Good riddance, 2020!

This year brought dramatic changes to the labor market and how we work. And if it’s left you feeling like all you did was tread water at work, let’s make 2021 the year you reignite your career.

While 2020 was horrific, we shouldn’t completely disregard the lessons it taught us about how we prefer to work, advised Tracy Timm, author of “Unstoppable: Discover Your True Value, Define Your Genius Zone, and Drive Your Dream Career.”

“What did you learn from this mass confusion… and how can you apply it in life and your career moving forward,” she said.

Maybe you learned that you thrive off the social interaction from your colleagues to help brainstorm and think more creatively. Or that you are more productive at home than you would have thought.

“Prioritize it. It’s about what you need to be happy and sustainable professionally,” said Timm.

Here’s what you should focus on in the new year:

Think big, plan small

It’s fine to think big for what you want to achieve in the new year, but break the goal into smaller steps.

“Take incremental steps,” said Peggy Caruso, executive and personal development coach. “Once you take a small step and achieve it, it is a motivator.”

So if your goal is to get a promotion, plan out your road map to a new title. For instance: lead two new projects, bring in X-number of new clients by the end of the second quarter, take a leadership class and join an employee resource group.

Revive your network

The standard ways of expanding your professional network – like conferences, industry events and trade shows – disappeared in 2020. And because many career opportunities come from who you know, it’s time to revitalize your networking game.

Events are happening virtually so check out applicable professional organizations and school alumni associations for any online meet and greets they are hosting, and browse networking websites, like LinkedIn or Meetup, for virtual gatherings.

Introducing yourself can be the hardest part of networking. That’s why Caruso recommends perfecting your elevator pitch when someone asks what you do.

“You don’t want to ramble. Have a quick 30-second explainer of what you do so they understand,” she said. “And follow up with a question…everyone likes to talk about themselves.”

Expanding your network is important, but also spend some time refurbishing your already established network. The connections we have with our peers at work are important, they can help with productivity, engagement and overall satisfaction. But not having regular face time can weaken those relationships.

In May, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told The New York Times: “…maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote.”

To help reinforce those bonds, reach out to colleagues and peers for quick non-work-related chats.

“The good news is that if you are even just a little proactive, people are usually very receptive,” said Dorie Clark, author of “Entrepreneurial You.”

Find a mentor

A mentor can provide insight, make connections and offer a dose of confidence when things gets tough.

“It doesn’t have to be someone you know,” said Caruso. “Determine what you want to accomplish and think, who is the person that has done this?”

Once you’ve identified the person, invite them to have a conversation where you detail why you chose them, what you are looking for and what work you plan to do in the relationship.

Re-establish boundaries

When work and life happen under the same roof, balance becomes nonexistent. And that can quickly lead to professional burnout.

Establish boundaries with your employer, family and yourself by being clear when you are on and off the clock.

“When you leave work, be in the moment,” said Caruso. “When you go out from the [home office] pretend you’re coming home and invite yourself to dinner. Put the phone down, disconnect from work, and be in mindset that the family needs a healthy meal together to talk about the day.”

Learn a new skill

Learning a new skill can be re-energizing, not to mention a good boost to the resume.

There are many online courses available that can help with career advancement, whether it’s learning a hard skill, like enhancing your programming language abilities, or honing a soft skill, like effective communication.

Become a leader

Taking charge is a big part of proving you’re promotion material. But that can be hard to do remotely and when you aren’t in a managerial position.

The key to showing leadership is being proactive.

“Raise your hand and look for opportunities and ways to make contributions rather than be told what to do or wait to be handed something or have a manager say we are going to train you on this now,” said Clark.

Reach out to team members to see what support they need and proactively solve problems, suggested Timm.

Showcasing your problem-solving skills also demonstrates leadership.

“Scan the horizon and look for opportunities and for gaps in what your company is doing compared to what it could be doing, and make suggestions and offer to lead a committee to look into this… the act of suggesting marks you as a leader,” said Clark.