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The 15-minute exercise that will change your career for the better in 2016

As 2015 draws to a close and before the holidays fully bear down, grab a glass of nog and take a break to do this exercise. You’ll thank us next May.

The 15-minute exercise that will change your career for the better in 2016

A new year is nearly upon us, and as you’re making your pre-holiday to-do lists, don’t forget to include 2016 career game planning.

We know what you’re thinking: “There is absolutely no time for another agenda item in my life right now.” But devoting 15 minutes to strategizing can help you make that raise, promotion or career change you’ve been dreaming of into a reality.

“What we know about goal setting is that it can exponentially increase the likelihood that you will get what you want,” says Jill Banks, director of career services at Portland, Oregon-based Carpenter Smith Consulting, a career and leadership coaching business. “So to move forward in the direction that matters to you in your work life, it’s important to set goals for what you want to achieve, who you want to connect with and the experiences you want to get.”

Think of it this way: 900 seconds now could buy you a $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 bump in pay if you play it right—a pretty good return on investment, right? Here’s how to make your time pay dividends:

Make your “I want” list

Start by thinking about everything you want to achieve—short- and long-term—in your career: Is there a salary benchmark you’d like to hit? Do you want to move from a cube to an office? Would you like to get your boss’s boss to know your name? Do you want to have a speaking gig at a conference? Do you want to go from working the register to being a manager?

“A great way to start is to envision yourself in five to 10 years, create a future-looking resume and work backwards to figure out your unique path,” says Jeff Vijungco, vice president of global talent for Adobe in San Jose, California.     

Put each goal of yours down on its own Post-it note, Banks suggests. “Then you can look at your goals individually and in a group, and assess their order of importance and you can rewrite one or two and have the others remain intact.”

Do a reality check

While it’s important to put everything you want out to the universe so that you can see it in context, a laundry list of goals generally does not get traction.

Aim for three realistic goals, advises Banks. Your goals should be challenging but not impossible to obtain, adds Melissa Gratias, a productivity psychologist who helps people around the country be more effective at work. “Without the tension created by goal setting, it is easy to fool yourself that everything is OK and you don't need to make a career change,” she says. “If they are too easy, then there is little motivation to meet them. If goals are too hard, it can be demoralizing.”

Vijungco says you should look for the “sweet spot between comfort and panic,” which he refers to as the “talent target.” “You need a goal that keeps you on your toes, makes you continue to evolve and learn, but is within reach of success. If you’re not in the learning zone, it’s time to re-evaluate.”

Put a plan in place

Once you have your list of all the things you want to accomplish in the next year, break it down  into the actions you will take to get there, Gratias suggests. Then make sure your calendar and to-do list reflect the steps you plan to take. Checking in with yourself once a month and setting monthly milestones is a good way to set up your timeline.

In order to determine the steps necessary for your action plan, ask yourself what is already in place that you can build on to reach your goal, and what will success look like when you achieve it, Banks says. “Identify if you have the skills and abilities to do what needs to be done, if not, make getting those skills one of your goals.”

Hold yourself accountable

It’s important to have support from others when you’re trying to achieve a goal, because it can significantly increase your chance of success, Banks says. “Some people ask for help early on in setting their goals, whereas others wait until they are clear and then ask a boss, colleague, family member or coach to support their efforts.”

Ask for feedback from others on how you are doing, she adds. You need to be able to measure your success, so write down milestones to help mark your progress or to determine if you’re not getting where you want to go.  

If you miss a milestone, don’t just abandon it, but you may need to revise your goals if your estimate of time and resources doesn’t fit with reality or if you set a performance-based goal when it should have been a learning goal, Gratias says.

Consider abandoning your goal when the reason you wanted to achieve it becomes irrelevant or if the cost of achieving it far outweighs the benefits, she adds.

Reward yourself

Celebrate your milestones, Banks says. “Celebrate even small successes, it keeps you moving. It can be as simple as letting friends know or as significant as taking a vacation when you get that raise.”

Research shows that incentives and rewards only make you more likely to achieve your goal if they are valued and increase your commitment to your goal, Gratias adds. A meaningless reward is not motivational, so be sure your reward matters to you.

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