One of the reasons my column runs in more than 200 newspapers is that I send out one blog post a week to about 1000 editors. I have to do the list manually because, big surprise, most editors at most papers do not subscribe to blogs.

Today I was besieged by out of the office responses. Of course, everyone is out of the office. Very little news happens between Christmas and New Year's that you can't predict and write beforehand.

The time between Christmas and New Year's is a great time for you to take things into your own hands. During this time, almost all of senior management is completely checked out in most industries. After all, this is what senior is all about — getting to go where you want to at the end of December. So you might find that there are opportunities to get a big break.

For example, two years ago, my investment banking brother was sitting around in December and a big merger came up. He got to do high-level work on the deal because no one wanted to interrupt their vacation. And here's another example: I know that what's going on in Israel is not cheery news, but there is a bunch of western journalists getting their first chance to report on a big story because the big-story journalists want to be with family and friends the last week of December.

So much of career advice is about finding someone to mentor you and taking jobs with people who will create opportunities for you. But that's not enough. You also have to take responsibility for yourself.

So use this time to make your own big break. Keep alert for something big that might need doing, and, in the meantime, if there's not something big, here are five ideas for what else you can do at work between Christmas and New Year's.

29 replies
  1. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    I totally agree with this!! I was hired to be in the basic entry level marketing position, but because no one’s here, I’m coordinating our press conferences, talking to media and essentially doing what I want to be doing someday.

  2. funkright
    funkright says:

    Yes, what’s going on in Israel, that’s the way we need to solve the world’s problems, at the tip of a gun…?

  3. Gib
    Gib says:

    Your blast from the past (5 things to do at the office) was a riot!

    You should not be doing your 1,000 mail-outs manually unless you’re including a personal/individualized note to each and every single editor.

    If the idea of your sending them is that you’re basically mass publishing, you could do it the hard way, one by one. Or you could send copies in smaller email blasts, being careful to use the BCC feature.

    Or you could use an email newsletter or list managing service or application.

    I’ve used Constant Contact for staged readings and concerts of my work as well as runs of my plays. That’s web-based and there are competitors like Mail Chimp and others that help you manage bounce-backs, out of office responders, and changes of address and all those pesky details.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I actually started sending the emails seven years ago, and I have a good system in place — except for out of office responses. The system worked really well for me building a syndicated column, but I wouldn’t recommend the tactic to anyone now. Even with all the snappy ideas you have in your comment, the newspaper world takes much more energy to break into than blogging, and the payoff is similar. So anyone who is considering this should just forget the mailing lists and blog.

      -Penelope

  4. JB
    JB says:

    I actually like working this week. I do a lot of writing and my work requires uninterrupted thinking so I’ve always looked forward to working this week, the day after Thanksgiving and the week of the 4th of July–precisely because nobody else is around. I get more real work done in a 3-day holiday week than I do in a normal 5-day week when people are hounding me for reports or for answers that they could easily find themselves.

    While I agree that this can be a great opportunity to get noticed, I take exception with the idea that getting to the top means you can take vacation in December. With so many companies shutting down and mandating that employees take their vacation days between Christmas and New Year’s how can you say that “getting to go where you want to at the end of December” is what being senior is all about? Isn’t being senior–or being the boss of your time, much in the vein of a ROWE workplace (http://caliandjody.com/blog/)–more about taking time whenever you want to and not when you’re told you can or can’t take it? Personally, that’s what I aspire to.

  5. Dale
    Dale says:

    I disagree.
    With the exception of very few situations, and unless you are very lucky, this time of year won’t do anything of significance for your career. In contrast, for many people the office turns into a minefield that can destroy your career – getting drunk at the holiday party and doing something stupid anyone?
    We’ve all seen it, or done it:(

    Socially though, this may be the time to make your move, but… then comes the New Year and starting with an unfortunate break up at the office is not good. I firmly believe in the saying, “Don’t spit where you eat.” Unless you intend to change dining locations:)

    My2centsworth

  6. Kathrine
    Kathrine says:

    Hey Penelope – not sure what your system is – but doing an email merge from Excel to Word is an easy way to send out emails as well. Of course you just have to make sure your Excel doc remains updated with the right contact info.

  7. Ari Herzog
    Ari Herzog says:

    Waitasec. You email select blog posts to editors in the hopes they’d like it and sign you on to syndicate your work in their papers? What’s your typical pitch email look like? Can you share an example?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I know. It’s amazing that it ever worked. I took the model from a cartoonist I hung out with in New York — Ted Rall. (It also worked for him.)

      I just put a thing on the top of the column that said, “Dear Editor. Please consider running this column in your newspaper. Please send me an email or call me for rates.” Then I gave my phone number and email address.

