12 tips to maintain holiday season productivity

Make lists (and check them twice), delegate crummy tasks, set strict time limits for ancillary jobs, and don’t be a Scrooge.

Maintaining holiday productivity

The holiday season can be hectic and stressful for any professional.

You’ve got to hit (and report on) year-end goals, make travel plans, figure out gifts for everyone and juggle colleagues’ vacation time—not to mention prepping for your own time off.

Here are 12 ways to stay on target and reduce stress amid seasonal distractions:

1. Prioritize tasks, and be decisive.

Take a deep breath and relax. You will get everything done. Of course, you must develop a plan first.

Determine your priorities. Select your most important tasks and events that deserve a place in your calendar. From there, create a schedule—and stick to it. Everything else can either wait until the new year, be delegated or just get scratched from your schedule altogether.

Prioritizing tasks will give you clarity and structure and greatly reduce time spent on distractions or making decisions.

2. Schedule worry time.

According to an American Psychological Association survey, 69% of respondents cite not having enough time as the leading holiday stressor. The best way to remedy this? Take time to worry about your schedule.

That may sound counterproductive, but as Kim Pratt explains: “Employing this cognitive-behavioral therapy tool can help you develop control over the frequency and timing of your worry.” Research shows that “this technique, known as ‘stimulus control training,’ teaches you how to contain your worry to designated periods, thereby freeing up the mind for other important, interesting or fun activities.”

To get started, block off a small chunk of time—say, 15 minutes each week—for “worry time.” Ideally, this shouldn’t be right before bed. During this window of time, jot down all your worries and what’s stressing you out. You don’t have to come up with solutions right now. Just get these thoughts out of your head so you can focus on your priorities.

Spilling your worries out on paper can also help you develop some perspective. Instead of worrying about things you can’t control, focus on what you can control.

3. Maintain your routine.

No matter how packed or unpredictable your schedule is during the holidays, try to maintain something resembling your established routine. Routines can reduce stress and anxiety, and they tend to facilitate productivity.

Don’t allow holiday madness to disrupt your daily schedule nor take you away from activities that promote mental and physical well-being.

4. Take a personal day.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, take a day off.

Take a personal day to rest and recharge, or use that time to knock lingering tasks off your to-do list. Don’t let vacation or personal days go to waste.

5. Focus on one thing at a time.

Multitasking won’t help you get more done. Trying to do multiple things at once just increases the likelihood of making mistakes and producing shoddy work—which decreases productivity and raises stress.

Instead, focus on one thing at a time. Don’t move on to your next priority until your current job is complete.

6. Don’t overbook yourself.

Keep your calendar lean and clean. If you’ve already accepted an invitation to a holiday party this weekend, politely decline the invite to the conflicting soiree. If you have a packed schedule at work, don’t take a meeting with a client until you have the availability.

Don’t be a hero, and don’t try to do too much during the holidays. Overbooking or overextending yourself never ends well.

7. Make a list, and check it twice.

Create daily checklists to ensure you’re staying on target and not dropping any important balls.

Write down goals, ideas, questions and suggestions, and savor the satisfaction of crossing off each completed task.

8. Automate, collaborate and delegate.

Assess all your recurring and tedious tasks. What can you scrape off your plate—or at least automate?

For anything that requires a human touch, take a divide-and-conquer approach. For example, you might assign different parts of a year-end project or presentation to various people you trust.

For tasks you’re terrible at or for jobs that are simply a waste of time, try delegating or outsourcing as much as you can.

9. Curb your online shopping.

Online shopping is a blessing and a curse; don’t let Amazon Prime steal your time.

Set aside specific times to do your online shopping. If possible, do so during non-working hours.

10. Avoid overindulgence.

Go easy on the sweets and treats—and, of course, the booze.

Unfortunately, sugar impairs focus, mood and memory, and we all know what too much spiked eggnog can do to the body and mind.

11. Set time limits.

If you’ve blocked out two hours to complete a task, that creates a firm boundary and deadline—which forces you to overcome procrastination, distractions and perfectionism.

Be realistic when setting time limits. If it takes you an hour to do something, don’t set aside three hours for that task.

For less crucial chores—such as checking your inbox or shopping—set strict time limits.

12. Don’t be a Scrooge.

Research has found that decorating for the holidays can lift your mood. As psychologist Deborah Serani told “Today”: “It does create that neurological shift that can produce happiness. I think anything that takes us out of our normal habituation, the normal day in, day out … signals our senses, and then our senses measure if it’s pleasing or not.”

Serani adds that decorating increases dopamine, the feel-good hormone. So, instead of resisting the holidays, get into the spirit by putting up some decorations around the workplace. Once you do, you’ll be happier—which might be the easiest way to boost productivity.

A version of this post first appeared on the Calendar blog.

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