I am not a big fan of “New Year’s Eve.”

Here in North America, it’s cold, dark, and we’ve had quite enough of forced frivolity, (thank you very much). However, it does offer one advantage: it’s the only time of year you actually get an occasional chance to breathe.

Customers don’t answer the phone, half your team is either on holiday (or acting like they are) and for one brief shining moment, you are not losing your mind.

Take advantage of that quiet time to do something you usually don’t have the time to do: breathe and think.

Specifically, ask yourself the leadership questions you’re either too busy to ask or too frightened to contemplate when you’re putting out fires and responding to requests. This can be mildly uncomfortable at first, as it doesn’t look like you’re working (the line between contemplation and staring blankly at your desk in a seemingly catatonic state may be hard to distinguish for some of your co-workers. You’re fine.) The fact is, this may be one of the most important times you spend this year.

Specifically, ask these four leadership questions for the New Year—in this order–and just listen to the answers you give yourself:

1. What did you and your team do well this year? This may or may not reflect in your metrics. If you missed your target it’s easy to say, “nothing.” It’s not true. It may be something intangible, such as when you pulled together to solve that customer issue or troubleshoot an issue.

2. What did we NOT do as well as we’d like? Notice that this doesn’t ask what went wrong—often the chance to improve things doesn’t mean what you’re doing was a failure, it just means it could be better than it is. Don’t dwell on mistakes, look for opportunities.

3. What did you personally do well this year? Did you improve as a coach? Did you manage to learn to use Skype for Business better? How did it positively impact your team and your work? Don’t slide over this one to get to your failures. This kind of introspection can turn dark in a hurry for many of us who are perfectionists or “type As”. Give yourself a mental reward.

4. What’s the one thing you’d change if you could? Notice we’re not asking if it’s possible (although it might be with a little thought and effort). But what if…(insert question marks here.) This is where big plans get hatched, tough questions get answered (like, “why isn’t it possible?”), and the productive conversations come in.

These are also great questions to ask the people on your team during your one-on-one conversations. Not as part of a performance review (which is stressful enough, thank you very much), but as a non-threatening conversation. You’d be surprised at what you learn.

This time of year can seem stressful and unproductive. Taking time to recognize success, identify areas to improve (which is different than “resolutions”) and identify “important but not urgent” action items can help get next year off to a great start.

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