Many people use the new year as an opportunity for self-improvement. They take a look at what they want to fix in their lives and make a resolution to do better.

In many cases, those resolutions are personal. People resolve to lose weight or to spend more time with their families.

But you can also use the turning of the calendar as an opportunity to improve your work life as well. There are many ways to do that, and even if you're an excellent performer, there's always room to grow.

That doesn't always mean pledging to work harder or to learn some new skill. Sometimes it's about what you can do outside the workplace to get better at your job.

Workers cluster around a computer.

There are numerous ways you can improve your work life in 2018. Image source: Getty Images.

The how is as important as the what

Jason HallMillions of people will make resolutions this coming New Year. Unfortunately, only a bare few will manage to accomplish what they resolve to do. There are a few reasons why this is the case, but the biggest one is that we don't come up with a specific goal or think through the steps it will take to reach that goal. In other words, we say we've resolved to do something, but we fail to plan how we will do it. 

So, using my work resolution for 2018 -- to earn more money -- as an example, an effective resolution might look like this.

As a writer, my income is a direct result of how much I write. My goal is to increase my income by at least 15% in 2018, which, in essence, means I need to write 15% more articles. Based on my past history of productivity, I expect that if I increase my writing time by 10%, while also reinstituting some writing habits that have worked well for me in the past, I will be able to increase my output by my target amount.

The next part -- measuring my results -- is just as important as my resolution. I plan to record my work time (there are plenty of online tools to track my hours with) and measure my article output each week. This way, I can be ready to identify anything that's keeping me from meeting my goals and adjust my plan accordingly.

Resolutions are nice. But without some way to measure your progress and hold yourself accountable, they're nothing more than wishes. I'm not wishing for more money in 2018. I'm putting a plan in place to make it a reality. You can, too!

Set better boundaries between work time and downtime

Maurie Backman: Though I enjoy the freelance lifestyle, one of the challenges I've always encountered is separating my time between work and non-work activities. I love that my schedule is pretty flexible, but on the flip side, I often have a hard time not working and instead allowing myself to enjoy some downtime.

The way I see it, if there's work that could conceivably be done, I shouldn't be indulging in a book or loafing on the couch. And while the logical part of me knows that's a skewed line of thinking, I often find myself giving into it nonetheless.

Going into 2018, my goal is to set better boundaries by defining which hours during a given week I'll spend working and which hours I'll spend doing other things. I'm also aiming to limit the number of hours I work in a given week so I don't push myself to the point where it impacts my physical or mental well-being.

Striking the right work-life balance can be tough as a freelancer, but I'm resolving to make it a priority next year. It's the right thing to do not only for myself, but also for my friends and family.

Find a passion beyond work

Daniel B. Kline: Like my colleagues, I'm a freelance writer, and my income is tied directly to my output. That makes it hard to stop working, and my personality complicates things further, because I'm mentally wired to worry about my to-do list and the work I could be doing even when I'm "off the clock."

Fortunately, I'm not driven to make more money in 2018. I'm happy with my income and instead want to refuel my work fires by finding a hobby, a volunteering opportunity, or some pro bono side work that engages me as much as writing for The Motley Fool does.

That's a tall order, because I not only enjoy what we get to do, but I'm proud of how we do it. To find something equally engaging will be challenging, but I plan to try a number of things.

This year I tried some volunteer public-relations work for a non-profit with a mission I support. That never got going, as the CEO I was working with retired. I've also tried joining various clubs, playing video games, and a few other things.

For 2018, I have a list of ideas that I plan to try, from attempting to build a lifestyle podcast to finishing a long-in-development, 80% complete zombie novel, and then attempting to market it. I don't know which, if any, of these will bring me the level of satisfaction that my work does.

I do know that by exploring other passions, I'll release my brain from constantly thinking about writing. That's a healthy thing, and it should help me approach work with a renewed vigor while also making me a more balanced person.