168 Hours: Why You Should be Writing Your Holiday Letter Today

Last week, I wrote about how you have more time than you think to do more meaningful activities than you are now, and I even gave you tips to start reclaiming just five out of every 168 hours so you could start living a life you love.

Today, I’m giving up my Monday spot in honour of Laura Vanderkem, the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. She graciously accepted to write a post just for you, dear readers, so be nice. Oh, and don’t worry; it’s a special exception – I’ll be back on Monday to regale you with my usual wit. Until then, enjoy.

If you’re like many of us, you send out an end-of-year letter with your Christmas holiday cards. This missive exists to inform friends and family of what your household has been up to, but unfortunately, this genre is known for its tedium. “John is still writing reports for various corporate clients, John Jr. is now in fourth grade and is playing soccer, and Sarah is in 2nd grade and starting piano lessons…”

That’s because most people’s lives are pretty tedious.

But imagine, for a minute, a letter that’s a little different: What do you dream of being able to recount in your annual letter?

Maybe you’ve finally started taking the community college classes you’ve been talking about for years. You started a blog or committed to a regular guest posting gig on someone else’s. Your wife decided that her job was holding her back, and found a new one that makes her excited for Mondays. You took that trip to the mountains as a family and went camping. You and your daughter are singing in a choir together. And, by the way, here are some great pictures you’ve taken now that you’ve rediscovered photography as a hobby.

Wouldn’t it be nice to write a letter like that?

So write it. Now. Imagine it’s December. Write down what you wish you could tell the world about how you and your family have spent the 168 hours we all have each week creating the lives you want. You don’t have to send this letter to anyone. But read it as often as you can.

Because once you know what you’d like to do with the rest of this year, you can break these goals down into actionable steps, and then get organized about putting them on the calendar. What can you do during the next 168 hours to move closer to making your letter come true?

You can research that community college open house and make time on your schedule to show up. You can ask around to see who has camping equipment you can borrow, and start watching air fares. You can use the 20 minutes the carpool is late bringing your kids home from school to take a series of photos of the late-summer trees, and bookmark a photography website to visit later.

When we think about what is important to us, we start thinking about ways to make these things happen. Time management isn’t just about saving a few minutes here and there; it’s about filling your life with things that deserve to be in it.

So write your end-of-year letter early. It’s a great way to figure out what you’d like to be doing with your time. Think of it as an early Christmas gift – to yourself.

About the Author: Laura Vanderkam is the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career without Paying Your Dues. She’s also one of those people who actually does what she loves to do (most of the time). Take a page from her book and visit www.my168hours.com (just click the clock to read her blog) to learn more tips and tricks.

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  1. Great idea to be creating newsworthy stuff for our holiday letters. Imagine what the marketing departments at the stores could do with this idea. Instead of just “buying things” for our Christmas Lists. All year long, they would encourage everyone to make their real dreams come true–not just material dreams. Could start a trend.

    I’m making a list…

  2. Hi Laura!

    Great idea for more than work reasons. It’s interesting that many people do not see the tedium in their own holiday letters. My purpose as a life awakener is to bring folks back to life! To see how miraculous their visit on Earth is.

    Maybe the letter could be called, “What I did to celebrate my life this year.”

    thank you!


  3. Very, very clever Laura. A wonderful, original twist on the personal development ‘imagine the life you want and start taking steps towards it today’ message that I hear a lot. Hey, how about we work on next year’s letter too and allow our clever brains to get to work on the logistics of that while we sleep?

  4. Great post, Laura. Motivating!

    This has actually been an exercise that I’ve been doing a lot lately, mainly because setting goals is something that really inspires me and I loved making them. However, when it came down to actually working on my goals, the procrastinating part of me would grab the reins and pull me in.

    Since setting aside 5 hours of each day to work on my goals, procrastination hasn’t really been a problem and I’ve begun to chart my progress. It’s also very motivating for me to watch my growth. What I do is I make a bar graph for a specific goal and fill up the bar along the way as I complete each step. When the bar is complete, I reward myself. It definitely helps with making me more eager to improve my life.

    Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Christina- I like the idea of charting hours toward a goal. Particularly with nebulous goals (revise a novel? when is that ever done?) it helps to see that yes, I spent 2 hours of the past 168 on that particular goal. If you respond particularly well to charts, then this can be very motivating.

  5. Laura, I really like this goal-setting technique, primarily because it helps us incorporate how our friends and family will view us when we’ve actually accomplished the goals. Of course, gotta be careful to not set goals based on what we think others would approve of.

  6. I like this twist on goal setting. When you write your own future on a piece of paper, it’s a great roadmap to get the future that you wanna have.

    I mean, why not just put down that your company doubled its revenue due to your marketing efforts?

    Why not state that your family is well and you just finished your 3rd novel (even though you haven’t penned the first sentence)?

    Me likey. Great idea Laura.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

    • Joshua: Yes, why not write it down? Though it’s funny – sometimes even writing it down for myself is hard. It’s like worrying about upsetting the universe or something by setting too big a goal. I’m trying to get over that.

  7. Hi Laura,
    What a great idea, a great way to keep me focused in the short term with so much going on and a fantastic spin on a personal development idea. I’m going off to try that.



  8. I think I’ll write me that letter and for a bonus, buy a motivational gift to myself. There’s this book about the law of attraction which comes with a work sheet where you plot what you want to get in your life ( sorry, I forgot the title ). I think I will get that too. I guess, the universe is all-giving if we just tell it exactly what we want and I’m still a long road away to my dream of publishing my first novel. Your post just gave me something to smile about, thanks!

  9. People who travel a lot tend to send postcards and maybe keep a diary which helps them keep track of where they have been, what done and seen.


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