Are the holiday festivities bogging down your work schedule?

Do you feel like your work and personal life are competing for attention? If so, you’re in the same spot as many employees facing hectic holiday schedules this year. November through January represents one of the happiest times of year. It also represents one of the most stressful. And handling holiday stress can be a difficult task!

Workers are less motivated because they have so much to do, and the holiday distractions often hurt productivity. Many companies grant extensive time off or even shut down non-crucial departments during the holidays to prevent distractions and stress from hurting the business.

One of the main reasons team members face more stress during the holidays is because of the difficulty of balancing work and life. Many employees don’t understand how to manage their work and personal life, leading to competing priorities. If you are facing holiday overload, not sure how you're handling stress well and need to reset your work-life priorities, here are a few steps to achieve that balance.

Prioritize your work and personal activities.

Sometimes the holidays seem more like a burden than festive. We all want to enjoy the parties, choir recitals and White Elephant giveaways. There’s just not enough time to fit everything into our schedules, nor should you try to cram everything into your holiday plans. In order to achieve a healthy work-life balance – particularly during the holidays months – you have to prioritize.

Start by making a list of work and personal activities. Obviously, work projects due in November or December must be at the top of your list. Employers won’t understand if you place more importance on, let’s say, a church party. Once you’ve listed all the “must do” work assignments, start focusing on leisure activities. This is where you must juggle the importance between family, work and religious festivities. List those events, in order of importance to you.

Determine your time limits.

Even priorities often compete for time. We simply do not have the time to work every important event into our schedules. Prepare for this by auditing your weekly activities. Take one week to extensively log all of your activities and the time spent on each one. While you don’t have to log each and every little task, it is important to group your time according to your work shift, projects, shopping, errands, etc. The point is to determine your weekly requirements and the extra time you can spend on holiday events.

Look at your activities. Are there areas you can speed up? Could your significant other help with some of the errands? Maybe you can find areas to combine the following week. Look for time hogs that could be used for the holidays. Another option is hiring out simple errands. If your holiday budget allows, consider hiring a temporary housekeeper to clean and run basic errands, or get an Uber driver to pick your children up from school. While these advantages are a little costly, they will open larger chunks in your weekly schedule.

One area to eliminate wasted time is social media and digital communications. Checking email, sending texts and updating your Facebook eats up large chunks of your time. It’s understandable that you cannot step away from technology altogether, nor should you. Set limits on when you will check work email. Limit social media posts for right before bedtime. Create a family holiday rule – no smartphones or technology during holiday activities. Communicate your lack of time to co-workers. Explain you won’t check or respond to emails after hours.

Create a schedule and stick to it.

Once you’ve determined what your priorities are and how much time you have available each week, start scheduling your holiday hours. This is key to balancing work and life during the holidays. Using a day planner, smartphone, wall calendar or whatever appointment reminder tools you prefer, insert your working hours and off hours (i.e. bedtime, meals, etc.). If you have important work projects due, include those next. Highlight these categories so you know they won’t change.

Go through your list of priorities and start scheduling the items that have set, unchangeable dates. For example, if you plan to attend the office volunteer event November 23, schedule it first. Save items like shopping, baking, etc. for last, since they are more flexible. Don’t forget to enlist your children and spouse in the activities. Make it a family activity. Addressing greeting cards, wrapping gifts or placing baked goods in gift containers are great activities for family bonding.

One great time saver to include on your calendar is online shopping. Driving to the mall, looking for a parking space, shopping and standing in long lines all take up valuable holiday time. Consider purchasing most, if not all, of your gifts online. Not only does online shopping save time, it reduces stress, often guarantees the product in in stock and costs less. Many retailers offer deep discounts online during the holidays, starting with Cyber Monday until mid-January.

Separate our work and personal time.

This is easier said than done. But having a healthy approach to balancing work and life requires separating the two. Start by setting limits on the time spent at work. Yes, we understand you have to work the hours your employer schedules. Those are mandated hours. Working overtime or taking work home is not healthy during the holidays. If you need 10 hours a day at the office, set that time aside and don’t use it for personal activities.

Once you’ve set your holiday work hours, and received approval of course, stick to the plan. While you’re at work, use the time exclusively for work related projects, meetings, client interviews, etc. Don’t bring your holiday list or personal activities into the office. Keep your mind focused on the task at hand. If you plan your day wisely, there is plenty of time for both work and play.

On the other hand, avoid bringing your work home with you. Once you leave the office, leave the office behind you. Don’t check our email, reply to messages, login to your account, etc. Ask your team members to respect your after hours activities with family and friends. Explain to them you will not be available after hours, until the holidays are over.

Don’t forget to focus on you.

The main benefit from a healthy approach to balancing work and life is the reduced stress and more “me time.” Don’t neglect yourself in favor of more holiday activities. Neglecting to take care of yourself leads to burnout, depression and common winter illnesses. Schedule one hour each day just for you. Use this time to read a book at your local coffee store, go to the spa for a facial, get a massage while shopping at the mall or just relax in the park.

Take time to exercise during the holidays. Many employees neglect their normal exercise routine during the winter months because their schedules are hectic or the weather isn’t pleasant. Don’t let that stop you. Find ways to add a few steps – park further from the door, use the stairs, send your documents to the furthest printer and spend a few minutes walking around the office to say hello to coworkers. Adding those extra steps will increase your energy and help support your long holiday.

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