What is on your to-do list?

I was recently standing in a line waiting to get on an airplane and overhead a child talking with an adult.  The part of the conversation I heard began, “When I grow up I want to be. . .” Whether the child knew it or not, he was espousing a goal based on his vision of the future. In the run-up to the New Year, it is important to remember the benefits of goal setting. Setting goals is important for deciding what you want to achieve in a specific period, whether a day, month, quarter, year or lifetime. Goal setting provides value by forcing a degree of introspection, acting as a filter to separate the important from the irrelevant and as a guide to channel behavior.

Introspection is the act of calmly reviewing one’s thoughts, sorting through the clutter of day-to-day living. Techniques like retrospectives are a structured approach to introspection at a group and personal level. Meditation is also a valuable technique for individual introspection. The act of stepping back and thinking about the future is an excellent first step in the process of goal setting by providing the quiet space to consider what has been accomplished and to consider aspirations. You need to first agree upon a vision of the future to pursue so that you can set  goals to help to achieve that vision.

Reflections of daybreak.

Reflections of daybreak.

Labor Day in the United States marks the unofficial boundary between the summer and the time to buckle down and get back to work.  One last celebration before the beginning of fall.  Officially, Labor Day, is a celebration of the achievements of labor and the labor movement.  There have been many achievements, but as the nature of work has shifted from farmers, to miners and factory workers, to service and knowledge workers, so has the focus of the day.

Labor Day, as the start of the new season, is a day to reflect, akin to New Year’s Day. As the season changes, we wipe the slate clean and make resolutions about how we will change both our life and the lives those around us. On January 2nd, we either begin executing (or not). But, some of the benefit in the process comes from being thoughtful, even if we fail to execute.  Likewise, Labor Day is a time to reflect on the changes and resolutions you made so that you can make a course correction, if necessary.

Days like Labor Day are times when you have a choice.  You can both look to the future while absorbing the lessons of the past or blithely continue on the path you are on today without reflection. Rarely do we have a chance to take the time to reflect with onslaught of demands on our time.  Why not then set aside an hour or two to consider how you can be part of shaping the future? That time can come during a morning run or an afternoon stroll, there is no need to over-engineer the process.  Look for a time you can live inside your head with your own thoughts.  Rather than put all of introspective eggs in the New Year’s Day basket let us take the time while running, walking, grilling and spending time with family and friends to take some time to reflect on how the nature of work is changing and where we fit into working world.

Happy Birthday!  Time for introspection and cake.

Happy Birthday! Time for introspection and cake.

Every day progresses one day at a time, the minute hand of life making an inexorable progression always forward. Once a year, however, the big hand moves forward marking a whole year that has gone by, metaphorically at least. The event is momentous enough that it provides a chance to step back, reappraise the past year and lay plans for the future. Introspection is the act of calmly reviewing one’s thoughts, sorting through the clutter. Events provide a trigger and cut through the noise of day-of-day life.

Most introspection tends to be triggered by events. Abrupt, explosive events like the death of someone close or a major change in life like an involuntary job change can trigger deeper and sometimes darker introspection. Equally, introspection can be triggered by less abrupt events like New Year’s and birthdays. The later set of events facilitate a more reflective form of introspection. The event acting as a catalyst.

Even with an event that shock us into looking at our accomplishments and plans, the noise of day-to-day life normally overwhelms quiet reflective thought. Which is why major events are easier triggers. Occasionally it is appropriate to sit on the patio with a glass of wine or a cup of steaming coffee with your phone and MP3 player off – listening to the wind, watching the sunset and thinking about what has been and what can be.

Twice a year I like to look back on the successes and failures I have been part of and on my plans for future. We live in exciting, thrilling times with all sorts of possibilities. I am another year older and wiser and ready to tackle the world! But first I will listen to my favorite song, eat a slice of cake with ice cream and dream of tomorrow!