I try to never do New Year’s resolutions. Statistically speaking they’re the path to failure. If you are committed to doing something big, you’ll do it now. Also, in December people have a sense that time is running out, so they do things carefully and methodically. In January people have a sense that it’s a new year and there are twelve fresh months and I think that leads to delusional BS about how much we can get done.
Which is why I like looking at what people do in December. Those are the people getting stuff done. They are not waiting. I first noticed this when I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, and I had to be in the office between Christmas and New Years. I noticed that tons gets done during that time, it’s just not the stuff you’d expect to get done. Like, it’s a great time to take over parts of your boss’s job, since she’s not there, and then you can show everyone how capable you are.
So each year I keep an eye out for what’s going on in December. Here’s what I’ve noticed this year, and once you read these examples, I bet you’ll think of even more reasons to watch people in December for inspiration.
1. Flights to nowhere to gain status.
Do you wonder what Melissa is doing right now? She is traveling to make sure she maintains flight status on American.
If you want to know the long-term impact is of traveling for work, here it is: you can’t stand to lose your flight status. For most people, it’s like a drug: once you feel the benefits you can’t imagine flying without them. You don’t wait in lines, you get rebooked fast, you get upgraded a lot.
My friend Rachel Zemser is a food scientist and she flies all over the place helping startup founders get the right ingredients for their food products. (Little known employment secret: there is huge, unmet demand for food scientists in the US because food companies don’t like advertising that they need to hire them.)
What I love about people who take these nutty flights is that they are finishers. So many people get halfway done with something and stop. If you do that it doesn’t matter how close you came. People who take crazy flights to nowhere are people who are good at cost-benefit analysis and they finish what they start.
2. Hiring binges while everyone is at the office party.
The other thing Melissa is doing is running a recruiting business. Did you know that more people are hired in December and January than any other months? Job hunters like to think that December is a dead month because job hunting is hard, and everyone wants to take a break now and then. But really, you should take your break in August. And maybe June. But not December.
You think everyone is dressing up for their new girlfriend’s overly swank office party. But really, everyone’s thinking of getting those last drips from this year’s hiring budget before it gets taken away on January 1.
So right now Melissa is busy with her recruiting business. I think it started because she knows so many people, so it’s easy for her to match them. But also, Melissa has had a million jobs and she is better at getting jobs than keeping jobs, so it makes sense that she would be a professional at helping other people get jobs.
Of course Melissa’s clients are not the candidates but the hiring manager, and it turns out that most people don’t know what they are hiring for, and they create job descriptions that say nothing and it’s Melissa’s job to help people understand what they want so she can find the right match. Which means Melissa has become an ace at reading between the lines of job descriptions, and here’s her take on what companies are actually after:
We hate that we paid for graduate school, so you have to also.
Proven ability to leverage the future of social media tools.
We have no idea how to use social media. Please help us.
Salary requirements are a must.
We are looking for someone we can get extra cheap.
Bring passion and dedication.
You will be expected to care more about your work than your life.
Has unshakeable optimism and energy.
Will not get discouraged by our dismal workplace and your crappy position.
3. Schedules with nothing on them to get more done.
I actually think you could deconstruct the insipid productivity industry in the same way Melissa deconstructs job ads. For example, When personal development guru Steve Pavlina says “get the courage to live consciously,” he really means you get more done if you abandon your kids.
That said, December is still a great time to try new time management tactics because the pace of work slows down (unless you’re in retail, of course). My own focus this month is on tactics for productivity that don’t piss me off. I am looking for strategies that assume I have relationships that matter in my life that cannot be cut off due to my productivity demands.
The Harvard Business Review suggests having good boundaries instead of good balance. This makes sense to me but I am not sure which boundaries to start with. Then I saw that successful people have empty schedules. And I decided that this is good place for me to practice boundaries.
And while I was making a plan, I realized that having an empty schedule makes sense for everyone. Here’s why:
The world breaks up into two types of people: those who to go the meeting to plan and those who start doing the work after the plans are made. (Want to understand which one you are and why? Take this course.) So if you are getting work done then you need a clear, open space in your day to think and focus. And if you are managing things then you need to be available to people because your job is to make sure everyone is able to work at their optimum pace without being held up by managerial BS. (Wendy Clark, SVP of marketing at Coca-Cola, does a great job of explaining the importance of managers being available.)
I used to think that I’m a doer when I’m writing my blog and I’m a manager for my new startup, so it’s understandable that I’d have a packed schedule. But I’ve found in the last few weeks that when I purposely cleared everything from my calendar I felt more capable of doing everything.
Now I have to figure out what to put back, of course. But it only takes three weeks for a habit to take hold, and December has 31 days, so I’ve got time.