The first week back at work in the New Year can sometimes be a little quiet and demotivating. The usual busy pace has not picked up yet as many colleagues are still away on holiday. Often the external pressure that keeps you motivated and productive is lacking. If you are self-employed and work from home being productive at this time can be even more difficult. However, I would challenge you to use this time well to lay a good foundation for the year. These valuable hours can be used in a number of ways to set you up for a more productive, focused and less stressful year. I have done several of these over the past few days and already I feel more prepared for the year ahead.

Set your work vision and goals – Write down your broad vision for your work this year. Then break down your vision into realistic and achievable goals. Where possible set target dates or milestones for achieving each goal, e.g. the completion of a course to further your professional development. The immense value of setting your vision and goals is that you regain a sense of control over your work instead of letting it control you.

You can also extend this exercise to set personal goals, especially in the area of work-life balance which will impact positively on how your handle your work (such as getting enough exercise, spending time with family and friends, eating well etc.) I suggest that you place your vision and goals in a visible place so that you can refer to them during the year.

Clean up your office and desk – The end of the year is usually rather frenetic, so we seldom have the time to tidy up our office space and desks before the holidays. Tidying up your office space has a positive psychological impact as you begin to feel less overwhelmed as the clutter disappears. It also has the added benefit of making it easier to find things as the year gets busier, although this does depend on using a paper and report filing system that works for you. There is no point filing important documents away that you cannot find. I challenge you to go as paperless as possible this year, including shifting to electronic accounts.

Tidy up your computer – Over the year our computers can get cluttered and disorganised as we rush against deadlines. Now is the time to declutter your desktop – keep only links to the programs, folders and files that you use regularly and currently. Go through your document filing systems and sort and purge documents that you no longer require. If you do not have much of a system, now is a good time to create one. Keep it simple and easy to navigate. Another area that may require new categories, sorting and purging is your email. This can be quite an overwhelming and tiring task, so I suggest doing it in small chunks of an hour at a time.

Fix technical gremlins – During the year you may have postponed dealing with certain problems with your computer, scanner or printer due to lack of time. These are the kind of problems that do not prevent you from working but can slow down your pace of work, e.g. your email program not responding as quickly as normal. Fix these problems now so that when the work pace picks up, your technical equipment supports you to work efficiently. It will also help you to keep your cool, as there is nothing more frustrating than technical equipment gone wrong.

Search for useful apps for your smartphone – There is an amazing and extensive array of apps available to help you to organise your life and your information better on your smartphone. Use this time to experiment and find those apps that work for you.

Stock up with stationery supplies – Lastly, despite our growing dependence on our pcs and smartphones we still need some stationery supplies to support our work through the year. So stock up on your own basic personal supplies as well as printer paper, cartridges, filing supplies, business cards and other items necessary to keep your work functioning like a well-oiled machine.

Every job has its challenges and pressures, but laying a good foundation at the beginning of the year will help you to handle them that much better. I hope these suggestions will help you to get off to a good start. Have a wonderful 2014!

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