brought someone with me, we wound up standing in a corner talking about everyone, versus talking to everyone. It meant I was getting nothing out of these events. I forced myself to start attending events alone -- and I couldn't leave until I introduced myself to at least three people. Sometimes nothing's come of it but a so-so smile and a mediocre handshake. Other times I've met great people, gotten nuggets of information or benefited from a dose of inspiration that wouldn't have happened if I didn't put myself out there.

Whatever your three goals, write them down. Make them visible every day -- whether on the refrigerator, tacked to a bulletin board in your office or taped to the edge of your computer screen. When goals aren't front and center, it's too easy to forget them, and thus not meet them.

Overall, resolve to have a very successful year!

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