December is for getting things done, January is for BS

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:

MBA required.
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.

45 replies
  1. Jennifer Louden
    Jennifer Louden says:

    I read you and always always feel smarter. Hey what about a course for smart kids in university who don’t know what they want to do? I’ll sign my daughter right up! Thanks for being so you Penelope.

    • Brigitte
      Brigitte says:

      Hi Jen! Fun to see a name I know from another circle. :-)

      I took Penelope’s Myers-Briggs course, and it will do for your daughter exactly what you ask. It helps you understand yourself, the way you want to work and live, and see how you “fit” into the spectrum of careers and lifestyles.

      It also helps you understand other people, and accept them as they are.

    • Grace Miles
      Grace Miles says:

      Hey Jennifer, get your daughter to sign up for Penelope’s Make Your 20s Count Course– it has mbti as well, although it’s specifically tailored for people in their 20s (job hunting, moving, etc.)

  2. Grace Miles
    Grace Miles says:

    As a matter of fact, my schedule is empty. I just got back from Seattle for a design project, so instead of being able to focus with an empty schedule like you, I’m sorting everything out in my head first.
    Rather than having nothing on your schedule or to-do list, how about having one item? That way, you know what to start with and that’s the only thing you’ll need to think about. Most of the time, starting it is a big chunk of the battle already. And at least you’ll be anchored to something for the day.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, interesting point. I have a theory about this. You set your life up to work well when kids are at school, so then it’s impossible to deal with when there are vacations. It’s so hard to set life up for both times. It’s like the system is set up just to shake everyone up.


  3. sb
    sb says:

    “MBA required.
    We hate that we paid for graduate school, so you have to also.”

    LOVE the deciphering. Please do a post on some of the other gems of job listings mean. Your take is both sobering and hilarious.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Here are a few more that Melissa came up with that I didn’t use in the post:

      Ten years of experience.
      Means: Seven years. If you have ten years of experience you should be applying to something bigger than this job.

      Team player attitude.
      Means: You will have no autonomy and don’t be expected to be promoted on merit.

      Proven track record.
      Means: We want to recognize the names on your résumé.

  4. Karo
    Karo says:

    I’ve been purging my calendar for weeks now to make space and time for important work that is approaching major deadlines. This includes saying “no” to social events, family obligations, errands, volunteer work, social media. I know that my true work will have more impact on the world in the long run than taking care of those other things that always pop up and fill up my valuable time.

  5. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I followed your link regarding the importance of managers being available. I know this is a business blog, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly sad by the fact that her small kids get 3 hours of her 18-hour day, not to mention they have to share that time with dad. The whole point is lost on me for that reason alone.

    • celeste
      celeste says:

      I agree – 3 hours is not enough, and 6 hours of sleep is not enough and I can’t even imagine exercising late at night. But, that’s what it takes to get a job on that level.

  6. Dana
    Dana says:

    “And if you are managing things then you need to be available to people becauseYOU’RE job is to make sure everyone is able to work at their optimum pace without being held up by managerial BS.”

    YOUR, not YOU’RE.

    Great post though!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Got it. Thanks.
      This reminds me, you know what else December is for? I get offers all year to proofread my blog, but December is when the most offers come in. I think maybe it builds up, all year, people can’t believe that I have a typo in every post.

      Okay. So I fixed this one. Thanks. And one day I’ll have an air-tight system where no typo gets through!


  7. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    I don’t even know where to begin. I mean I could relate to every single line of this post. “Melissa is better at getting jobs than keeping them”. that’s me, is Melissa hiring. I’ve lived in CA, NY, FL and am back in CA now (all within a 5 year time frame). With every move came a better job and a lot more money. People are always asking for job seeking advice, and you nailed it, but it’s not just December that’s good for getting thing done. There’s a special personality or type and if you have it, it happens year round.

    As a facilities manager I have an open schedule year round. It’s the only way.

  8. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Always enjoy your blog but even with the thought provoking content, this post looks too rushed and not well organized. We all have random thoughts but “I noticed that tons gets” is poor subject/verb agreement and “you’re job…” should be “your job”
    Good writing still trumps good ideas. Just sayin

  9. Keith Williams
    Keith Williams says:

    Great points! I’ve found that flying to maintain status is a great way to get analog stuff done – a double productivity bonus of sorts. For instance, I wrote all of my holiday cards on a quick roundtrip between New York and Boston.

    Normally I procrastinate and end up not writing a bunch of them because they’re not “required”, but I really wanted to do it, so I forced myself.

  10. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    “People who take crazy flights to nowhere are people who are good at cost-benefit analysis and they finish what they start” – erm, ok you may see a correlation but you’ve lost me… the only thing I can see they finish that they start is the crazy flights they take… and trust me it’s harder not to finish those once you’re on the plane (I tried once, the air hostesses & pilots were not happy). And cost-benefit analysis – where does cost of time feature in that ? Anyway I feel the whole flight status thing should be dumped in the bin with other dumb status things which people-who-are-too-comfortable are addicted to, like grad degrees.

  11. Emily
    Emily says:

    Once when I was unemployed – I split my week into days by theme and on each day I was responsible for completing one thing related to that theme. The themes were things that were interesting to me – which were mostly developing my knowledge of music, art and books. I also ran a bed and breakfast from my house to pay the bills (archived at in case anyone wants to take a look!)

