Act Smart!: Five things to put in place NOW for a good next year

Cushy legacies and dumb luck aside, the future belongs to the prepared. Here's how to be one of them.

The year is almost over. You can look at this one of two ways: Oh, no! The year is almost over and I have not gotten close to everything done! Or, "Huzzah! The next year is a whole month away, and I can really get a jump on things.

Thing #1: One Big, Realistic, Work-Related Goal

Let me guess what you're thinking: "ONE? One goal is all I get? Ha! I'm going to get an agent, get my #3-on-the-call-sheet episodic payday, win my Emmy/Oscar/Indie, lose 50 lbs., quit smoking, start drinking and get hitched. SO THERE, OLD LADY WRITER."

I applaud your enthusiasm, and wish you the best. I have also been there, and as an old lady writer who has arguably accomplished much in spite of her focus issues, I would humbly suggest that scaling back might be to your advantage. My favorite goal-setting process manual, Your Best Year Yet, suggests 10 goals total, with a maximum of 2-3 work-related. I think you can fudge this a little in favor of forward motion by choosing interlocking goals (more on that next month), but really, for now pick ONE. Make sure it is SMART, especially the "A" part. Make the bar high, but not so high you set yourself up for failure. (Remember this is a goal you can achieve realistically in 12 months.)

Thing #2: One Fun Goal

For the love of all that's holy, please. PLEASE. You will be a happier, more successful actor if you also become a happier, more successful human being. And human beings need happiness. They do. So pick one thing that is just so FUN you cannot stand it, and make that a goal. Please. Learn guitar or how to tap dance. Get yourself to Paris or Kyoto. Save up for that iPad or Ducati or trip to Disneyland. But do it. One fun thing. For me, if not for you, okay?

Thing #3: A Master Plan

Ready for your 2011 motto? "Failing to plan is planning to fail." That's from John Wooden, who knew a thing or two about getting big stuff done. That means get stuff out of your head, down on paper, mapped out so you know how you're going to make it happen, and by when. Again, my favorite-of-favorites for this is Jinny Ditzler's book, but use what works for you. You may also want to check out previous columns I've written on the topic.

Thing #4: A Support Team

Agents and managers and publicists and personal stylists are all great in their way, but the people who will move you forward fastest are available to you right now, for no more than your own time, effort and insight. I've spoken before of the master mind group and the difference it can make in keeping you on track with your goals, not to mention keeping your spirits up and your quiver full of new and interesting ideas. You can read about them in Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich (free online version or regular book). But I can now also personally vouch for the efficacy of Barbara Scher's artistic twist on the MMG, "Success Team." She writes about it at much greater length than does Hill, and in more modern and friendly terms. Plus her book, Wishcraft, also contains a really great road map for discovering your truest-of-true goals. (Free PDF available online; book version here.)

Thing #5: A Healthy Attitude

None of the above four practices are going to last very long or work very well for you without the right mindset. If your default setting is "angry" or even "blue," consider doing some serious work on that before attempting other goals. One great way in is to start a "happiness project," as my friend (and NYT bestselling author!) Gretchen Rubin suggests. Her blog has a ton of great, free info and resources; her book, broken up into 12 chapters that describe her own happiness project, would make an excellent companion if you decide to make fixing yourself first your 2011 goal. Here's my review of it. (I loved it so much I even wrote a pre-review.)

And here's a little tip from a middle-aged self-development junkie: any practice (well, almost any) can get you where you want to go. You can do it with feng shui! You can do it by fixing up your apartment or walking every day or even with plain old gratitude. (And yes, I've read, used and can recommend all of those books, too. Remember: self-dev junkie.)

But if you keep running into the same problems over and over again, consider that the problem may be you, not the things you're running into. In that case, therapy or other professional help might be your best move. Good foundation, good house.

Thank you for a wonderful 2010, and I'll see you next year!