how to stay productive during the holidays

With so many distractions during the holiday season – from holiday parties to gift shopping to travel – how do you stay productive and focused when you’re at work? If you’re not deliberate about staying on track, it’s all too easy to find yourself dividing your attention between winter sales and eggnog, and coming back in January to unfinished work that you’d intended to complete.

But it’s not impossible to stay focused during the holidays. Here are five tips that will help.

1. Be deliberate about creating a work zone. Carve out space at work that’s free from holiday activities – so that when you’re at work, you’re resolved not to spend that time shopping for gifts, making lists for your family holiday dinner, sending e-cards, or otherwise dealing with the holiday pressures of your personal life. As tempting as it can be to just do a quick bit of online gift shopping between work calls, you can spend hours down the rabbit hole of bargain shopping for the perfect sweater before you realize how much time has gone by.

2. Schedule enough time for personal commitments. Most people’s personal to-do lists go way up at this time of year. Be realistic about how much you’ll need to get everything done outside of work, and schedule specific blocks of time for it. You might even take a personal day or two just to get your holiday shopping, cleaning, and cooking done. There’s nothing wrong with that – time off is there to be used, there’s usually less impact in using it at this time of year, and it will help you remain focused on work the rest of the time.

3. Be thoughtful about what has to get done this month and what can be put aside. It’s pretty common to get less accomplished this month than in other months (offices are quieter, people you may need items from might be away or similarly distracted, and things generally slow down). So be honest with yourself about what absolutely must get done this month, and then be intentional about prioritizing those must-dos and making sure that they get done.

4. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to everything. This is the season of social invitations, and if you feel yourself getting stretched thin, don’t be afraid to set some limits. It’s okay to down invitations if you can’t comfortably fit more commitments in, or you can set limits on how much you can participate (such as by dropping by an event for an hour and then leaving rather than staying all night).

5. If things are slow at your office, take advantage of that by giving yourself a break. Most people are more productive when their brain has a chance to rest and recharge. If your work and your office allow it, take advantage of the lull at this time of year to slow down yourself – whether that means taking more time off or just putting less pressure on yourself to produce at your normal rate. You’ll be more likely to come back refreshed and productive in January.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. cuppa*

    Tip #6 should be “don’t read WTF Wednesday” posts on AAM, otherwise you’ll be tempted to post comments all morning. :)

    1. Purple Dragon*

      Mine would be “Stop refreshing AAM compulsively every 5 minute to see if another update has been posted”

      Although – I think I’ve already failed on that.

      *just one more refresh and then I’ll finish that report I promise !

  2. Cath in Canada*

    I’ve booked my PMP exam for peak holiday planning time, which has turned out to be good for focus and motivation, but terrible for everything else. I do not recommend this approach.

  3. Emmy*

    I’m a big fan of #5. Working at a university, it’s virtually impossible to maintain full productivity over the holidays because so many people are gone. It’s a nice little in-office vacation.

    1. Sascha*

      Me too. My university officially closes for two weeks over Christmas and New Year, but lots of people take the weeks preceding and following off, so it’s almost a month of very limited work. I usually don’t take extra time off myself, but it’s nice and quiet on campus and I can relax – no one is around to get in a panic about anything!

      1. Jennifer*

        Yup, except we get only a week. I am enjoying the relative quiet for a change and taking it easy after finishing a huge project.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I used to get heaps of stuff done during the Christmas/New Year’s week at Exjob. Everyone was gone, the phone didn’t ring much because most of our customers had shut up shop, and I could work on stuff that didn’t require my presence at the front desk. :)

  4. Sparrow*

    My office is pretty quite during the holidays and many people are off from Christmas through the New Year. I take the time to organize and de-clutter my email and files. I found some emails from almost 10 years ago that I no longer needed. I also spend time backing up documents and deleting documents I no longer needed. It felt good to get rid of a bunch of unnecessary stuff.

  5. JC*

    We have an important meeting with our board of directors right before Christmas (tomorrow!) and our fiscal year closes out at the end of the calendar year, so this year especially I have been feeling busier than normal this December. It has not been fun. On the plus side, I am hoping that the stuff I need to do for the end-of-year budget comes together by the end of the week so that I can totally relax next week.

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