5 Doable Work Goals in 2021’s First Quarter

Experts say hitting these marks are setups for bigger career steps later in the year and beyond.

The New Year often brings along big pressure to set goals. Find a new job. Propose a plan to double your department’s profits. Meet the CEO. But we all know the problem—bigger goals usually involve a lot of work over a significant amount of time. They usually involve multiple intermediate steps. Missing even one of those could discourage you from hitting that big goal.

Which is why career experts say establishing some short-term goals, things that can be accomplished in just a few months, may make sense. Such goals, these experts say, lay down a clear, defined path to success. Focusing on them can help you stay motivated, productive, and avoid procrastination. Importantly, short-term goals provide the foundation for something greater, including getting promoted or finding a more rewarding job. “We know COVID will still be with us, but we also know that just because it has put a damper on so many things, it doesn’t have to hold us back from pursuing our goals and dreams,” says Val Olson, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance.

Here’s a list of goals to start and finish before March 31, when 2021 is a quarter done.

Make a list of 2020’s wins and losses.

This is the goal to start first. What did you accomplish last year? What held you back? Tallying up the wins can remind you of the skills you learned and how you have considerably more agility than you thought you did. The setbacks are a reminder of the technical skills you may need to acquire or the emotional intelligence skills you need to hone to get ahead. “You probably learned more from your losses than your wins,” Olson says.

This form of self-reflection can create a road map for what you need to do to accomplish other goals, whether they’re big or small.

Volunteer for a tough work project.

Promotions and better-paying jobs don’t appear out of thin air—they arrive when your boss or other leaders see you’ve handled challenging work well (and often made them look good in the process). So in the next three months, raise your hand for a so-called stretch assignment, one that will take you out of your professional comfort zone and force you to learn and grow. Stretch assignments, according to Korn Ferry research, are the most valuable skill-building experience in becoming a leader, far ahead of meeting senior leaders or formal training.

Keep in mind that your offer to take on a new project might not get accepted. But the very nature of volunteering shows your boss that you have ambition and motivation to do well, both of which will set you up for future assignments.

Cultivate strategic relationships.

Networking lays the ground for future success, experts say, whether that’s a new job, customer relationship, or something else. In your current job, find the office influencer, the person who knows an organization’s unwritten rules, the necessary steps to getting things done, and hidden land mines. “Share with them why you are interested in talking to them. Make them feel valued, like the subject-matter expert,” says David Ginchansky, a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance.

At the same time, commit to building two or three new relationships outside the office. Search LinkedIn or other media to find people in your field doing work your find interesting. Then reach out to them, suggest things you could do for them, or just ask them how they got to where they are.

The pandemic also may have poked holes in your existing network, with many people you know professionally having lost or changed jobs, so use the first three months of the year to patch it up. Make sure you exchange cell phone numbers and personal email addresses. That way it will be easier to connect if either you or they change jobs again.

Become a mentor.

Direct reports, interns, or other junior-level employees often will look to leaders for coaching, advice, and guidance. But don’t wait for them to ask. For starters, routinely just ask them how they are doing. Be present for them and listen to them (more on that later). Then, over the next three months, set up time with people to discuss their goals and work with them to think of ways they can reach those goals. After your meeting, give them regular feedback and advice to help them along the way.

Being a mentor benefits not only the mentee but also the person giving the advice and guidance. Leaders who mentor consistently get higher performance rankings than those that don’t, according to several studies.

Be a better listener.

Most people aren’t great listeners, and that’s particularly true when the topic involves something distressing or uncomfortable. In the working world, that means you could miss the answer to a critical question, ignore a crucial perspective, or dismiss a good idea. “If you take a view or form a judgment at the beginning of the conversation, then you can’t really hear what’s being said,” says Dennis Carey, a Korn Ferry vice chairman and coleader of the firm’s Board and CEO Services practice.

So, over the next three months, experts suggest embracing the fact that you can become a better listener. Slow down and don’t interrupt people. Ask more questions. And instead of thinking about your response, which is what most people do when others are talking, take in what is being said and repeat it back in different terms. That shows you understand and can place yourself in the other person’s shoes.