Many people use the New Year as a time when they promise themselves to behave differently. They plan to be healthier, eat less, workout more and so on.

My family and I have for several years had a similar tradition. We find a restaurant that is open early on New Year’s day (no small feat) and sit down with a little leather-bound book I write in. In that book we record our New Year’s goals – not resolutions. It’s a small change in terminology, but for us, it’s a larger change in meaning. Goals are bounded, and have a set end-time. But most importantly, goals are measurable. In fact, before we make the new goals, we review each other’s last goals and put a checkmark by the ones we accomplished.

Each member of our family has goals. The goals are completely up to the person, and fall in areas like spiritual, physical, educational and professional. They are things like “read this many books per month” or “work out at a minimum of three times per week.” We also have family goals, for things we want to accomplish together, such as “volunteer at a soup kitchen twice this year”. Each month, we sit down and review the goals with each other to see where we are in accomplishing them. The next year, if someone still has that goal, it becomes a lifestyle – we don’t write that one down any more, it’s just part of what we do. We write down new goals each year.

What has this got to do with databases? Well, I think there are some concepts you can glean from this process that might help you professionally. If you want to progress in your career, you’ll need a plan to get there, and that plan will probably involve educating yourself more, working on more challenging database projects and so on. Here are a few tips you can pull from our process that might be useful in making your own professional goals:

  • Only have a few. If you write down five hundred things to do this year, odds are you’ll fail. Keep it to five or ten overall goals.
  • Make the goals challenging but achievable.
  • Make the goals measurable. Not just vague promises to yourself – the goal should be so specific that anyone could say that you accomplished them or not.
  • Have someone keep you accountable. That means you should write down your goals and show them to someone you trust. Each month that person should hold you to your own goals – and it should be someone that can shame you into doing them.

Following these simple tips can help you in a real way this year. Take the time to plan your career, make some goals that will get you there, and hit those goals.