Next week should be a slow week in most places. Because Christmas is on a Thursday, and lots of people will get the day after that off, expect to see people using vacation days to get a nice week off. I'll be in Texas for eight days if you need me.
Because it will be a slow week (with everyone at Grandma's) you can expect a lot of out-of-office auto replies. And this means a lot of business won't get done (unless you're in retail). So, use the downtime to improve your career. Each day, spend an hour doing one of these five things and you'll be ahead of the game when the ball drops in two weeks. And, best of all, none of these require Internet access, so you can do them even if you're at Aunt Irene's (who's not quite Web 2.0 yet).
Work on your resume
I hate resumes. I really do. But a lot of the rest of the world doesn't, so you need one. Now is your time to make it shine, even if you're not looking for a job. So don't just update it – enhance it. Add a line about the marathon you completed this past year. Think about the most interesting aspect of your current position and play it up. Change the font and the layout. Lead with your passions, instead of your objectives. Use it to simply get the interview. Make it more about you than about your work. As my friend Bier says:
What matters more than the "most important" stuff at the top are the more interesting bits at the bottom. They tell more about the person. That stuff is important when you're applying for a job where your personality and outlook matters. If one is going to invest time in a cubicle, stick to the job section. If not, minimize the job section and put more in the fringe. Where have you been? You did what? How did you get into that? If your resume highlights those things, then an interview can revolve around you, and it will set you completely apart.
Get your personal elevator pitch down cold
Describe yourself in 30 seconds. Go. If you can't do it perfectly (and I do mean perfectly, not just well), then keep at it. Write it down. Edit it. Memorize it. Be able to articulate your past and your future concisely and creatively. If you want to stand out at networking events or cocktail parties, you need to be able to cut to the chase and tell someone who you are. "I'm Sam and I run a company," is not as good as, "I'm Sam. What do I do? Well, my schedule is never consistent, but almost always flexible. That's because I write in 99-word bursts each weekday about how people can save the world in less than five minutes." Guess which answer gets more follow up questions and allows for deeper networking? You don't have to start your own company to have a pitch like this. It will also work for teachers, attorneys, designers and accountants. Lead with who you are.
Describe your dream job in less than a minute
Lots of people tell me that their dream job would be to work at a nonprofit. I them ask them what they'd like to do at a nonprofit. I rarely get an answer to that question because people rarely actually sit and think about their dream job. Most people know it would be somewhere they're currently not. Spending the time it takes to accurately articulate your dream employment situation might just make it happen. After all, once you meet someone at the party and tell them who you are, they could become the connection (or the boss) you've been looking for. So, think about it. What would the hours be? The day-to-day work? The rewards? The location? Is it something you need to invent, or are you just waiting for an opening?
Set a routine
There's never a great time to enact a little discipline on your personal or professional life, but it always pays off. Use a slow week to set a schedule and then start sticking to it, no matter what. Following Tim Ferris' advice, I now only email three times a week. And it's a relief. I will sneak in and fire out an important, time-sensitive one (since a lot of my work can be), but if it can wait until Monday, Wednesday or Friday, between 9 and noon, then it will. This allows me to spend more focused time writing and reading, which allows me to spend time doing things I love with people I love. My wife and I are using the time away next week to downgrade our cable, which will also give us more quality time together (and save a few bucks). What will you schedule? Commit to reading for 30 minutes a day. Promise to write a letter once a week. Only read RSS feeds once a day. Work on your business plan each Sunday. Set a schedule. Write it down. See it through.
Find one, big, impossible goal for 2009
I didn't set out to do it, but 2008 was the year I lost 25 pounds. And now I'm pondering what my big, impossible goal for 2009 should be. I've got a list to pick one from:
- Find my own 30 Days projects to implement, all about living a simpler, more meaningful life
- Fund and double the size of CoolPeopleCare
- Run a half marathon each month
- Get my backyard properly manicured and maintained for less than $100
- Publish book #3
All big goals, and most of them will seem impossible (or nearly). Big goals are totally worth setting, even if they never happen. Lots of things happen en route to achieving those goals, and many of those might not have if you established them as their own benchmarks. For example, my own weight loss quest enabled me to eat healthier and develop an exercise regimen much better than if each has been its own end, instead of a means to one. So, find that one outrageous goal that needs to happen for you. Cut your monthly budget by 75%. Meet one new person a day for a year. Learn Spanish. Become a gourmet chef. Get promoted twice. Think it, set it, write it down, and commit to it.
Next week, in between YouTube clips, feasts, stockings and football bowl games, spend 60 minutes each day getting serious about your career. Five hours next week could come back to you 500-fold.