Resolutions and Goals: Insights on focus and habits to improve success

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Cathy R. Briggs, Ed.D, Dean of Student Success & Title IX Coordinator, Rowan College at Burlington County

October 18, 2019

Like many of my peers in higher education, I frequently struggle with a never ending to do list and a laundry list of good ideas that are waiting on the availability of time to bring from concept to reality.  One of my 2019 New Year’s resolutions was to find more quality time in my day – a slight variation on the previous theme of “find work / life balance” resolution.  Unlike many of my past resolutions, this one got some traction this year and resulted in me reading a few books that have had an impact on my ability to be more productive and therefore find more quality time in my day.

One of the reasons resolutions are rarely kept is that they are not specific and lack measureable objectives.  My 2019 resolution had the potential to fall right into this trap.  The variation that put some action into this year’s goal was a colleague suggesting a good book.  A January recommendation launched into almost a year’s worth of reading that has helped me improve some of my everyday work – on my projects and in coaching my team.  In this post, I am sharing the top three insights from this journey so that your work and personal life may also benefit. 

One insight centers on the need to focus.  Chris Bailey, author of Hyper Focus, suggests that one of the things we lack in our everyday life is focus and that “…we are what we pay attention to” (2018, p. 20).  His research on mindfulness and attention provides some interesting insights that can help leaders better understand the path to productivity.  As professionals, we are pulled in many directions.  Multi-tasking is a buzz word that faded in and out of popularity.  Bailey points out that we live in a world of distractions and our highest points of productivity come when we intentionally remove the distractions.  Bailey (2018) points out that “Productivity is not about cramming more into our days but about doing the right thing in each moment” (p. 42).  This is a lesson for us as both individuals and as team leaders.

The second insight is understanding just how much our habits and routines impact our focus and productivity.  In Atomic Habits (2018), James Clear reminds us that our habits are one of the things that form our identity. According to Clear, self-reflection is one way we can change or develop new habits.   He suggest that we begin by reflecting on what type of person we want to be and what actions we need to take to be that person.  Then, when we see our self doing that action, we begin to prove that we are that person. This works whether you are thinking about being more diligent about using your gym membership (each time you start a workout class, you are a healthy adult) or being more productive at work (each time you schedule and use specific time to respond to emails, you are an effective staff member).  Developing habits that have a positive impact on our identity requires focus, reflection and action.

Finally, the third insight centers on assessment and review.  In order to demonstrate that any efforts related to focus or habit development have made an impact, we have to set up parameters for assessment and tracking. The element of reflection allows for the identification of mistakes – when did you miss the scheduled time you allocated for the workout or email responses? How can you improve on that – a change of time or location? When you prioritize the review of the changes you are trying to make, you allow for both the reinforcement of the activity and the assessment of impact.

Together, these insights suggest that a habit allow us to automate certain things, increasing available time which can be used to focus on more challenging, and generally more rewarding work. The role of assessment helps us understand if we have actually made a change that had improved our world, which reinforces the habit we initiated and reaffirms the identity we are trying to build.  As you reflect on this quick read, think through the 2-3 changes you would like to implement in your professional or personal life. Where will you start and how will you incorporate it into your daily life? How might you coach your team members into thinking about projects with a specific focus to reduce burn out and improve productivity?  Reflecting and focusing on these questions now provides time for you to start laying the groundwork for habits that can guide you into 2020. 

Cathy R. Briggs, Ed.D,

Dean of Student Success & Title IX Coordinator

Rowan College at Burlington County


Bailey, C. (2018). Hyperfocus: How to be more productive in a world of distractions. Random House, NY, NY.

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Random House, NY, NY.


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