5 Tips to End the Year Strong

How to finish this unprecedented year on a high note and set the stage for 2021.

COVID-19. Racial unrest. Remote work. Job insecurity. It’s been a long, strange, difficult, and angst-ridden year, for sure. After everything that has happened in 2020, no one would be blamed for wanting to shut down and coast into the new year.

But experts say it won’t help. In fact, it could hurt your career—by creating a mindset that carries this year’s blahs over to 2021. Instead, experts say the best way to set the stage for a successful 2021 is to try to create some positive momentum over the last few weeks of the year. That could give you an edge over colleagues who limp into their final weeks from a bad case of burnout. Recent studies suggest almost six in 10 workers are at that stage.

“Now is the perfect time to really think about your experiences over the last few months and explore how you have learned and grown from them,” says Hamaria Crockett, a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance. Here are steps to consider as this truly difficult year winds down.

Take stock.

People learn about who they really are in a crisis—and 2020 provided no shortage of learning opportunities. The problem is, most people were so busy trying to get through this year that they didn’t have time to think about what they learned. “For many, it seemed like day after day it was nothing but work,” says Mark Royal, a senior director at Korn Ferry Advisory who specializes in employee engagement. He says the end of the year is an optimal time to reassess and reflect, particularly for those who assumed new responsibilities amid layoffs and furloughs. Royal suggests thinking about a few questions, including: Which activities were most satisfying to you personally? Which supported your growth and development? Which allowed you to contribute most to your team and the company? “Taking stock can help figure out what work is most meaningful and productive for you.”

Record achievements.

Whereas taking stock is about uncovering motivations and drivers, this is about “celebrating yourself,” as Crockett says. Make a record of the projects you worked on, the role you played, and the outcome for the organization. Think about it a little like getting prepared for a performance review, says Crockett. “What are the achievements over the year that really make you stand out?” she says. While you can certainly show the material to your manager when review time comes along, the idea here is to build confidence and instill pride of purpose in your successes during an extremely trying time.

Get that one thing done.

Everyone has that one project or assignment on their to-do list that seems to never get done. It’s on your calendar every week but somehow keeps getting delayed—or, perhaps more precisely, avoided. Now’s the time to get it out of the way, says Joshua Daniel, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance. “Think of finishing it as an early Christmas present to yourself,” he says. Put another way, checking off that one big thing will be a source of relief, whereas seeing it still on your to-do list come January will be a cause for dread.

Prioritize and compartmentalize.

People feel anxious and stressed when they are overwhelmed, and as work responsibilities pile up, the cumulative weight of what has to get done can easily feel like too heavy a load. Part of the reason for that is because we tend to treat every project with equal importance. Nancy Von Horn, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance, instead recommends what she calls “ruthless prioritization.” She says, “Decide what is truly important and essential and finish those first.” Moreover, as you look ahead to 2021, Daniel suggests separating tasks and goals into 30-, 60-, and 90-day buckets to help establish a workflow cadence that’s easier to manage in terms of priority.

Show gratitude.

At some point during 2020, you may have needed a helping hand and found a colleague or business partner or someone else there to offer one. Or maybe you know someone who is in need of some uplifting. Either way, Von Horn says the end of the year—and the end of this year in particular—is a great time to help others feel good by remembering them and the value they added. “Reach out with gratitude for how others have shown up, collaborated, or simply been an awesome coworker through this stressful year,” she says.