If the year was a book, December would be its epilogue. Epilogues summarize and clarify, often wrapping up those loose ends in the plot the action left in need of tidying, or of characters’ untold dispositions. Not all books have epilogues. No loose ends, no need for an epilogue.
Life is never as neat as fiction. It would be wonderful to spend December reviewing the year, clarifying unmet goals, tidying loose ends left by the current year so we can meet January and the new year with the gusto they deserve! We more often rush through December as if running away from the carnage left by the preceding eleven months. December is the month occupied with shopping, wrapping and baking for the upcoming holidays, children’s school concerts, football playoffs and final exams, work’s year end reports, vacation requests and often ill-advised office parties. There’s no time to review what’s left undone from the year, the month more resembling the coming attractions trailer of the newest disaster film rather than a neat summary of the year to date!
Slow down! There are thirty-one days to December whether you take them at warp speed or one at a time. Some of my most productive years were when I would ease into December, maybe even with a few days off, particularly if the current year was one with yet unmet goals. Counterintuitive as it may seem, taking it easy while approaching the finishing line offered a more satisfying conclusion to the current year and stronger lead into the next than attempting the mad dash and sprint to the year end. Here’s why.
Enter December with the thought of making the first few days a “year in review” period. Compare what you wanted to accomplish (your business and personal goals set at the beginning of the year, or your New Years resolutions if you want) with what you achieved (your actual accomplishments, whether they fully or partially met a goal, or might have been completely unthought of last January). Rather than concentrating on what hadn’t been done, pay close attention to how you did accomplish those tasks successfully completed. Sort the leftovers into “need to do” and “want to do” categories. After confirming the “need to do’s” really need done, contrast the remaining “want to do’s” with what you realistically can do. Using the strategies that led to the achievements you noted in your review, determine tactics you can use to complete other tasks. Then give each item a target date for completion making a series of mini-SMART goals. What you can’t do requires discussion if it even belongs in your plan, or if it becomes a starting point for next year’s plan.
For many years I spent the first week of December away from work. It was my routine to attend the annual ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting, and as it was typically held in a warm weather part of the country, I elected to spend an extra day or two away from my always cold in December part of the country. The meetings were my time to compare what my colleagues were doing in similar programs. As expected, I always found those whose achievements made mine look like I was lucky even to be working. But I also had the chance to network with others who were having like years to mine or even asked me for advice. The extra days were my time to reflect on how good I really am, what I had accomplished, what was left to do, and on how I could most effectively use the last few days of the year. Some unmet goals would remain unmet and revised for the following year. The completed goals were tucked away and not brought out again so I could concentrate on what remained that was attainable. And before writing out my work to do list, I detailed what pending items I had waiting to turn into accomplishments on the home front.
I didn’t always take an entire week off at what is often any business’s busiest time of the year. Many people never have that opportunity, but we all have the chance to set aside a day or two to reflect on how we made it through eleven months before rushing headlong into a vaguely planned year end attempt to tie off all the loose ends. Use those days to recognize the good work you have done, the positivity you brought to your workplace, your family and your community, and the goals you did meet.
As the year end looms closer, December can be a period of hurried attempts at unrealistic deadlines, or it can be a time to review and plan for next year. However you chose to approach the epilogue to 2021 and move toward the near year, December offers opportunities to savor time with family and loved ones in gratitude for the privilege of adding another year to your life. Yes, review this year’s earlier months and plan for the coming new year, but also take time to fill December with memories to cherish in those many months to come.