Skip to content

Five top tips to project manage your New Year’s resolutions

Added to your CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Only APM members have access to CPD features Become a member Already added to CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Added to your Saved Content Go to my Saved Content
Gettyimages 1357880802

Around two-thirds of Britons will make a New Year’s resolution, and the habit is almost as common in other parts of the Western world.

It’s most popular among the young and urban. According to research by, in 2024 97% of Gen Z will make a resolution, and 79% of Londoners — well above the average.

So where will we be focusing our project management efforts on 1 January? From a YouGov survey in 2022, we learn the most popular commitments in the UK are: improving fitness (53%), losing weight (43%), improving diet (43%), saving more (41%) and pursuing career ambition (20%).

The interesting thing is how many of these are actual shifts to a new ‘business as usual’ for your day-to-day life. Targeting a 10kg weight reduction is clearly a project; but unless the BAU case is ‘improved diet and exercise’ it might prove to have been pointless. Another reminder that projects work in organisational contexts — and we ignore those contexts at our peril if we want the projects to have made a lasting difference.

80% failure rate

The roots of annual resolutions date back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians, and for centuries the focus was on reaffirming loyalty to leaders, vowing good deeds to various gods or (in the medieval world) recommitting to codes of chivalry. Today’s resolutions are more likely to focus on health, wealth and personal happiness.

But the stats contain bad news: a survey by fitness app Strava reckons half of those who have made resolutions have failed by 19 January and 80% are done by the second week of February. YouGov’s more optimistic take suggests 28% of Britons managed to keep all their resolutions in 2022. Meanwhile Forbes’s data claims only 7% hold resolutions for the whole year.

So, to help keep your resolutions on track in 2024, here are five top tips straight from the project management playbook:

1. SMART goals

The biggie: make your resolution specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. According to Professor Pragya Agarwal at Loughborough University, bad resolutions (like bad projects) “focus on immeasurable qualities such as being healthier, happier (without defining what that means) or earning more money (without coming up with an amount or plan)”. Resolution projects that align with broader life strategies, too, are more likely to sustain.

2. Stage gates

These work in project management because they help manage dependency risk and break up larger projects into winnable chunks. The same applies to resolutions. ‘Lose 15kg’ might not look SMART — but ‘be 1.5kg lighter across the first five days of February’ gives you a chance to celebrate, reflect on what worked and plan your tactics for the next stage gate.

3. Fight bias

Projects involve change, and a huge barrier to their success is the existing biases within an organisation. In her article, Professor Agarwal characterises this problem as a series of cognitive biases — especially ‘status quo bias’, which stops us dropping old (bad) habits and adopting new (good) ones.

4. Project purpose

Project leaders sweat ‘the vision thing’ because it creates a North Star for project team members and builds sponsor trust. But resolutions often lack a clear function. ‘Lose weight’ isn’t only vague (see point one) but doesn’t include an identifiable mission — in other words, a goal that weight loss could facilitate, such as ‘playing with the kids more’.

5. Celebrate wins

How often have you sat down for a project ‘lessons learned’ report and just re-litigated all the problems and mistakes? How does that make you feel? Bad emotions are just more interesting. It’s called negativity bias and it means when we backslide on a resolution it dominates our self-image. By celebrating every positive step (another £50 in the savings jar, another day without a hangover) in the same way we pick out excellence in project performance, we feel confident about change — and making it stick for ‘business as usual’.


You may also be interested in:


Join the conversation!

Log in to post a comment, or create an account if you don't have one already.