Keep the Holidays from Undermining Your Productivity

The holidays are a hectic time for most of us. With all of the festivities, travel, shopping and entertaining taking place, it’s all too easy to fall behind schedule on work deadlines. Allowing holiday-related chores and prep work to take over your schedule, though, will only create additional pressure as the work piles up and deadlines draw near.

It’s natural to want to get one or two tasks out of the way when you’re supposed to be working, but distractions often have a way of snowballing. Soon, you find that you’ve lost an entire day to shopping, party planning or other holiday events. How will you make up for the missing time?

This is a time of year that tests your focus. The following are 6 tips to help you stay on track throughout the holiday season.

Be realistic when scheduling your time. Build in extra buffer time in your daily schedule for unexpected interruptions. Avoid scheduling more than one or two daily complex tasks that require lengthy creative thinking and heavy concentration. Make sure that you schedule these types of tasks to take place in the morning when your energy and focus is strongest. Take care of the less-taxing tasks in the afternoons. Also remember to schedule a bit of extra time in between meetings, complex tasks or intense activities to allow yourself to reflect and refocus. Don’t assume that you can switch seamlessly from task to task without time to adjust your mind and mood.

Stay organized. Keep your environment as organized as possible. Let’s face it, the holidays are a messy time with piles of packages and boxes, wrapping material, food, decorations, etc. It can be difficult to keep things orderly when all of the temporary holiday trappings spill into your workspace. It’s important to take a few extra minutes at the end of each day to organize your work area and clear it of excess clutter. Make sure that you can start your next work day with a clutter-free area. If your living-work space is too small to maintain order during the season, consider working at an alternate location where you can focus.

Set firm boundaries with friends, family members and partners. Loved ones can put extra pressure on you if they do not work remotely. They often assume that, since you don’t work in an office that you have the time and availability to run errands or make arrangements during the day. And it can be tempting to pick up the slack for a spouse or partner who’s been pulled into a long meeting and can’t carry out his or her tasks, but remember that the time taken out of your workday will have to be made up at some time in the near future. You don’t want it to be on the holiday when everyone else is relaxing and enjoying time together. Set their expectations early. Create a holiday task list and assign the responsibilities so that each person can make room in their daily schedules to complete them. Let friends and family know when you’re working, and which hours you can’t be disturbed. If an unexpected interruption crops up, set a time limit. For instance, give the interruption 10 minutes of your undivided attention before returning to your work. Don’t allow it to sidetrack the bulk of your day.

Practice mindfulness. Research from Johns Hopkins University found that mindful meditation can ease stress and improve our well-being. Take a few minutes to center yourself throughout the day, or especially when you feel things start to spiral out of control. Stop everything. Take deep breaths. Focus your attention on the air flowing in through your nostrils as you inhale, and out through your mouth as you exhale. Be aware of what is happening in this moment as you breathe. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the present and focus on the feeling of your breath entering and exiting your body.

Watch your health. The season’s festivities offer a smorgasbord of food and drink temptations, but overindulging in holiday fare can leave you feeling sluggish and fuzzy. Your mental and physical energy depends on getting the right nutrients and limiting the intake of excess sugar, fats and alcohol. Eat healthy as often as possible. For instance, make one meal each day a salad. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. It’s especially important to make time for exercise during this hectic time. Putting it on your schedule will ensure that it becomes a daily priority.

Outsource your non-work chores. Farm out some of your routine but time-sucking holiday chores, such as gift-buying, standing in line at the post office, house cleaning or other errands. Task management services and apps like TaskRabbit will connect you with an assistant who has been vetted and will happily take the extra burden off your schedule. Depending on where you live, there are a variety of local services that will send helpers to pick up, package and ship your gifts (e.g., Shyp in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago); pick up and deliver your laundry and dry cleaning (e.g., Amazon Fresh or local grocery chains). It is well worth the cost to hire a helper during this hectic time — or even on a year-round basis. The payback: Being able to maintain your schedule means a less stressful season for you. Think of it as a holiday gift to yourself!