A belated Happy New Year to you! I know that we are already in the middle of January, but perhaps some of us are still trying to figure out the resolutions or goals that we would like to accomplish this year. Well, if you would like some help or inspiration, here are some suggestions:
1. Be a Better Project Manager
Are you currently managing projects? If so, perhaps one of your resolutions can be to become a better project manager. I highly recommend Project Management for Planners: A Practical Guide (2002) by Terry A. Clark. This book is not new and has been around for over ten years, but I only discovered it a couple of years ago. I find it so helpful that I listed it as one of the items in my article Presents for Plannerds. Essentially, the book offers professional planners the practical tools and advice on how to be successful project managers. In case you are wondering, project management is defined by the book simply as a “method of organizing information and focusing people towards delivering a product.” You may also be thinking: what is the big deal and why would I need to read a book on the topic? After all, don’t all planners naturally know how to manage projects well? Aren’t we all forward-thinking and know intuitively how to complete projects within budget and on time? My answers to these questions are “no” because I have come to realize that even though I have been a planner for over 15 years, I still have much to learn about how to manage a project or projects well. If you would like to know more about the book, please read this article.
2. Improve Your Writing
As planners, many of us review and/or write a variety of planning documents daily. While some may dread these tasks, I actually enjoy them. It is no secret that I am a “plannerd” who is passionate about urban planning, and that I love reading and writing about a broad range of planning issues. However, even if you do not like to write or struggle in this area, I think you would have to agree that writing is a key part of our job and we must do it well. In my opinion, two of the biggest ongoing challenges for planners are communicating clearly with the public and maintaining interest on important planning issues. One way to tackle these challenges is to prepare thoughtful and articulate plans or reports that not only reflect the input of our constituents, but are also easy to read and understand. If you would like some writing tips for planners, please read this article.
3. Travel More
Do you like to travel? Do you enjoy visiting different cities and countries around the world? Do you want to travel more this year? As I shared previously in Exploring and Observing: Fun City Tours, I believe that traveling is an absolute-must for planners. It is very important for us to see other cities and countries, and observe how they are and how they function. This is because there are always lessons to be learned, there is nothing like seeing new and different places, and there are opportunities to be inspired and encouraged. If you need some help deciding on a destination, you may consider going to a travel fair or show. A few years ago, I went to the L.A. Times Travel Show for the first time and really enjoyed it (see this article).
4. Work Better with Consultants
Is working with planning consultants one of your key responsibilities at the office? Do you want to know how to work more effectively with consultants this year? If yes, I want to recommend the book Working with Planning Consultants (2013) to you. The author, Eric Damian Kelly, is an experienced city planner and attorney who is a professor of urban planning at Ball State University and a vice president of Duncan Associates, a planning firm based in Austin, Texas. His book covers topics such as: should we hire a consultant; what should be the process of selecting a consultant; what the RFP (request for proposal) should include; what are the legal considerations and insurance requirements of working with consultants; and how to manage a project. If you would like to learn more about the book, please read this article.
5. Attend a Conference
For those of you who follow my writing, you must know by now that I am a big fan of conferences. As I explained in Rest for the Weary Planner, I see conferences as opportunities to learn, grow, network, and be encouraged. I always return to work from conferences feeling refreshed and more prepared to take on the work that awaits me. If you decide to make attending a conference one of your goals or priorities for the year, you may want to see my list of suggested events in Looking Ahead to 2016: Events for Planners. The list may also be of interest to architects and landscape architects.
6. Read More
As a parent, it is hard to find the quiet time and space to just read. However, I must say that whenever I have been able to sit down and read a book, I have enjoyed it immensely. Obviously, we all have our own preferences on what to read. Some may prefer to read novels that have absolutely nothing to do with urban planning. For suggestions, you may want to consult the lists of bestsellers provided by The New York Times or L.A. Times. For others, it may be helpful to read some resource books that help us deal or cope with the different assignments or situations we face at work. For example, I recently read two books which made me feel better about how I am handling things at work and also offered me guidance on issues that I lacked experience in (see my book reviews: Working with Planning Consultants and Project Management for Planners). A book that I would like to recommend, especially for newer planners, is A Career Worth Planning (2000) which offers practical advice on how to start and develop one’s planning career.
7. Exercise More
This is perhaps the most popular resolution for planners and non-planners alike. Nowadays, many people immediately think of private gyms like LA Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness as the most effective and/or popular places to get fit. But as we all know, gym membership is not cheap and not everyone can afford it. As part of my research as a doctoral student and my work as a park planner, I have learned that the median household incomes in a number of urban unincorporated communities (like Florence-Firestone, Lennox, East Los Angeles, and Willowbrook) in Los Angeles County are well below the countywide median ($55,909 in 2013). This suggests that many residents are more likely to rely on free or lower-cost options for recreation and exercise because they simply have little or no money to spend on amenities and programs offered by private recreational facilities. If you live in the Los Angeles area, you may be interested in this article which describes free or more affordable options like Fitness Zones at parks, multi-use trails, the city itself, and the Y. Also, if you are looking for an app to help you keep track of your level of physical activity, you may want to check out “Human” which I discussed in this article.
8. Be More Thankful
Another idea for a resolution is simply to be more thankful. Basically, being thankful helps us to be more positive and not take people and things for granted. We certainly do not need to wait until Thanksgiving to consider all that is good and right in our lives. I previously talked about eight things that I am thankful for in my article What is this Planner Thankful For: my job/career, our constituents, public transit, GIS, data, the rise of planning in popular culture, healthy design and planning, and family and friends.
9. Find Time to Rest
Are you a workaholic? Do you work too hard or too much and have a hard time resting or taking it easy? Self-care is important and we as planners must find ways to relax, refresh ourselves, or recover strength. After all, even though Business Insider listed urban and regional planners as one of the top “15 High-Paying Jobs for People Who Don’t Like Stress,” those of us who work as professional planners know firsthand how stressful and challenging our work can be. Let’s face it: it is not easy nor fun dealing with residents who are angry with you over a plan or project that you are working on, responding to letters of opposition to a plan or project that are based on preconceived ideas or rumors, compiling documents and correspondence to comply with Public Records Act requests for information, and/or handling threats of litigation from developers, community residents, and/or environmental groups. If you are a weary planner, you may want to read this article. Specifically, I hope it gives you some practical ideas on how to refresh or recharge yourself, or at least offers you some encouragement knowing that you are not alone in the stressful situations or struggles you face as a planner.
10. Share Your Knowledge and Experience
You may be thinking: if I am already tired and worn out, why would I want to take on any responsibility outside of my job? Well, speaking from my own experience, I have found mentoring and guest speaking to be very rewarding and beneficial. I am far from being a great mentor or speaker, but I always enjoy interacting with students because they are so curious and eager to learn. I have been asked questions that really challenged me to think and re-think about the specific work that I do and even current planning practices in general. If you are offered an opportunity to mentor, be a guest lecturer, or speak at a career workshop/fair at your alma mater (or other schools) this year, I encourage you to seriously consider it because it just may refresh and re-energize you to be in the presence of the next generation of planners or public administrators. I previously wrote about my experience as a guest speaker and the lessons I learned; read my article Teaching Planning and Policy: a First-Timer’s Perspective if you are interested.
Note: Image by author.