This was originally posted on Forbes.
Welcome to 2012. If you’re like most of us, you’ve broken at least one (if not all) of your New Year’s Resolutions even though we’re only a couple of days into the new year. What can you do about it? Here’s some advice for a great new year based on the first line of Vanilla Ice’s breakthrough hit “Ice Ice Baby.”
1. Stop. Perhaps you think this is the year to start a bunch of great and worthwhile endeavors. You might still be going strong during the first week of January, but my guess is that life will eventually get in the way. Act first, and find something to Stop.
What can you Stop? Your social media habits are a good place to start. How many of your tweets and Facebook status updates can be translated as “I’m awesome; check me out” without losing information? You just tweeted that you’re in an awesome place with an impressive person. Does this give your friends and followers useful information on which they can act, or does it just tell them that you go to awesome places and hang out with impressive people? I’m trying to follow Jon Acuff’s advice by asking “why” about whatever I write for public consumption so as to improve the quality (and if anything, reduce the quantity) of my output.
To the best of your ability, Stop saying “yes” when people ask you to do things. Productivity expert Jason Womack suggests making an inventory of your commitments. This will help you tell if you have room for more or if you need to scale back. I suggest that you follow Biblical wisdom on this and count the cost: what will you have to give up in order to do whatever you’re planning? Is your estimate accurate?
Here’s one that’s harder: Stop emphasizing and claiming credit for good intentions. Economicsteaches us to be mindful of the law of unintended consequences, and the sad reality is that a lot of initiatives undertaken in the name of the poor actually work to the detriment of the poor. I’ve touched on this before (1, 2); I’m reading When Helping Hurts right now and will have much more to say about this in 2012. Honestly, my sense is that carefully washing your hands with soap and water after using the restroom does more to alleviate suffering than a lot of things people do in the name of helping others. By all means, be generous and diligent about extending the right hand of friendship, but making sure that hand is clean rather than full of SWEDOW probably does more for the people you’re trying to help.
2. Collaborate. Economics shows us how specialization and division of labor create wealth. We can accomplish far more when we work together than when we work alone. I know I am a lot more productive and a lot happier as a result of an extensive network of collaborators, friends, mentors, co-authors, and students.
The old saw is true: the best way to learn something is to teach it. In looking for collaborative opportunities, find ways to teach others and find ways to be teachable. This extends to all areas of life. Perhaps you can adopt a new professional mentor on the job. If you’re going to get married someday, find someone with a successful marriage who is willing to take you under his or her wing. And so on. This cuts both ways. You have knowledge and experience you can use to mentor someone else, and you will learn a lot in the process.
3. Listen. What problems did you have in 2011 that could have been avoided if you had listened more carefully (I can name many)? What can you learn by really listening rather than just waiting for your turn to talk?
If you aren’t careful, consuming information is like drinking from a firehose: you end up soaked from head to toe, and a quenched thirst is almost an accident. The volume is much lower from a drinking fountain, but you come away refreshed. Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know, but consider something I once heard from a preacher: it doesn’t matter how much of the Bible you get on you. What matters is how much you get in you. It’s an excellent thought for the 21st century information environment.
If you can rap “Ice Ice Baby” from memory, it’s a pretty sure sign you were raised in the 90s. If you can rap “Ice Ice Baby” from memory, you’re probably also at a point in life where you have to be very discerning about what you’re doing and why. It’ll be easier if you stop, collaborate, and listen.