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January 02
Ten Ways to Make 2014 a Better Year

It’s that time of year again. Where every blogger in the world has to write some sort of end of the year summary post talking about all their past achievements and hopes and dreams for the future… I could spend a dozen sentences talking about my multiple successes and and probably twice that recounting my failures, talking about the mountains I climbed and the holes I dug for myself. Maybe I would summarize it all if I lived a more interesting life, but I’ll spare you the details. Although I would like to thank everyone for being a part of my 2013 and hope that 2014 is a blessed year for you all.


Rather than explain why 2013 was so great, or why it was so bad, I decided to put together my own little wish list for ten ways I’d like to grow and hopefully make 2014 a better year for me and those around me. As I look back and think about all the issues from last year, it helps to look at them as opportunities to change myself to be a better person both professionally and personally.


And what better way to keep me accountable than to put them in writing. Who knows… maybe there’s something here for everyone. I’ll try and keep the cliché’s and cheesy comments to a minimum… but no promises.


To that end, below are ten ways you can make 2014 a better year for those who have to live and work with you. I’m going to say “you” from here on out instead of “me” because I don’t have to feel guilty typing it out, but please know while I’ve got one finger pointed at you there are three squarely pointed back in my direction.


10. Communicate better

Poor communication affects every aspect of your life both personal and professional. Nothing will frustrate others more than someone who cannot communicate effectively.

Make every effort to be a better communicator in 2014. Respond to that email as quickly as possible even if it’s to say “I’ll get to this later”.  Acknowledge people. Don’t assume as much. Also, DON’T over communicate. People are busy. If you just said something in 4 paragraphs that could be said in two sentences, then you just failed at communication.


My biggest flaw here is that I hate to send emails on my phone, but I read most of my emails on my phone. So, if I get an email when I’m away from my computer asking for a response, I’ll mean to respond later.. and many times I won’t because I just completely forget about it. That’s bad. I need to change that. I will change that. 


9. Add more value / Create less noise

In 2014 make an effort to add more value. Does the world really need another bacon post? (yes) Do we need to know that SharePoint Designer is still free (no). How do you know if you are adding noise? If you are the first person to blog about it then you are adding value, if you are the 20th you are probably adding noise. In 2014 be diligent in your offerings. Are you giving any new insights or just rehashing what has be said over and over and over again?


I get it. Everyone wants to have a voice and everyone wants to be heard.. but do you really want to be the modern day version of the boy who cried wolf? If 90% of what you do is adding noise, who’s going to listen when you finally do have an original thought?


8. Invest personal time in professional growth

Newsflash, you don’t know it all. You’ll never know it all, and just when you think you’re at the top of your game, the game changes. Unless you are the best time manager in the world or have a lifestyle that allows you to work part time, it is impossible to stay on top of the ever changing technological landscape in a normal forty hour work week. Suck it up and invest some personal time. How many times can you watch the same episode of Modern Family anyway?


In 2014, read more books that will help you grow in your chosen profession. Read more blogs from the real experts who know what they are talking about. TRY more things before asking the question. Get your hands dirty and figure out “why”, not just “how”.  Make an effort to stay on top of trends and actively look for what’s next. If you really want to be heard, no one is heard louder than the one leading the charge.


7. Devote more time to side projects

I’m going to make it a goal to see at least one large scale side project through to fruition. Maybe it will be finally “appifying” my InfoPath forms replacement tool Forms7. Maybe it will be expanding the back deck so we can have a better outdoor experience. Maybe it will even be finally getting my blog converted over to WordPress. I have so many side projects!! The sense of accomplishment and relief from completing just one of those will give me the extra boost I need to carry on the the drudgery of the other tasks that I really have no choice but to do at some point.


For me, nothing helps that feeling of being burnt out quite like actually getting something done. complete. marked off the list. So, suck it up. Identify a side project you’ve been meaning to work on. Swing for the fences. Devote 4 hours a week, or maybe one Saturday a month to it and see what you can create and let yourself enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.


6. Listen better

One of my FAVORITE quotes of all time is “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”. I think Abe Lincoln got it right. How often do I feel the need to get a word in, speed up the conversation, or yadda yadda yadda may way to getting MY point across.


In my zeal to get my two cents in, how many times did I miss the whole point of the conversation? Stop it! It’s frustrating, condescending, and disrespectful.  Before you open your mouth, send that hasty email, or pick up the phone to tell people how YOU would do it, take a second to stop and think.  Am I helping or just trying to make myself look smart? If it’s not helpful, why say it? 


Plus, when you take the time to actually listen, you’ll gain this skill called empathy. You’ll be able to better understand where the person is coming from. You will begin to solve the real problems and not just the symptoms.


5. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it

Let me be clear here. Innovation is essential to pushing boundaries and creating the new and exciting “what’s next”. Without innovation would we have ever had the iPhone? Or the really big iPhone that doesn’t make phone calls? Just take a look a those who dared to reinvent the wheel :


The Copenhagen Wheel.


However, don’t make someone else unknowingly pay for your desire to innovate. I don’t care what new technology you learned about last week, or that new fangled blog post you came across. Just because you found a new way to reinvent the wheel doesn’t mean you SHOULD… right now… with THIS project… which has been scoped and estimated with deadlines and commitments.


