Four New Year's Resolutions to Fast Track Your Career

There are plenty of contenders for your New Year's Resolution list -- perhaps some you attempted last year but abandoned. How do you prioritize?
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It's that time of year -- when family members, morning talk show hosts and co-workers grill you with impunity about how, precisely, you're going to fix yourself. There are plenty of contenders for your New Year's Resolution list -- perhaps some you attempted last year but abandoned. How do you prioritize? And which ones will actually make you money and advance your career this year? Here are four ideas.

1. Upgrade your autonomy. Specialists in the uber-trendy field of positive psychology have identified the #1 barrier to your happiness (the cultivation of which is surely a worthy New Year's goal). The culprit? Lack of autonomy (as anyone with a micromanaging boss can tell you). This year, find ways to flex your mojo by choosing, to the extent possible, when and how to do your work. Two good strategies are lobbying for more flexibility in your schedule (as with Best Buy's "Results Only Work Environment"), or, at minimum, aiming to reduce the number of soul-sucking meetings you're subjected to (check out these tips for reasons to cancel meetings and some positive alternatives you can suggest).

2. Take more lunches. Networking maven Keith Ferrazzi famously instructed us to "Never Eat Alone" (the title of his excellent 2005 book) as a way to build connections. The advice becomes even more urgent, however, when coupled with research from Stanford University business school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, who investigates how executives cultivate power. As he notes in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, "If you're in a position to bring together unrelated groups of individuals who benefit from being in contact with each other, that's a form of power." In short, the path to success is becoming a "broker" who fills holes, transmits information and cultivates connections.

3. Lose weight. You didn't think I'd leave off this perennial favorite, did you? Unfortunately, this advice applies only to the ladies out there, as you'll see in this Wall Street Journal piece. For male execs, corpulence correlates with high pay -- up to the point of obesity, when their salaries start getting docked. For women, shedding pounds can be lucrative: if you weigh 25 pounds below average, you'll bring in over $15,500 more than your "normal" peers and nearly $30,000 more than overweight women. (I'm officially noting my socio-political revulsion, but I'm sure the researchers are right.)

4. Spend more time with your family. And alas, this one's just for the gents. This interesting Harvard Magazine profile of Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy discusses her research into perceived warmth and competence on the job. Mothers, it turns out, are seen as nicer and less competent in the workplace, Cuddy reports, while "fathers experience the 'fatherhood bonus.' They're viewed as nicer than men without kids, but equally, if not more, competent. They're seen as heroic: a breadwinner who goes to his kid's soccer game once in a while." So dads: time to hit the stands and start cheering. And moms: even if you're not supposed to see your family, there's always the gym (see #3 and my mortification at our sexist society).

Want to turbocharge your adherence to these simple (but hard to maintain) resolutions? You can always try, a website created with the principles of behavioral economics in mind. Since people hate losing money even more than they hate exercising/quitting smoking/you name it, they can make a public pledge (often backed with cash) to keep up their resolutions. Fail at your tasks? The bucks head to your choice of a snide friend, your favorite charity, or an "anti-charity" - i.e., a cause you despise.

Whatever it takes this year, think carefully about your resolutions and how you can leverage them to improve your life and your career in 2011.

What's on your list of goals?

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

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