Six Tips for Working over the Holidays

The holidays are here.  Are you looking forward to time with family and friends, great food, movies and games, and some needed rest and jollity?  Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what about assignments?  Studying?  Your work?

Is it possible to stay on top of our academic or work goals over the holidays? With some careful thinking and planning, it is.  If you want to maintain some working momentum over the holidays, consider these tips:

Remember your Whys

Remind yourself why you are taking courses or working on the tasks ahead of you.  Consider where the work you have to do fits into your life’s big picture.  Are you working toward a degree that will bring you better pay?  Will the learning and credentials boost you professionally?  If you have your degrees and are taking courses for personal interest, then remember your love of learning, engagement, challenge, and progression.  For me, taking a course or honouring a writing routine advances my reading, thinking, and writing.  When I sit at my desk and produce, I have made time for an important part of me that could otherwise be swept away by other people or general busyness.

Frame what you Dread

Apply start and end times to tasks, experiences, and events.  Let’s say you are two credits from your degree or certificate.  Remind yourself that you are studying this year, but not necessarily next year.

If you dread being off routine for the holidays, remember it is just two weeks.  After two weeks, expectations and circumstances change.

That meal and visit with your in-laws?  It is just three hours of one day.  Maybe you can pare it down to two.  Chances are, your shorter appearance will still count and keep you in good relationship standing for this year.  Think of the smallest amount of time you can put in for your social events.

Framing helps you contain the events realistically, minimize dread, and maintain priorities.

Use a Planner Daily

Reinforce a framing mindset by proactively building a visual structure for the time available.  Create a schedule and look at that schedule every day.

As soon as possible, grab a pencil or erasable pen and write down your academic, work, personal, family, and social events and obligations—not just for the rest of December, but also for January.  Including January deadlines helps you begin preparing now.

Be clear on what needs to be done; break the work into subtasks; assign chunks of focus time and locations.

Don’t forget to include minimum start and end times.  If start and end times are not already established, create your own based on what is possible and optimal for focus.  If optimal times and places are unavailable, plan for the sub-optimal: early mornings or late evenings.

Have a reason to sit with your work daily and write that reason into your planner or calendar.  Even a half hour for reviewing or brainstorming keeps you connected to the materials, ideas, and expectations.  You are maintaining momentum and honouring your whys.

Let Others Know

Share your schedule and objectives with your spouse, parents, kids, and friends.  Not only will they understand why you are cutting some visits short, but they may also be able to lighten your load and adjust their expectations of you.

Perhaps someone can take the kids out for an afternoon of skating or sliding, leaving you with two hours of focus time alone.  What about a sleepover at Grandma’s?  Maybe arrange a swap with a friend: you watch the kids one day, and he or she can watch them on another day.

What if you need to leave the house to do some work, but the coffee shop is packed and the library isn’t open?  If your brother knows your situation, he might let you use his place when he is out.

Make Progress Visual

If you are cutting some social events short, or omitting others altogether, you want to know if it is worth it.  Creating and using checklists for your work-related tasks and subtasks gives you visual markers of progression.  These markers build confidence about the path you are on and encourage continuity.

Reflecting on your day in writing is another way to mark progress.  Consider the whole day—the good, the bad, the love, and the work.  What went well?  How are you feeling mentally and physically?  Are you procrastinating or stuck?  By reflecting on your day and the various areas of your life, you are tracking accomplishments as well as important opportunities and blessings in other areas of life.

Make your valuable thinking visible.  Track and record those thoughts for proof.

Accept and Enjoy

Our routines will change for the holidays, but this change is an opportunity.  Hopefully, you reconnect with family and friends, be present with others, and find pockets of time for focus and rest.  You cannot control your schedule completely, nor can you control other people, but you can choose how to see this time and accept the gifts and challenges it brings.

Accept that some holiday time can be restorative.  You are more than tasks, goals, deadlines, and productivity.  I hope you can notice the good, be present with those who count, smile brightly, laugh often, rest comfortably, and engage with your work—and your life—with gratitude, balance, and focus.