If you are a consultant or someone is paying you for your time, then I think it’s wrong to bill people for “innovation” when there is something already there that meets their needs. InfoPath is my glaring example here. I loathe all things InfoPath. I think it’s a clunky, cumbersome piece of garbage with one foot in the grave. But if I have a client that has an InfoPath form that they need migrated to Office 365 then who am I to bill them to recreate it in a “better” technology?


Oftentimes there are reasons to innovate, to spend the extra time and money for the pay off in the future. Make sure you clearly COMMUNICATE this to those footing the bill and LISTEN to their needs first. Innovation can sometimes wait for Phase II.


4. Think about the big picture more

Here’s more common sense. Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff. This one should have major impact on your professional AND personal life. When tackling challenges it really helps to keep the big picture in mind. What is the end goal? What will determine success? How do my current obstacles impact that success??


If that current annoying email, pesky naysayer, or technical detail do not impact your end result or success, WHY oh WHY do I let it bother me? Why waste resources and precious time on things you have no control over which have little to no impact on the big picture?  I’m actually pretty good at this one most of the time in my professional life… most of the time… In my personal life? hmmm… what’s that I’m feeling? oh yeah… conviction…


In ALL things in work, family, heck.. in life do your best to stop and think about how any current circumstance impacts the big picture, the final result. If it doesn’t impact the big picture, let it go. It doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, if it’s not going to solve anything just let go of the bone… If there is an impact, then place the CORRECT priority on it and address it accordingly with effective COMMUNICATION and LISTENING. :)

3. Disconnect more often

To quote Dan Hicks (who I didn’t know was the originator of the song until I did a quick search)… “How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?”


For me, the same rings true with work and technology. Has anyone else felt a constant state of burnout during the last year? How can you not feel burnt out when you are always plugged in, always checking your phone, always being bombarded with information. It makes me tired just to think about it. Now more than ever, I need to unplug, reenergize… I need to give myself a chance to miss the technology instead of being burdened by it. Luckily for me, because of where I live it’s easy to disconnect IF I can make myself do it.


In the next year I hope to go fishing more, kayak when the river is up, take the four wheelers out for quick ride, and spend more time with my family and less time in front of electronic devices. In 2014, find out what reenergizes you and make an effort to unplug more often.


2. Less social networking

Don’t get me wrong.. I’m not saying to not use social networks. I’m saying use them more effectively in 2014 to do your job better.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer, and other random SharePoint Communities are popping up all over the place and do you know the #1 thing they create??

NOISE… with the growing number of outlets and community members there are more and more ways to make noise and more and more people willing to make noise to try and be noticed. You can get sucked into this noise if you aren’t careful and before you know it you’ve spent the day reading garbage that did nothing to help you achieve your goals or educate you in any way.


So, promise yourself  to not get trapped in the time sinks, checking to see how many people liked your photo, commented on your status and/or mention the word bacon. It’s harder to get the benefit out of social networking than it used to be, but if you can stop being distracted and stay on point, they are still very valuable tools.


1. Make more lists

I know a lot of people are list makers by nature. I’m not one of those people, and I suffer for it.  Confession time, I’m NOT an organized guy and as I have more and more tasks and responsibilities I start dropping balls.  What is the status of that task? Who am I waiting to hear from? What’s my next event? Wait, was it my turn to pick the kids up? It’s truly frustrating. The few times I’ve sat down and made a list it really helped me. I didn’t have to remember because it was written down, and physically writing it down helped me remember!  Plus, is there anything more satisfying that sliding your pen across a task to cross it out?


Only, I never stick with it.. I slide back into my old habits. The unread/unfiled emails. That “thing” I can never seem to get to. That event I didn’t make time for. That bill I didn’t pay on time. That expense report that lingered. The blog post that never got finished. The bug that never got fixed. The sponsor I need to contact. They gift card that’s about to expire. Those requirements that I haven’t typed up. You get the picture.


This year, 2014,  I WILL make more lists. I’ll create lists to stay organized and stay prioritized. I’ll create reminders to communicate and listen better. I’ll force myself to disconnect more often and finish a side project or two. I’ll dive deeper into technologies and add new value and insights. I’ll focus on the big picture and ignore the noise.  I’ll  take my own advice and make 2014 the best year yet.


I hope you do too! 


Make more lists!

Yes I will make more lists but I will also make better lists that more granular.   Nothing more depressing than having a list entry like clean the basement instead of having it decomposed into more easily manageable tasks.

Fully agree on the social media - it's a time sink that leads to noise that otherwise could be more productive. 
 on 1/2/2014 8:18 AM

Congrats on your first list

Congrats Mark on your First List - for your next side project can you please connect your son's school and x-box over O365 like you promised!

Happy New Year.
 on 1/2/2014 10:27 AM

Awesome post

Hey Mark,

Great blog post, 80-90% of this resonates with me so if you don't mind I'll steal from your list ;-)

 on 1/2/2014 3:21 PM

Steal away!

Glad you found it useful!  :)

Happy New Year!
EMS\markrackleyNo presence information on 1/2/2014 3:33 PM

SharePoint Architect, Developer, Blogger, Speaker, Author, and general pain in the butt.
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