August (and to some extent early September) in Madrid is like the Bermuda triangle: there is less work because half the team is gone in any given time and we read less on blogs because, well, we might be on vacation. However, it might just be a good moment to stop and ponder on how the year is going and how it can end. I have been doing just that and I have a couple ideas on the topic that I would like to share with you.
The school year, which in Spain spans from September to June, drives the planning and calendars of parents, teachers, and students of all academic levels. If you happen to work in an area that has government contracts, or your company gets any kind of subsidy or grant you might already be used to the quietness of August and the rush in mid-September.
On the other hand, if you are involved in the talent acquisition for your team, you might have found that September is a month with a higher rotation than August, something that can be confirmed by checking the Spanish SEPE statistics. (300.000 more contracts in September than in August in 2018, 500.000 in 2019 and 2020).
If august sets the stage of the new term, I wonder if it makes sense to apply the same ideas and techniques we usually do when wrapping up the year in December and work on our new term resolutions.
Why setting up resolutions in August?
It’s simple, you get less time to produce results and you can correct in just four months. You still have a third of the year ahead and can measure, in a more realistic way, what you can achieve in this block of time. I tend to procrastinate a lot on a bunch of different things, and one of the reasons I do that is because I set goals too far off in the future. I need milestones that are closer in time, and I bet you need them too.
Tim Urban talks on his TED talk on the need to generate what he calls a “panic monster” that steers us in the right direction. Setting goals with a 120-day horizon will allows you to create this “panic monster” because the deadline is way sooner.
What happens with the new year resolutions?
Nothing and everything, let me explain: In January or in December, depending on the time you usually mark your goals, you have all the year ahead and can have goals on a 12-month horizon.
There is a phrase attributed to Woody Allen that reads: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans “. The goals we set up in January may refer to a life and to a world that in August are totally outdated, something that happened to all of us during 2020 when the world changed forever. With a bit of luck not all years will bring a global pandemic that threatens civilization, but each day brings some level of ambiguity and uncertainty that can keep you closer or further from those initial set of resolutions.
Setting goals in august can help you in three different ways:
- If you set them up originally in January you might be following a set path and have ignored new ideas, challenges, or opportunities. This process allows you to re-evaluate the goals, validate they are still relevant and finetune them.
- If you had a plan but you fell off the wagon as we all do, you can get back to it and try to recover the direction you originally set.
- Finally, if you don’t have any plan and are just running with scissors, this might be a good moment to put the last 120 days of the year in a good shape.
Which kind of goals can you set?
You can simplify your resolutions by dividing them in two main categories. A goal can be adding something to your life or reducing or removing something you were doing previously. Whatever you add or reduce can be an explicit goal or a habit. There are plenty of books on managing and changing habits, although my favorite is James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” that I covered in 2019 (in Spanish).
You can track you habits in a lot of different ways, and lately I’m giving a try to one new system I discovered via Thomas Frank’s YouTube channel called “The Martin System” and created by one of his team members, Martin Boehme. This system is based on the idea of setting habits every two weeks and re-evaluate after that period. You can check it out in their blog for more details. Thomas’ channel is a gold mine for all things related to productivity and I’ve learned a lot from it. Don’t forget to check it out.
Times of change?
As a Software Engineer, I have the privilege of living on a historical moment in in which the market demands more skilled labor than it can supply. If you work in this industry or in a similar one, you might take advantage of the cycles of change that appear this time of the year. The August stop can help you to reflect on your progress during the year, your goals and aspirations at different levels, your project, your business area, or your company.
If those thoughts take you to consider a professional change of any kind, don’t forget that all change has an associated process, and depending on how proactive you are and the degree of freedom you have, you will be able to create or influence this process. I can only recommend you my book Offboarding or the abridged version here in the blog. (Both are in Spanish only… but I’m working on it).
August and early September are moments that allow us to stop and reflect on our goals, confirm we are on the right track, recover the ones that were set at the beginning of the year or create new goals with a shorter horizon.
This thought process can help you to add new skills or habits to your life and to reduce those that make your life more complicated.
As part of this cleanup process, it might be a good moment to do a professional change. That change will need a process, and either you build it on your terms or others will.