I am a fan of New Year’s resolutions. It was in the beginning of a new year that I stopped adding sugar to my coffee, finding new flavours in one of my favourite beverages. In another new year I started using the GTD methodology for the organization of my personal life. It was also in the transition from 2007 to 2008 that I started this blog.

These resolutions can be viewed has opportunities to change or introduce new habits that usually correspond to a break in the daily routine. The transition period until the internalization of the new habit can be long and it is often difficult to maintain one’s determination. The New Year is a good opportunity to start this period, given the energy and emotional recharge of the Christmas period and the provision for change associated with the start of something new. In my case, the end of holiday resolutions work equally well.

In one of the blogs that I regularly read, Cal Newport sets three rules for resolutions that stick:

  1. The resolution must be to follow a system, not achieve a goal. For example, the resolution should not be to keep the e-mail inbox empty, but to starting using a system to handle the e-mail: never open the mail right in the beginning of each working day, reserve a some time in the morning and in the afternoon to process all messages received and apply to each message one of the 5 verbs of the “Inbox Zero” system (delete/archive, delegate, respond, and do differ).
  2. The resolution should include an exception policy. In the previous example, if an e-mail processing session is missed, the following session must be extended. It is also good to have a mechanism to re-boot the system for more serious cases of prevarication (declare “e-mail bankruptcy“, for example).
  3. The resolution must respect the rule of three. There are a limited number of things that we change at the same time. We should limit the simultaneous change of habits to a maximum of 3. We should only commit to a new change after the new habit is well internalized. Even if it takes more than one year.

Personally I would add one more rule: The resolution must be written or shared with someone else. Besides helping maintaining the commitment, in the following year we can know whether if the trouble of taking new resolutions is worthwhile.