Happy New Year! If you had the luxury of taking time off completely from Christmas to New Year's Day, then you have probably spent a lot of time the last few days catching up on all your emails, including thinking about what will come in the next year both personally and professionally.

We all have our own way of approaching this activity, especially in the first few weeks of the new year when everyone is getting over the lull of the holidays. The idea of planning what lies ahead in the new year for most us is easier said than done.

After going through this process myself last year, I had an "ah ha" moment while working on a project schedule for a client: Interior designers are natural planners.

We do it instinctively whenever we start a new design project. An idea that comes to us becomes the design concept, which leads us to see the smaller details more clearly. As the design progresses, we make necessary changes and adjustments based on how our client responds to our creative insights.

So why not take this approach to planning the year ahead? As natural planners and organizers, we should be able use these skills in planning our best year yet. We have an opportunity as design professionals to use our skills, talents and influence to make our lives and the world a better place.

Planning what we want is not something that is taken for granted if we are trying to accomplish something significant, but what if all we are trying to do is get through this year and make it better than last?

That thought has crossed my mind a lot over the past month, especially after the election. As I talk with my friends who are interior designers, architects and builders, they are also thinking about 2017 as a pivotal time not only for themselves personally but also for our profession.

Our profession has taken some serious hits in the past decade, and many designers are not in the profession anymore because of it. Many of us who survived have done so by the seat of our pants. And planning has been done more to see where we are than building a road map for the future.

A year is a long time to plan for, and our lives seem to change instantly when we least expect it. That's the reason yearly planning is becoming such a popular topic, especially for professionals who believe they are responsible for their own success.

Personal coaches and thought gurus are eagerly offering their new way to create those grand plans. Finding one that fits or that you can stick to can be a daunting task even for the best planners.

But if we approach the new year ahead like a design project, we can accomplish our goals. Whether your goal is just getting more enjoyment out of your personal life or advancing in your professional career, use design thinking as your guide — the same type of design thinking you use when developing a design project.

Think about the overall concept you are trying to create, see the details that will bring that concept into focus and make the necessary changes as you go to bring your design concept to life. Don't let fear of the unknown keep you from being your most creative self, and let 2017 be your best year yet!