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14 Ways to Stay Productive During the Stressful Holiday Season

14 ways stay productive stressful holiday season
Daphne Blake

By Daphne Blake

Happy holidays

Happy holidays! Or are they?

Statistics show that up to 69 percent of people are stressed during the holidays by the feeling of having a "lack of time," 69 percent are stressed by perceiving a "lack of money," and 51 percent are stressed out about the "pressure to give or get gifts."

In another study of workers, 61% reported the overall pace at their workplace is slower and they feel less motivated during the holidays.18% complained too many other people were on vacation and they couldn't get their job done. And 20% confessed that lunch-time holiday parties or shopping for gifts were sucking up their time.

And get this. According to a survey from Think Finance, 45% of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas altogether. Just drop it like a troublesome ex.

It's no wonder so many people find it tough to stay productive during the holidays.

And if that weren't enough to put a dent in production, the overall stress of the holiday season can manifest in symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, short temper, low job satisfaction, decrease in employee morale , and changes in behavior while at work.

It's the perfect recipe for a decline in productivity and work performance. And you may be experiencing it.

Even if you are showing up for work, you may not be exactly "there."

With all of these stressors in play, the phenomenon of "presenteeism" on the job runs as rampant as a bull in Pamplona. Unlike absenteeism where you're physically absent from the job, with presenteeism, you're showing up – but all of the mental and physical angst associated with holiday stress is hindering your performance and ability to remain productive.

So what's a person harried by the holidays to do? First consider your work life and ask the following questions -

Are you taking enough time to look back?

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Take a break from your jaw-clenching holiday stress, grab a gingerbread latté, and look at what you've accomplished professionally this past year. If you're on a team, think about which achievements were a result of your own efforts and which were collaborative.

Then, celebrate your team's wins over the year. Doing just a little feel-good reflection helps boost morale and increase momentum for that final end-of-year push toward staying productive.

Are you taking enough time to look forward?

On the other side of purposeful reflection, find the opportunity to make a collective commitment to working smarter and utilizing time more effectively for the upcoming year. Make goals based on the achievements you've just celebrated.

Then get practical and start washing away the detritus. For example, if recurring weekly meetings lend more to idle chatter about sports/lunch/ugly shoes than they do to productivity, ditch them. If undue time was spent trying to calculate employee hours, incorporate time-saving software now to help with that. Applying simple tweaks to your working methods can make all the difference in productivity.

Are you still doing the important follow-ups?

In the midst of planning to entertain out-of-town guests, attending holiday work parties or perhaps wrestling a unruly tree to the roof of your car, those small follow-up actions at work can easily slide right off the radar.

But taking the extra few minutes to recap meetings or clarify projects with follow-up emails can be the difference between the job going smoothly, and someone dropping the ball (like a glass ornament crashing to the earth) at a crucial moment and gumming up the works.

Can you ask for some help already!?

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I mean, we all need help sometimes. This is especially true during the holidays. While you're slaving away at work and performing the usual duties, stuff at home is stacking up due to the holidays. Do you have family members, a friend or a partner/spouse who can pick up the pie at the store, clean the house or look after the kids for a few hours? Ask them!

If that's not the case, then consider services – house-cleaning and grocery delivery, for example – that can ease that stress so you can stay focused on being productive at work. Even when it comes to sending your clients holiday e-cards, turn to your CRM system to set up a reminder for sending those at least a few weeks before the holiday. Then you can focus staying productive and meeting your deadlines.

Are you willing to get up early to take care of business?

Yeah, it may be cold and snowy and the siren call of your warm, cozy bed is nearly irresistible. But getting up during those quiet hours when the pounding drive of the holiday world hasn't started whizzing around you can help you to stay super efficient.

The forthcoming days of time off that may be causing you stress now will be your reward. You'll be able to spend more time with your blankie then. For now, grab a hot cup of coffee or tea and take advantage of those extra hours to get some work done.

How about making a to-do list?

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Lists are awesome. They really are. They help you prioritize, which is a big step toward staying productive.

But they can be overwhelming too. Particularly if you're prone to the "superhero complex" that dictates you can do it all. You can't.

To keep your lists from consuming you, plan on tackling only 1-2 manageable items each day. For instance, "organize invoices" would pair nicely with "add receipts to accounting spreadsheet." But something major like "start doing taxes" should be on a list all by itself, while "make peace with dad this year is probably just too big to be on any list.