      After receiving my unsolicited emails for months and months, editors in Seattle and Boston picked up the column. And then my syndication thing really got rolling.

      Later I discovered that this almost never works. I would not recommend it to anyone. Really.

      -Penelope

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        “… almost all of senior management is completely checked out in most industries.”
        I wonder if and how this will change with the iPhone, Blackberry, etc. connected Gen X and Gen Y people once they become senior management.

  8. rennie
    rennie says:

    >>Later I discovered that this almost never works. I would not recommend it to anyone. Really.<<

    So what’s the advised way to query the newspaper or magazine industry these days? Particularly in mass amounts, such as Penelope is doing?

  9. Larry
    Larry says:

    I love being at work during this time. Nothing is happening (work related) and no one is here so I get to let my creative juices flow and work on some personal endeavors. I don't think it's frowned upon really as they mostly just want a body here "just in case" – .

  10. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    The best thing about working the week between Christmas and New Years’s is that I’m free to read all the blog posts I want without having to keep multiple tabs open to “hide” Penelope when a coworker pops in with a question :)

  11. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    “And here's another example: I know that what's going on in Israel is not cheery news, but there is a bunch of western journalists getting their their first chance to report on a big story because the big-story journalists want to be with family and friends the last week of December.”

    Actually, it’s a pretty elegant way to weed out those who can dodge bullets and shrapnel and those who can’t.

  12. Carol
    Carol says:

    If you’re in IT you spend this week patching and updating and doing other essential tasks that involve downtime. So could everyone else please stay away so we can at least have this one week without user gripes??
    Of course working this week does nothing for your IT career – it’s just expected.

  13. Roberta
    Roberta says:

    As a teacher, I had two weeks off this year. Of course, I needed the break! I love those kids, but I needed a break. Yesterday, I ventured into my classroom and found myself working at a steady speed. No interruptions! Hooray!

  14. Mark F.
    Mark F. says:

    I am Sr. and off this week (smart), but check emails (stupid -but I have an obligation to stay connected at least once a day)> Most of my staff is off too…they deserve time to recharge batteries and enjoy family and friends (its been a very tough yr at work with downsizing and tough business climate), my staff in office deserves down time too. It’s cathartic for them to have a minimum of problems or projects to work on…In the end everyone wins this week…those off…and those in the office…For all I know their reading blogs and surfing net…They deliver 110% all year, I will look the other way! If something truely in need of their attention comes up, I know they will jump to action.
    Happy new yr!
    M

  15. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    I want to work for Mark F. (even if his spelling is a little dicey – maybe he gave spellcheck the week off, too)

  16. sifi
    sifi says:

    I am a manager and am working on a peer reviewed document I haven’t been able to get to for months. Now that I am almost done I am glad I did it. I will take a week off in late January when this place is a hive!
    Wanted to add an unrelated story just for laughs. My gen Y employee gave a holiday party in a club and the invitation said, “Dress for Success!” My honey and I, who are 50 and turning 50 this year, respectively, rolled our eyes and decided to go dress/casual. He said, as we got in the car, “I’ll bet all the young guys will be in SUITS! It’s fun for them because they almost never wear them to work as we did for the entire 80’s decade.” Sure enough, there they were, strutting in their finery as if it were graduation day. (We were warmly received in our relaxed clothes.)
    Finally–Happy New Year! I love your blog because it continually reminds me to be myself at work. The successes that come from that are the only kind that really matter.

  17. le
    le says:

    hello P – off topic – happiest of new years to you. Hope the speed bumps of 2008 morph into giagantic mountains of joy and love for you in 2009 – my best to you le

  18. principalspage
    principalspage says:

    Ideas for Blogs….

    1) Write about why a blogger would blog about her successful tactic in emailing editors to get published… and then recommend that people don’t do this. Why? Because it worked?

    2) Blog about people who can’t get away from work during the holidays. There are a lot of us.

    By the way… just came through Madison and I think you picked a wonderful city to raise your children.

    Have a wonderful 2009.

  19. Eamon
    Eamon says:

    Now’s a good oppotunity, too, for soaking up info from the web about your industry, and planning what you want to do and how you are going to achieve it over next few months.

  20. William Arruda
    William Arruda says:

    I couldn’t agree more. There are few days in the year where you truly feel in total control of your schedule and where you can devote your efforts to advancing your career. I tell my clients that this week should be focused on personal branding – thinking about how you can leverage what you accomplished in 2008 and making a plan for integrating your unique promise of value into what you do for the coming year. Spending some focused time on this will make the coming year more fun, fulfilling and successful.

    Thanks, Penelope for your post.
    Best.
    William

  21. Jessica Bond
    Jessica Bond says:

    Working between Christmas and New Years makes you wish it could be that way at the office for the entire year. An excellent time to get caught up and enjoy some quiet time at the office.

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