Use that Christmas letter!

If you're like me, every December brings a mail box full of that literary genre known as the "Christmas letter." Friends and relatives you haven't seen in years pen missives updating you on the nice parts of their lives, or the socially acceptable bad ones (medical woes, rather than legal troubles). I've written several of these myself; I once jokingly saved the file as the "Conway Family Resume."

But in 168 Hours, I point out that this annual formality can have a focusing effect if you start thinking about it before December.

If you read enough Christmas letters, you see that many say "Joe is still working at Rubbermaid as a senior recruiter," and then skip on to the kids, who tend to be doing something different, even if it's only moving up a grade. This is the false security of school. You feel like you're getting somewhere, with 8th grade following 7th grade like day follows night as long as you show up and pass your tests. Adults soon learn that this forward motion can be elusive as you build your career.

But it doesn't have to be. At some point earlier in the year (July is OK), spend some time thinking about what would have to happen over the next few months for you to be able to list some concrete new career development on your Christmas letter. This will give you a 1-year priority, which you can then break down into actionable steps. How much time will those steps take? If you work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, you have 2000 hours to make that 1-year priority happen. If you figure it out in July, you have more like 1000 hours. That's a lot of time, but it's not an infinite amount of time -- hence the focusing effect.

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