’Tis the season to be jolly and all, but we also have to be realistic and practical if we want to get ahead. If you’re looking for feel good voodoo and holiday cheer, turn back now. If instead you want to look at how you can make 2016 the best year yet, read on. Whether you want to take better photos, grow your business, or gain a deeper understanding of photography, you need to know how to accomplish your goals effectively. Be warned, though, real improvements aren’t made by drinking eggnog and writing down fantasies on paper.

hotel-menage-disney-fireworks-event-photography

I get it – it’s tradition to come up with New Year’s resolutions. Other people think that it’s the best time to make changes, their record cleared as they turn to a new page, a clean slate.

In reality, it’s the worst time.

New Year’s resolutions are just a fancy term for procrastinating. Why wait until the New Year? What’s stopping you now? There’s no magic about January first. The only thing that changes as you wait is your age, and that’s not making it any easier to accomplish things. Every day you wait is a day where you’re losing potential clients and missing opportunities to capture great moments.

You know exactly what you want to be accomplishing. You don’t need to wait until January to start working towards your goals, and in doing so, you’re actually doing a lot of harm to your resolve. Not only have you wasted time waiting, but you’ve also conditioned yourself to put things off until some abstract, pre-destined, magical time. What happens when the stars don’t align perfectly? You’ve waited this long, might as well delay again for a few weeks. It’s a habit, a routine. Many people get stuck in a hole of procrastination with school, then work. Life isn’t any different.

This is bad enough, but there’s more to it. New Year’s resolutions often involve planning the biggest goals you can imagine and trying to execute them immediately. Too often people resolve to do something great, see little to no change after a month or a week, and burn out. A photographer might resolve to get ten more clients. They cold call 20 businesses, receive no responses and give up on proactively seeking clients entirely – thinking that obviously word of mouth is the only path to new clients. And when this resolution is one of many, it becomes very easy to overload yourself and stop trying at all.

Just because New Year’s Day is seen as momentous, doesn’t mean that your goals need to be Herculean.

Fortunately, these two issues are very easy to work around. You can still set your massive goals for the year as it’s worth it if you can succeed. And in order to succeed, you need to then really examine your goals. It’s impossible to achieve a goal without accomplishing many smaller tasks. Completing the journey of achievement requires that you spend time chipping away at these mini goals. Think about your overarching goal, and then examine all the steps you must take to reach it. Break these steps down further still if necessary, so that everything is as basic as you can make it. Want to get ten more clients? A possible step might be to cold call one business. Just one. That’s not daunting at all and won’t burn anyone out. If it doesn’t work, try another tactic and see if that works. Maybe emailing, or trying to find a contact who can set up a meeting. But one cold call isn’t so hard, and maybe you can repeat that whenever you have some time to kill and see if you get lucky.

This wind farm was started with a single turbine.
This wind farm was started with a single turbine.

When you break things up into easily manageable sections, you remove the fear that comes with confronting a massive goal. It’s no longer monumental, and working towards it becomes habit. Maybe you find that cold calling one person was so easy that you did it again every day, then twice a day. It slowly entered your schedule in a way that didn’t cause you to become overwhelmed, it allowed you to make it a habit. We don’t think about brushing our teeth or getting dressed; it’s just something that our body does automatically. We don’t worry about how much time it will take – we just do it. Any goal can be broken into small tasks that are just as simple to perform.

[REWIND: Need ideas? 8 Things Every Photographer Should Do In The New Year]

Now that you’ve realized that your biggest goals are no more than a series of micro-achievements, stop procrastinating. You know what you need to do, so start now. We can remember the past, and we can dream of the future, but we can only act in the present. If you wait until New Year’s Day, or some other random time, you’re only hurting your chances of success. Start now, and make working toward your goals a habit. A small change made today is worth far more than the big change planned for tomorrow.

What goals do you have, and how can you start working towards them right now? Feel free to share in the comments!