The Fine Art of Finishing Out a Year

The end of 2012 is staring us in the face. Everyone is publishing an end-of-the-year roundup or writing about their goals for 2013. It reminds me a bit of the last weeks of school when I was a kid: everyone was on the edge of their desks, ready to bolt for the door when the bell rang for that last day of school.

Most of my teachers gave up getting anything to stick in our heads during the last week or so. They may have been that ready for school to wind down themselves. There would be parties, perhaps a few final presentations that were more a relief than an actual body of work. But there were a few teachers over my academic career who ran the clock down to the very last moment. They crammed every last little bit of knowledge into our skulls that they could manage. More often than not, those were my favorite teachers.

How You Finish is More Important than How You Start

I’ve come to believe that what you do when the clock is counting down, whether towards the last day of school, to the end of the year or even to the Mayan apocalypse, counts for more than how you start. When you’re first starting, you usually have room for a few serious screw-ups. But when you’re close to the end, you’re short on time. No one faults you for wanting to leave the hard bits until the next cycle starts up, because there just isn’t time to fix mistakes.

Just about everyone clocks out for the end of things. No one is going to be too irritated because no one wants to work over their Christmas break — or at least most people who might fall into that category won’t announce their opinion for fear of being labelled a ‘scrooge.’

But just because you can let little things go doesn’t mean that you should. I’m not about to tell you that you shouldn’t take time right now to spend with your family. I’m not a complete ogre, despite the rumors about my ice-cold heart. But look for an opportunity or two to wind down the year with some style. There are a few days yet until 2013 and you’ll probably work on your own projects or on others’ between now and then. Be ambitious in the time you have left.

You probably shouldn’t use me for an example. Hanukkah is already well past, so I see Christmas this year as an opportunity to get some writing done when almost nothing will be pinging its way into my inbox. It’s a great time to get work done if you’ve already celebrated the holidays. However, if you haven’t, make sure you get some fun in before the end of the year, too.

You Can Lay the Groundwork for Greatness

While I’m not particularly fond of making resolutions for the New Year, there’s a reason why now is such a good time to take stock of your life and where you want to head in the next year. Since everything else is running slower, we have time to think. There are even fewer updates on Twitter and Facebook (at least among the people I follow), so it’s harder to distract yourself. The value of making the same resolutions over and over again is a little less than one might hope to get for spending some of this time thinking, though. Personally, I’d rather lay some groundwork that will actually help me reach those goals.

Exactly what that might entail depends entirely on what you want to accomplish in the coming year. I’m a money-grubbing capitalist, so I’m almost always after more money. But just setting a goal of earning more money — even if there’s a specific dollar amount attached — doesn’t actually increase my bank balance. But sitting down and planning out the details of a new marketing campaign or outlining a new ebook will get me a lot further.

Even if you only focus on one thing you want to accomplish in the next year, focusing on the groundwork will make it much likelier that you won’t give up around the time February rolls around. This sort of game plan can’t be as basic as joining a gym, though. Get specific and create a situation where you can’t help but move in the right direction. If you write up the outline for a new ebook and send it around to four friends for feedback, they’re going to ask you about your practice. You’ll want to be able to tell them good things. You may have to go to extreme lengths to make improvements automatic — if you want to keep sugar out of your house, you may want to set up automatic grocery delivery so you’d have to make a conscious choice to go get that candy bar. But the more groundwork you can lay now, the harder it will be to get back off that path.

And if all your groundwork is in place, get started! There’s nothing particularly magical about January 1st that really requires you to wait to put your plan into action. If you’re ready to start today, go on and do it.

Plan to Take Stock When the Year is Done

I don’t start on my taxes until after December 31st and I don’t do much other reflection on the past year until it’s actually wound all the way down. Spending some time analyzing what you’ve done in the past and how you can improve is well worth your while, but don’t jump the gun. I’m a big fan of trench runs — in the last possible minute, you can drop into the trench and take the shot that blows up the Death Star. You can’t tell if you’re going to pull something like that off until you actually do and, when it happens, it can throw off your data completely. It only takes one big client to completely change your income for the year, after all.

Don’t dig through the data prematurely. If you are committed to a course of action, there’s no point. If you’re only thinking about options, you may psych yourself out. Let the clock run out before you start your analysis.

Have an amazing 2013.

Image by Flickr user Ed Yourdon

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