    That was the happiest time in my life! I woke up so excited to start the day and do that one thing. If I compare that to today, where I have never ending to do lists and time tracking and a million emails that I’m always late responding to – it seems like i’ve gone pretty far off the path of this simple focused self directed lifestyle.

    I’m wondering if it has something to do with your distinction between the two types of people. I got into management but maybe I’m not really a managing type because I like to have a lot of time to myself to explore the things I’m interested in. Also, in a relationship, does it work to have two people like this – or does one have to be responsible for the planning in the partnership?

  12. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    My favorite job descriptions was “no prima donnas, need apply”. Hilarious! Only a prima donna would write that in a job description. I took it to mean, “We already have too many overbearing personalities already so we need someone to quietly do their work without complaining.” Of course, that is a good skill in general.

  13. Gail Weiss Gaspar
    Gail Weiss Gaspar says:

    I really enjoy the streams of consciousness in your posts. Don’t give a hoot about thoze typos (-: You capture very well the spacious delight of an empty schedule. I tried it out this week for the first time and broke through on projects I’ve wanted completed but kept putting off. So, I’m a fan of your December perspective!

  14. Janice
    Janice says:

    I also find this is a time when a lot of companies are looking forward and thinking about their training needs for the next year so this is a great time to contact them about this. Also don’t forget not every person/country takes December easy, Asia for example is still full steam ahead so it is the perfect time to catch up with them.

  15. rachel
    rachel says:

    Does Melissa only match people to jobs, or does she also review resumes and give ideas for education and segue jobs into other fields? Would she charge for that? As I’m writing this, it doesn’t sound like something she would do. Wouldn’t be worth her time. Still curious.

  16. Adam
    Adam says:

    “We hate that we paid for graduate school, so you have to also.”

    This is the same attitude I take with my daughter regarding Hebrew school.

  17. Coach Oz
    Coach Oz says:

    Great article Penelope. Why wait tell January to do anything. If you really care about doing it, it will get done or at least started in December.

  18. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    Husband once considered flying to Singapore in December to maintain his Premier Executive status. If you fly a lot it’s worth it.
    Luck for him he hit a million a year or so ago and doesn’t have to travel just to maintain perks.

  19. Paris
    Paris says:

    “MBA required.
    We hate that we paid for graduate school, so you have to also.”

    Oh my! If I had a dime for every time I heard this from not only employers but other grads in my field (well, former field now and you can guess why I left it)as well. Typically the conservation goes like this:

    Person with masters degree: My employer pays me peanuts.
    Person without masters degree: Just be grateful you have a job in this economy. I get paid peanuts too.
    Person with masters degree: But I have a masters degree therefore I should get paid more otherwise all the money I paid will be useless.

    There are actually people out there who borrow a 100k loan to get a masters degree in a field with an average starting salary of 30K then demand they get paid more because…they tortured themselves to get another useless degree.

  20. Jack
    Jack says:

    Right there with on not making new year’s resolutions.

    In personal finance, people like to make a big deal out of making resolutions to get out of debt, save more money, earn more money.

    But as you say, anything worth doing in January you’re better off doing right now.

    There’s never enough time, but there’s always enough time for what matters most. As long as you pay attention to figuring out what matters most to you.

  21. david
    david says:

    Nice picture of Melissa?you? sitting in the Whitney Museum stairwell. It’s an underappreciated part of the Marcel Breuer building.

  22. Liz
    Liz says:

    How do you orchestrate these mileage trips? Seems manual and guessing. I don’t think I can plan through Hipmunk. P.S. Am writing this from a first class upgrade on Delta…very nice.

  23. Kate
    Kate says:

    Oh Gawd, I read the links about the personal development practitioner who separated from his wife. Those two. Why, why, why did he have kids if he didn’t think a stable family life sounded like a good goal? I do understand not wanting to be involved with horrible family members, but it sounds like she had your average decent family. Why wouldn’t you embrace that for your kids? Or at least creating a tight unit with your immediate family?

    Your post was great Penelope, I just can’t get past what a selfish, self-centred, entitled arsehole that guy sounds like.

    OK, yes I can, to talk about myself. This post makes me feel great because I just said today to a friend that I love the week between Christmas and New Year because I get so much work done! I still kind of make new year’s resolutions but they are more recommitting to my current or past goals / systems.

  24. Randall Huth
    Randall Huth says:

    Don’t feel pressured to set goals as New Year’s Resolutions because your friends may be setting goals. When you want to make personal changes, it’s important to be ready. Don’t try to force a change simply because it’s the time of year when everyone else is making them.

    If you are stuck in a job you hate, have no goals, or feel generally unhappy with your life, only you can make changes to improve. By asking for support and setting realistic goals, you can start turning your life around. Remember the tips in this article so you can work on personal development and feel better.

    Anyway, that is what I do :-)

  25. Adam Kielich
    Adam Kielich says:

    My wife started traveling for her job and flight status is a big deal for her. It’s not the actual status as much as it is her ability to get through security quicker and score nice seating. It doesn’t exactly hurt that she is racking up a lot of free miles that we can convert into vacations for ourselves.

  26. Dale
    Dale says:

    I am planning to move with my family during the coming months. I hate to do this but had to do.

    I liked your post Penelope!

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