Each day, I scurry around town trying to enjoy the festiveness I'm supposed to be experiencing while I check stuff off my to-do list. A good day is when I get to at least five items. I decided this week to approach the end of year craziness with some strategy. What are the things I should make priorities? I came up with 10 action steps that will better position you and me for work-life balance, career success and financial wellness in 2014.
• Get to the doctor. Even if you’re not sick, you might want to visit your doctor in December. Most healthcare flexible spending accounts mandate that the money you contribute be spent before year’s end or you forfeit whatever remains. Don’t let that money go to waste. It can be used tax-free for contact lenses and glasses, prescription drugs, co-pays for health services. Another reason to scramble for a doctor’s appointment: With some insurance policies, the plan year ends on Dec. 31. If you have met your deductible, you will want to get your medical visits or procedures completed while your insurer picks up the tab.
• Assess time off. By now, you know whether you have neglected to take time to rest and relax in 2013. If you’ve left some of your earned time off on the company clock, you’re not alone. The Society for Human Resource Management found employees at 61 percent of its member organizations had an average of three or more unused vacation days each year. Lisa Orndorff, SHRM’s manager of employee relations, said managers should encourage their people to use their leave and take a break from the work, even if it’s just a day or two every few months. If possible, use December to take your remaining days off and study the 2014 calendar to schedule vacation days now for next year.
• Network into the new year. Get into the right frame of mind, and the holiday season is rich with networking opportunities. Industry open houses, holiday gatherings and even friends’ holiday parties are an opportunity to make connections. “You never know where your best friend’s cousin works or who he knows,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert for TheLadders, an online job-matching service for professionals. Job hunters often think that December is a dead month, but that’s not the case; more people are hired in December and January than any other months, according to CareerBuilder.com, an online employment website. Networking isn’t limited to parties. “The holidays are a great excuse to reconnect with a recruiter or future customer by email or a handwritten card,” Augustine says. “You don’t need to fabricate a reason. Take this time to send a holiday greeting or end-of-year wish for a great new year. It’s an opportunity to put yourself back on the front burner.”
• Max out contributions. While you’re busy buying gifts, remember that the biggest gift you can give yourself is a comfortable retirement. Joseph L. Saka, director in charge of the Tax Services practice of accounting firm Berkowitz Pollack Brant in Miami, suggests you use the year end to max out your annual contributions to retirement plans such as 401(k)s and IRAs. “By contributing to your retirement plans, you not only save for the future, you also reduce your taxable income,” he said.
• Close a deal. In business, deal-making heats up right about now, so get in the game. David Wells, shareholder in the corporate department of law firm Greenberg Traurig in Miami, explains some of the reasons for the end-of-year scramble. First, people often are more cooperative in early and mid-December in anticipation that activity will slow when people take time off. Another motivation is tax implications. If you’re selling a business or asset, you may want to recognize a loss or gain on the sale in 2013, depending on your tax position. Lastly, if your company awards bonuses or assesses you on performance for the calendar year, your motivation to close the deal could be driven by compensation. “All these factors may motivate people to devote the energy to get transactions done,” Wells said.
• Position yourself. Now’s the time to evaluate your next career move. Casandra Roache, a Fort Lauderdale life coach and founder of InspireMany.com, suggests having a conversation with your supervisor about moving up the ladder. “If there is no next step, maybe it’s time to look for a new job. If there is one, establish a guideline for what you need to do to achieve it.” If you are the business owner rather than employee, set business goals now to be ready for January. “If you want to earn $20,000 more, that could mean an extra 10 clients or a higher price point,” Roache says. Also, December can be an ideal time to negotiate a raise as companies set new budgets for 2014. “Look at your current job description and put in writing what you have done above that job description. You want real results that you can have a conversation about,” she says.
• Clean out email. Declare email bankruptcy or move all email to an archive and start fresh for 2014, suggests Shani Magosky, a business/productivity coach with Vitesse Consulting in Fort Lauderdale. “I’ve seen executives so distracted by minutiae, especially their email, that they are not fully present mentally and emotionally.” She says to only touch an email message once: Delete it, file it in folders or turn it into a task. “Usually those emails that linger require action. That’s how people end up using email as to-do lists instead of as a repository for communication.”
• Review social media and email marketing strategies. If you don’t know what online marketing efforts are working for you, now’s your chance to figure it out. Alex de Carvalho, South Florida regional development director for Constant Contact, suggests offering a holiday or end-of-year promotion to one set of customers and a different one to another set. “That can give you clues on how to take it forward next year.” For anyone active on social media, it’s a good time to craft an editorial calendar for 2014, he says. Quarterly objectives and seasonality should drive customer interactions, such as what you tweet about or promotions you include in your email marketing campaigns.
• Be charitable. If you’ve been meaning to contribute time or money to a good cause, get to it. For many charities, end-of-year fundraising is the difference between a successful year and financial hard times, and it might be your opportunity for a 2013 tax deduction. Experts suggest you give to charities that have the biggest impact on making change. To motivate kids to be charitable, pick a cause that has meaning to them and fit volunteer time into your holiday schedule, or clean closets and donate clothing and toys for which they no longer have use.
• Break a bad habit. Use December to figure out what held you back from achieving work-life balance. Did you work on weekends or spend your evenings toiling at your computer? Magosky suggests taking time to understand why you want to change a habit and what is at stake if you don’t change it. The next step is narrowing the focus of what you want to change to one actionable task, such as leaving work one day a week by 5 p.m. Then, figure out a way to keep that intention at the top of your mind and identify someone who will hold you accountable. It takes about 21 days for a new habit to take hold.
If there's something you think I should add to my list, please let me know!