By Jen Sweeney
Many people refuse to make resolutions, often for self-protection—because they’ve tried before and failed to stick to them, they’ve given up entirely. Change isn’t easy, but it’s much more difficult if you set unrealistic goals.
With the current pace of technology advances, change has become more than just inevitable—tweaking your approach, learning new skills, and generally keeping an open mind are business as usual.
The key is to make small but powerful resolutions—they’re attainable and significant. Here are five ways you can get a head start on 2017:
1. Create and curate a tech skills want/need list
It’s common knowledge that the average office worker uses only a small percentage of an application’s features and capabilities. Add to that the steady stream of new and changed functionality that arrives via more frequent software updates, and you are guaranteed that learning will need to be a continual, ongoing part of your professional development.
When determining what to include on your list, think about any tech frustrations you have encountered recently. Did you spend too much time searching for a specific document? Add “Finding files more easily: general and application-specific” to your list. Do you sometimes miss important emails? Include “Rules and Alerts, Outlook” and “Automate tasks” on the list.
Think also about what you would like to be able to accomplish with technology. You don’t need details for your list—just inspiration. Add items like the following to the “wants” section of your list: “Create stellar, dynamic presentations,” “Learn how to create a basic Access database,” and “Never send another attachment again.” For additional subjects, ask your help desk or colleagues for recommendations.
The trick is in creating and maintaining the list—putting it on paper, in your smartphone, or in whichever format you prefer keeps it organized, instead of jumbled up in your mind along with countless other bits of information you process on a daily basis. Assigning categories, such as want vs. need, helps you prioritize and set learning goals.
Finally, goals keep you focused, and give you something to work toward. Resolve to learn one new feature a month using the list you created to help you determine which features to tackle first, and which ones you can defer.
2. Go beyond your technology comfort zone
Some applications are more intimidating than others—Access, Excel and SharePoint, for example. While they can be more advanced than, say, email applications or word processing programs, much of the anxiety they seem to stir up is self-created. Minimizing the anxiety can be simple. Include advanced features and technology into your wish list, incorporate them into your overall learning goals, and don’t try to master complex features up front. In the case of Power BI, for example, start with basics like connecting to data sources and building basic reports. Keep progressing—you’ll soon be creating visualizations and publishing dashboards with ease.
3. Block out specific time on your calendar for learning
Considering the rate at which technology advances, keeping tech skills current with steady refresher courses and training is quickly becoming a necessity for many knowledge workers. If your company provides you with a consistent learning and development (L&D) schedule, take advantage of these learning opportunities. If not, resolve to be proactive this year. For example, create your own mini L&D plan—look for free webinars on application-specific topics, search for credible knowledgebases provided by the software vendor—and map it out at least six months in advance. (Run it by your manager first, of course.) Start small—block out a half hour once a month, or every two weeks, and determine tentative topics six months out. By factoring the time into your schedule, you increase the chances that you will actually spend that time learning.
4. replace clunky workarounds with more efficient approaches
Take an inventory of your regular and occasional job-related tasks. Are there any that could be completed in half the number of steps? Have you used the same approach for more than two years? If so, there’s probably a smarter, faster way of getting it done.
Keep in mind that resolutions are not etched in stone—their purpose is to inspire positive change. And, contrary to popular wisdom, old habits don’t die hard. With persistence, they’re easily changed.