I gave up making New Year’s resolutions years ago.

I’m more of a make-a-goal-when-you-need-a-goal person.

But on New Year’s Day 2020 I got drawn in by Tara Parker Pope’s “7-Day Sugar Challenge” in The New York Times.

Pope almost lost me on Day 1 with her admonition to avoid grains at breakfast.

I’ve eaten steel cut oats for breakfast almost every day for years. They’re delicious, cheap, healthy, and easy to make.

Plus, I LOVE them. Don’t even try to take my steel cut oats away. Not happening.

Day 3 advised ditching fruit juice for actual fruit. My breakfast habit included a six-ounce glass of orange juice alongside my oatmeal.

Since the oats were nonnegotiable, I decided to try substituting a clementine for the orange juice. The clementine was just as refreshing but had more fiber and half the sugar and calories.

A year later, I’m still enjoying the clementines. I’ve not touched a drop of juice. And I’ve lost three pounds. (Please don’t hate me.)

Little did I know that switch would stand as one of my major accomplishments of 2020.

Is 2020 Over Yet?

I’m asking because I’m not entirely sure.

There have been several days this month when I’ve wondered if the actual date was December 31 + insert-purported-day-of-2021 here.

Like January 13, aka December 44th, when my town officials issued a boil-water order because they thought they’d found E. coli in the water supply. We drank and washed with only boiled or bottled water until the order was lifted two days later.

Or like January 17, aka December 48th, when instead of allowing me to deposit a check, my bank’s ATM ate my card.

I’m not asking for pity here. I’m laughing. Well, I’m laughing now.

But seriously, we were all looking forward to the start of 2021 to put 2020 behind us.

I’ve yet to feel like 2020 is behind me.

In December, I spoke to so many friends and colleagues who felt burned out.

People who had relied on conferences, speaking engagements, vacations, theatre performances, sporting events, family gatherings, and other activities to regulate their office time pre-pandemic.

Without those, and with the office now at home, they didn’t leave. They kept working. At night. On weekends.

Pile the challenges of figuring out how to conduct business during a pandemic on that, with kids learning from home, and spouses working from makeshift home offices at the other end of the dining room table from yours, and you have a pressure cooker.

We were all fried. Several friends took vacations at the end of the year not because they had planned to, but because they were drained. One good friend planned an emergency vacation for the entire month of January.

Limping into 2021

When the new year came, many of us were relieved but not recharged.

The calendar year page turned, but the usual New Year’s reset and accompanying energy boost were missing.

The weight of knowing our pandemic precautions need to go on at least into the summer, coupled with no real break, has us limping into 2021.

If you are a member of the limp squad too, you are not alone.

We have tons of company.

As my friend Jill mentioned recently, a frequent response to “how are you?” has become “hanging in there.”

In May 2020, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported that 41 percent of employees felt burned out.

By mid-August, that number had climbed to 58 percent.

And while I could not find more recent research, a Google search for “employee burnout pandemic” yielded 2,350,000 results.

How You Can Have a Better Year

When I sat down on January 4 to do my goal setting for 2021, I had the same thought as the first five times I tried to write this newsletter:  I got nothing.

That’s how I knew 2020 was continuing to infringe on my 2021.

And once I knew, my reaction was the same as Tara Parker Pope telling me not to eat steel cut oats: not happening!

Things began to improve then. With self-care.

With acknowledging how much I miss people. Family. Friends.

I miss coffee shops, conferences, and carefree, spontaneous outings.

All that missing is baggage I’ve carried since last March. I realized I need to lighten the load going forward until I can shed that baggage.

Starting from a lighten-the-load mentality runs counter to my usual New Year’s modus operandi. Maybe it runs counter for you too?

Since lightening my load and expectations, I’ve had more energy and have been more productive in the time I spend working.

