For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the last week of the year is one of the darkest. New Year’s Day follows quickly on the heels of the winter solstice. In fact, the sun sets at about 4:25 here in the Chicago area in the week between Christmas and December 31st.
It’s easy to want to crawl under the covers and just wait for spring. That’s especially true in a year like the one we’ve just had. Most of us didn’t realize that 2021 would be a long, drawn-out extension of 2020.
At the same time, though, I’m reminded of the traditional Taoist yin/yang symbol. There’s a small dot of white in the largest part of the black side – representing the belief that within the heart of darkness lies the seed of the light.
Or to be less esoteric: It might feel like we’re at a low point of productivity. But how you spend the last week of the year can make a big impact on your future personal and professional successes.
Escape the Black Hole between Christmas and New Year’s Day
I might be painting with a broad brush stroke when I say that the last week of the year isn’t a very productive one. But after a few decades of coaching others (and coaching myself), I’ve found it’s really hard for people to keep their momentum going between Christmas and New Year’s. This is especially true in years like this one. The holidays fall on a weekend and with a few strategic PTO days there’s a chance to unplug for over ten days in a row.
So this year, there are two ways you can approach the week between the holidays:
- Take the week off. Be one of the people who take the full-week vacation. It’s a great time to spend with family and friends. Even if it’s harder to travel this year, you can embrace the meaning of “Work to live. Don’t live to work”. Be deliberate with dis-engaging from work and focused goals
- Go into the week with a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. It’s the old, “plan your work, and then work your plan” concept. Don’t just slide half-heartedly through the week. Know what you want to accomplish. This could be professional, personal, or a mix of the two.
When I had a sales job, there was a mad dash to hit end-of-the-year quota. But whether you have business goals to hit, development goals to achieve, or personal goals you’d like to accomplish, going into this week with vague and unstructured ideas about “getting some stuff done” leads to a lot of wasted time and unfocused effort.
Create Leverage by Creating a Plan
If you are committed to putting in some focused effort in the week between the holidays, what can you do to make it effective?
First, acknowledge that the week is going to be a little different. You’re coming off a month of holiday “cheer”. Zoom parties, decorating, shopping, and running-around. It’s made more challenging because of lingering pandemic fatigue. And even with the pandemic, many of your colleagues and customers are taking the week off.
Then, take a deep breath and walk into December 27th with a clear plan for the remaining days of the year. Knowing what you are going to work on ensures that you won’t bumble along into the week.
To help, I tapped into my network to find out how other people approach this time. I went to my friends who were leaders in their fields to see how they were spending the last week of the year.
How to Maximize the Last Week of December
In normal years, a lot of the advice that our experts share focuses on how they are analyzing the past year and strategizing for the next. And they still shared some great nuggets this year.
But I also wanted to get into what they were doing to take care of themselves after such an emotionally intense year. Mental and emotional strain is a real thing, and it hits everyone. And while you might not know all of the names below, these are ballers in their fields.
They’re also humans. So I knew that their approaches to mental, emotional, and physical wellness would resonate beyond our business lives
So whether your goals are personal or professional, there’s an opportunity to go into the new year refreshed and cleansed (a little) of the stresses of the old year.
The questions I asked were, “In the last week of the year, what is one wrap-up activity, ritual, or analysis you are going to do to learn from 2021. Or one planning/goal-setting activity you are going to engage in to prepare for 2022?”
1. Business Process Planning
Janice B. Gordon, founder of Scale Your Sales: “I know I am good at helping others (teaching them how to fish not giving the fish), but I am not good at asking others for help. I know this is a disservice to others. Nothing gives me the pleasure that helping others succeed does, yet I deny this of others. 2022 I am adopting a new mantra, ‘what do I need – who can I ask?’
Steve Benson, founder of Badger Mapping: “Something I always do the last week of the year is give feedback to my team. This is an opportunity to discuss areas where they are succeeding and identify opportunities for improvement. It’s an opportunity for employees to be heard, recognized, and grow. Ending the year having feedback sessions while providing actionable next steps, is a great motivator for employees, and also helps them set goals for the next year.”
Pat Helmers, founder of Habanero Media and host of Sales Babble: ” What I learned from 2021 and now applying to 2022 is to not overly focus on sunk costs or lost opportunities. Be creative and let it take on a life of its own. Keep asking how you can help, the world will show you the way.”
Todd Caponi, Sales Transparency nerd: “Quotas aren’t just for salespeople. I run a business. My boss is my family. Each year, I set a personal quota and a personal goal for each quarter of the new year. The quota is based on what revenue I need to attain each quarter to ensure our life is profitable and growing. The goal is my attainable-but-not-easy target for each quarter. If I hit my goal in said quarter, there’s a reward!”