Are you able to find some solitude?

Especially if you work in an office where December finds everyone hopped up on cookies and chocolate, chattering incessantly in your ear their grossly misplaced holiday cheer. If this is your scenario, I feel for you.

It's at these times that you may want to shut the door, seek out an empty conference room, the office of a vacationing coworker, or even the back seat of your car. Finding solitude will quiet your mind, help you focus and allow you to crank out the assignment at hand without the distraction of chatty sugar-bombed co-workers.

If you must buy gifts, can you do it online?

This is not to say that this should be done while at work, of course. Of workers who say they'll spend two or more hours shopping online at work this holiday season, 33% feel they'll be less productive. That number is much smaller (9%) among workers who plan to keep things professional at work and cyber shop on their own time.

But shopping online can help you keep up with the added domestic work required around the holidays and still get your shopping done. After all, that pesky shopping thing can eat up a lot of time, what with driving, parking, walking and battling other shoppers for that last stylish Christmas sweater with the sequins, tassels and real pine boughs.

Feel like you got a handle on work? Here's another thing to consider.

What you do to stay productive on the job during the holidays isn't just about what you're doing at work. It matters how you're living life away from the job. Here are five more things to consider in your goal to stay productive over the holidays.

Have some fun already!

Your performance is tightly connected with your happiness level. Happy people are 31% more productive. So be sure you take the time to enjoy yourself. Roast marshmallows, go sledding, play with your pets, take dazzling pictures of yourself roasting marshmallows while sledding with your pets. Whatever gets you going.

Get moving

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This is not a dictate to run a marathon or start lifting weights.

Taking a break and slowing down during the holidays is essential. But when the busyness of life and parties and a whole lot of food starts to cut into your regular fitness schedule, it's going to affect your productivity. Plus, it's going to be even harder to get back to the routine when the holidays are done and over.

So yes, relax. But try not to spend entire days sleeping, just because you can. You can find things that are relaxing, but that also keep your brain and/or body active. Get outside and romp around a bit. Or stay inside and do something creative and engaging like playing a game, reading or getting involved with a hobby you've had to set aside for a while.

Enjoy your holiday treats, but try not to overeat

This is a tough one. Especially when there's a veritable smorgasbord around every corner and everything is suddenly covered in chocolate.

As such, the holidays often become a holiday from your regular eating schedule. But when your body is accustomed to a certain fuel, changing it up demands that your digestive system work overtime to process everything. It's an energy suck and it brings down your mood.

So go ahead and enjoy a couple of big meals, maybe a few more desserts than usual. Just know that if it becomes a constant, your ability to stay productive will take a big hit.

Make sure you're getting enough sleep

Just as food is fuel, so too is sleep. It's just the elusive, airy type that doesn't come in the form of a donut. Unfortunately.

With the holidays come changes in our schedules. Friends and family we see only once per year are on the scene. Maybe you're so thrilled to reconnect with your college roommate that you stay up all night talking. Or maybe you're required to spend three consecutive late evenings with your Aunt Helen from Idaho who disapproves of everything you do.

Whatever the case, it's important to try as much as possible to stick to a regular sleep schedule so you don't mess up your body's rhythms. Nothing puts a whack on productivity like nodding off throughout the day.

Set aside several consecutive days to do whatever you want – even if it's NOTHING

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The holidays are designed to give us time to recharge. Even if you can't take a week off, give yourself at least two consecutive days of doing nothing that relates to your job. Don't worry. Stepping away will actually contribute to your productivity in the long run.

In the Taoist philosophy – one not fraught with the stress of the holidays, by the way – they practice a principle called wu wei. This essentially means, "doing by not doing." This idea can be a little difficult for the Western brain to wrap itself around, but there is an inherent understanding that just stopping and taking the opportunity to simply "be" is important. It is grounding. So give it a shot.


Here's the deal.

No matter how productive you are, you will still have to play catch up (if even just a little) after the season is over. So have a little more tasty food than what you planned. Know that your energy levels will fluctuate and that you won't be able to stick to all of your routines. Embrace that. It's all part of the holidays.

You don't have to decide between enjoying the holidays and staying productive. It's not a trade-off. Practice some discipline, work with a sense of purpose and go easy on yourself. There is no bigger productivity killer than failed expectations so whatever you do this season, keep those expectations realistic.

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