Here’s how you can have a better 2021 starting now too:

  • Assess how you feel. Be honest with yourself. Your levels of energy, enthusiasm, and well-being, or lack thereof will help you determine how much to take on. The year is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Pare your New Year’s resolutions to one, if any. You may be feeling failure already. Don’t beat yourself up. Choose one bite-size resolution to focus on and give yourself time to adopt the habit, or forgo it entirely.
  • Be deliberate about how you spend your time. Find joy by connecting with friends or doing something you love every day.
  • Make your health a priority. Eat well, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep. Manage stress by allowing your mind downtime through meditation, watching TV or a movie, commiserating with a friend, reading, writing in a journal. Find what works for you.
  • Establish time boundaries to prevent work from seeping into your nights and weekends.
  • Block vacation time in advance, and honor those breaks. Many people skipped vacations last year because travel was curtailed. Time off is even more valuable and perspective-giving in this environment. Schedule time to recharge so you can lead from a place of health, and avoid grinding to a halt.

This advice may seem basic to you. It is. But ask yourself – did you follow it last year?

Like the advice during pre-flight safety presentations (remember flying on planes?), we need to get ourselves secured before we can help our brands.

Brand leaders need to be healthy, willing, and able to lead for their brands to thrive.

How Your Brand Can Have a Better Year

Your brand performs as well as its team members perform.

Knowing how widespread burnout is, there is a high likelihood a significant portion of your team is feeling it.

Once you have positioned yourself to have a better 2021 above, help your team do that too:

  • Make it safe for employees to say they feel burned out. If you’ve felt burned out, talking about your experience may make it easier for others to come forward. Or consider distributing this helpful Harvard Business Review (HBR) article to managers and this HBR article to employees to start the conversation. Not having the conversation doesn’t mean employee burnout isn’t taking a toll on your brand’s performance. It just perpetuates an unhealthy environment.
  • Do not penalize, ridicule or blame an employee for acknowledging they are burned out. Be compassionate, and insist your team members show compassion too.
  • Ensure employees have time to work. If employees are required to be on Zoom meetings all day, they don’t have time to actually work. Consider putting parameters around meeting times and lengths. Scrutinize whether each meeting is necessary. In this Fast Company article, John Lacy, President and COO of Idea Grove, described how instituting work, meeting, and communication guidelines reduced stress and frustration and increased work quality and efficiency.
  • Ensure employees have time to NOT work. Set work guidelines that protect off hours, days off, and vacations.

Given that our current pandemic precautions are likely to last for most of this year, it is important that we take care of ourselves, our co-workers, and by extension, our brands.

The New York Times reran Pope’s 7-Day Sugar Challenge this year. I smiled at the announcement and said to myself, “No thanks. I’m good.” I’m sticking with my steel cut oats, clementines, and frequent consumption of dark chocolate.

How are you starting 2021?

Teenage Wastebrand is Coming Soon!

In addition to switching from orange juice to clementines last year, I also finished editing and polishing my book manuscript. Having that project to focus on helped keep me sane. The title is Teenage Wastebrand: How Your Brand Can Stop Struggling and Start Scaling.

Teenage Wastebrand book coverI’m so excited to share with you the cover of the book!

Thank you to everyone who has raised their hand to be an early reviewer of my book! I will be sending out the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) PDF access to you early next week. You’ll be able to post your review when the book goes live on Amazon in March. I’ll let you know the specific date.

If you would like to be an early reviewer of my book and have not told me yet, please reply to this email and I’ll put you on the list to receive ARC access.

Thanks so much!

Scroll a little further for some Friday Fun.




Just for Fun

In the vein of not taking yourself too seriously this year, check out Toonme.com.

Toonme uses artificial intelligence to translate a photo of you into a cartoon. In fact, it will produce several versions. Here’s the best one of me:

I’m not sure how I got two different color eyes, but trust me, this beats the Simpsons-like version Toonme created.

Thanks to Jane Friedman for introducing Toonme.com in her Electric Speed newsletter, and to Anne Janzer for reminding me of it in her Writing Practices newsletter.

And if you’d like to laugh at 2020, check out this fabulous Match.com video (2 ½ minutes long). Instantly my favorite ad from last year. Hat tip to my friend Kristen for sending me the link. Thanks!


Top Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

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