How to Stay Productive Amid Holiday Excitement

How can you get work done during the holidays? It’s not easy to stay focused at this time of the year when you will face time-wasters — those you’re supposed to avoid, like distractions and those beyond your control, like the snarling traffic or, simply, the general slowdown of everyday life. It’s even more challenging for some cultures where the holidays start early. Timelines and work schedules get pushed back, which can cause undue stress.  

Not to sound like a party pooper or Scrooge, but the holidays do give us time to make up and celebrate the company of our family and friends, gift-giving, trips and getaways — a chance to breathe. Those are good, but the modern holiday season also raises some concerns when things are done excessively that it affects our work — or somebody’s work, in the process.

There’s the non-stop online hunt for great buys, the meandering in retail stores which also serve as traps, the excessive eating and drinking that follows and worse but hardly noticed, the lack of focus caused by too many external stimuli; the excitement in the air is no help. 

But there’s work to be done which affects other people if not met on deadline. Freelancers don’t have holidays like employees who can afford to slow down if everyone at the office is not pestering you with deadlines. Foreign assignees or expats in general may also have that luxury as employees. 

What may be different for expats is how the holidays are different from their own, or they end up celebrating it twice, i.e., in their American time zone and their home country’s time zone. Which can affect their productivity. 

Here are some perspectives about how to balance work, life and the holidays in an era when people fear missing out on everyone’s good mood:

1. Kaizen your life

Have you heard of the word kaizen? If you have imbibed the Japanese work ethic, you’re constantly improving how you do your job. It’s the compound effect — one percent improvement for every task you do indicates there’s a yearning to accomplish more. On a subliminal level, having a year-round kaizen mindset gives you emotional control, even during the holidays, because you’re not only set on doing good work, but in doing better as well. Kaizen becomes a habit that gets ingrained in your work.

2. Delegate tasks 

It may also mean outsource tasks. Some companies have their employees spend so much energy doing work they are not supposed to do, like wrapping gift baskets. One company decided to finally end this time-waster and get a pre-packed gift basket. It cost the company $90 to buy a nice one with a bow on it instead of having the office accountant do it every year. Why? The company realized she did one gift basket for one whole afternoon (shopping for the items, getting decorative ribbons, etc), which was an unnecessary expense for the company since they paid her to gift wrap for them than do her actual job.

3. Stick to a schedule

It takes 20 minutes on average to get back to focusing on work after a distraction. Companies that like having employees be in a good holiday mood like their bosses should just devote one day to celebrating it — on a  Friday. From Monday to Thursday, companies need to keep their employees reigned in about any mention of the holidays (no small chit chat about sales, holiday activities) until Friday.

A Forbes piece highlighted the importance of “STM” (stop the madness) both at work and at home. It is about negotiating some time for yourself to focus on clearing your head, focusing on the important few and planning for the next STM. This simple discipline gives you the “time out” to achieve more, especially when you have lots going on, both at work and at home. 

4. Be aware that the holidays is stressful and your health is more important

In the United States, the holidays can be more stressful than in other countries with ubiquitous household help who take care of everything. That’s one thing. Not many also say it but the commercialism of the season leaves those who are more well-off among expats to send expensive gifts to their loved ones back home. There’s an enormous amount of pressure for expats to give extra time for their loved ones back home on top of meeting deadlines at work. The holidays are supposed to be fun, not stressful. Stress can lead to various illnesses. It’s good to have fun but not at the expense of your health.

How do you know you’re stressed? When you’re at a party for 5 hours and you’re constantly looking at your watch thinking you feel guilty for the wasted time you’re not working. Yes, five hours is too long to be at the office party, but you don’t have to feel guilty about leaving early.

7. Set expectations with key stakeholders ahead of time

Also from the Forbes piece is a recommendation to plan clear expectations well ahead of the holiday season. Prioritize the right deliverables by identifying what can wait and what needs to be addressed ASAP. This approach may open up a good amount of time to devote to family and friends during the busy holiday season while handling the additional workload. 

8. Get flexible at work

If you normally commute an hour each way at work, see if your boss will let you work from home to save time, get more done, and reduce your stress. Or ask if you can start work from home in the mornings and come to the office later in the day to avoid peak commute times. Leave early and finish your day from the comfort of home, too.

9. Make your own list of things to do and cross things off once done

Make an end-all, be-all to-do list for yourself, for both work and life, then divide it up into categories like “must do,” “want to do,” and “feel obligated to do.” If you can eliminate any (or all!) of your obligatory list, the rest of your to-dos will start to look a lot easier. Once you have your lists in order, it’s time to start crossing things off.