Heather Bennett, the author of Fun and Fulfilling Careers One Step at a Time: “During the last weeks of each year, I plan out my goals on a Time Map™ (one-page view of my projects and obligations) and a Timeline Planner™ (month by month outline of when I will accomplish projects and goals). This year I actually did these exercises a month earlier to prepare for a big Q1 project. Planning a bit earlier has helped me spend my last month more strategically.
2. Mental & Emotional Health
Brad Farris, coach extraordinaire at Anchor Advisors: “For me the last week of the year is about DEEP REST. When we work all the time our brain is not in top shape for critical thinking, planning, creative problem solving, and resilience. Can you imagine running your business without those? Well that’s what you’re doing when you work all the time. At the end of the year I mostly cook, visit with family, sit in front of the fire, and rest. That enables me to come back fully rested with all my creativity, resilience, and energy in January.
Tom Pisello, founder of the Evolved Selling Institute: “At the end of the year I revisit and adjust my Core Value System, to make sure that my foundation is renewed and solid for the New Year. It includes Spirit, Mind, Body, Relationships, and Intent. It guides me to be sure I live my life with honor, dignity, love, and respect. Each year, I edit my list by applying a little Marie Kondo, reviewing these elements in my core value belief system to assure that each brings me joy, and which elements of the core value system should be reshaped”
Michelle Mazur, the head rabble-rouser at the Communication Rebel: “Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love spending the last two weeks recharging and relaxing. It means lots of naps, watching Christmas movies, and reading a good fiction book. Taking this time off let’s me start the New Year with plenty of energy and Gusto.”
I got my first tattoo this year. It says “SLOW DOWN.” Slow down when you drive, when you talk, when you eat, when you think, when you write, when you create, when you design, when you write a proposal, when you facilitate a work session…the physical, emotional, and business-related benefits you’ll experience when you slow down are amazing.”
3. Physical Wellbeing
Andy Crestodina, the sage leader of Orbit Media again: “Every year, I set a fitness goal. To track it I tape a piece of graph paper to the wall near where I exercise. As I make progress, I color in the boxes. So right around New Years Eve, I set the goal, write it at the top of the paper, I count the boxes and sign my name. Now I’m committed!”
Kiley Peters, CEO of Brainchild Studios: “Slow down. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year working on self-care – mentally, emotionally, and physically. I’m looking to continue these practices into 2022 with the hopes of turning them into habits so I can reallocate my energy to focus on professional productivity.”
Mark Bealin, founder and principle at SearchLab Chicago: “One thing I have been doing is walking long distances. It’s become an amazing way to think through matters at work, at home, and blow off steam over the politics that have consumed too much of my attention. I rely on it so much now. My dog loves the cold. I’ll get up early and walk about five miles and then take on the challenges of the day.”
4. Personal Relationships
Darcy Eikenberg, coach and ringleader at the Red Cape Revolution and author of Red Cape Rescue: “My plan for the last week of the year is to steep myself in gratitude for others who help me soar. I have so many amazing people in my life, both professionally and personally, and making sure they know how much they matter as we enter the new year will be an important way to sign off on a year like no other.”
David J.P. Fisher, the handsome author of this article: “The last two weeks of the year are about reaching out and saying hello to the people in my network. Whether it’s a quick text, an email, or a cup of coffee, I want to say thanks and find out what they are planning for the new year.”
Greg Mischio, the content master at Winbound: “My goal is to get out of my own head, which despite being relatively empty, isn’t always the best place to be. Instead, I’ll be working on listening to people and being in the moment. That includes things like making eye contact and responding to things they say. Wish me luck!”
Grow in 2022
The first year I wrote these year-end articles I had included a submission from my colleague, Jim Rosas. I knew Jim from the “networking and sales scene” here in Chicago, and I found him to be super-smart and super-generous. Just a few months after the article was published, he passed away quickly and suddenly.
The idea he shared was such a powerful reminder to us all that I include it every year:
“Try something new! Prepare a plan of action that includes new activities, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors. So many people get on their hamster-wheel of business, run and run all day doing the same activities, and never get anywhere. The importance of breaking bad behaviors in business is a critical step to success. What new activity are you committed to doing to make next year better?”
It all comes down to taking action. There’s way more knowledge and wisdom here than you can act on here. But don’t let that paralyze you.
Use this time to reassess, re-calibrate, and recommit to the life and business that you want. Write what you come up with in your planner or on your whiteboard. Tell your coach, your sales manager, your mastermind group, your spouse, your dog…whomever will hold you to it.
And then go to work on January 3rd.
I’ll see you in 2022!