If productivity was a video game, the holidays would be the hardest level. Only productivity virtuosos make it to January 1 without taking any stress-related damage.
Holiday time pressure can have severe consequences. The Mayo Clinic warns that holiday stress makes some feel "persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores."
We're going to look at how holiday chaos can keep you from accomplishing your goals, and three ways to help you stay productive.
What Causes Holiday Chaos?
Holiday stress isn't in your imagination. December comes with some unavoidable scheduling and emotional demands.
You Have More To Do
December calendars are stuffed with office parties, family events, end-of-year check-ins—items you just don't see from January to November.
To-do lists mushroom, thanks to many entries that start with "Buy present for." If you're a bargain hunter, you're upgrading home electronics and other home goods when special prices pop up. End-of-year tax planning can require last-minute purchases or gifts.
Holiday Events Disrupt Routines
"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work," wrote the French novelist Balzac. Dedicated times, places, and ways to work help us reach our elusive zone of maximum productivity.
Holiday events take us away from the office and home more often than we're used to. Late nights or post-work celebrations that are, let's say, atypically festive, can impair our productivity the next day.
And, just when we're at our most burdened, we snatch time away from our stress-release activities. Gyms report lower attendance during the holidays, as people skip classes, training sessions, and planned workouts because they're traveling or just feel too overscheduled to show up.
Weekly rituals that keep our relationships connected, like date night with a partner or game night with the kids, get shifted or abandoned as other social events take precedence.
Whether you decompress with exercise, meditation, reading, or watching TV, you can find yourself getting off-schedule. When you skip weekly relationship rituals, you fray the family bonds you rely on. All this fuels feelings of stress.
Family Expects More From You
In Swedish folklore, the Yule goat was an invisible spirit that appeared to make sure people were preparing for the winter holidays the right way. Pressure to make the holidays special isn't new—your ancestors felt it too.
For some of us, this means entire days dedicated to travel. For others, it means hosting relatives. Even if you aren't able to see your family in person, you'll be carving out time to shop for gifts.
Parents shoulder the pressure of making the holidays memorable for their kids—memorable for the right reasons, that is. Kids' holiday memories are vivid, and their expectations are high. As Jimmy Kimmel's annual "Give Your Kids A Terrible Present YouTube Challenge" proves, a disappointed kid can be an emotional nuclear blast, eviscerating holiday cheer.
Child care responsibilities add to parents' burdens. The school holiday break lasts longer than the work holiday break, even for those lucky enough to get the week between Christmas and New Year's off. Parents must make child care plans—or, for older kids, figure out something to keep them busy.
How To Achieve Your Goals During The Holidays
So how can you stay on track? We have three suggestions:
Time Box Holiday Tasks
Holiday rituals like gift-giving and partying have lasted generations for a reason. In December we show our love, appreciation, and affection for the people we rely on, at work and at home.
We want these demonstrations to be meaningful—when they're half-baked they can come across more like insults than appreciation. So rather than squeezing them in between laundry and lunch-making, consider time-boxing them.
Buying gifts is probably the most time-consuming extra December task. Many of us just tack it on to the rest of our daily tasks—with a visit to a store during lunch, or a few minutes of online shopping in-between meetings.
More and more people are trying an alternate strategy. Instead of forcing shopping into their regular schedule, they time-box their holiday shopping into a single weekend getaway.
Hotels near major shopping areas have picked up on the trend. Hotels in Midtown Manhattan, near Chicago's Magnificent Mile, and near Dallas-area luxury malls all offer special holiday shopping packages, Some of these deals even include a gift card to a nearby store.
Dedicating a full day to shopping, along with the thrill of a hotel room in your town, turns a chore into a mini-vacation. If you shop online, you can time-box that too. Maybe build a holiday playlist on iTunes and slurp some eggnog while adding to your cart.
Other tasks unique to the holidays—wrapping presents, baking cookies, writing cards—also deserve to be a memorable experience. Treat them that way.
Get Help, Both Tech And Tangible
Saving time and effort is even more important than ever in December. Monthly subscription services can help, and without any cost to you—most offer 30-day free trials. Now's the time to give them a shot.
Amazon Prime: This is a no-brainer, especially if you have family out-of-state. Sign up for Amazon Prime's free trial during December and you'll get free two-day shipping for most items.
Daily Burn: Put your workout routines on auto-pilot with a 30-day trial of this virtual personal trainer. With the free trial you can stream more than 500 workouts.
Audible.com: Turn down the stress on your commute when you turn on 30-day access to Audible's massive library of audiobooks.
Blue Apron: Take December off from grocery shopping. Blue Apron delivers ready-to-make gourmet ingredients and recipes. New customers can get $30 off their next delivery.
Meal Delivery: Pick a few days to skip cooking altogether. Choices vary by location, but many services now let you order a meal ahead of time—dinner, lunch, even reheatable breakfasts. If late-night celebration eliminates cooking time, these options are healthier than take-out.
Cleaning Services: For some of us, nothing causes more stress than a messy home. For those with allergies, skipping a week of vacuuming can have immediate effects. Scheduling a cleaning service or two during the busy holiday month may be worth it.
Other: Use Taskrabbit for minor chores. You can hire someone to do holiday-related tasks like wrap presents or schedule flower deliveries, for home-based repairs and improvements you need done before family arrives, or just typical life stuff that December's busy schedule doesn't give you time to do.
Practice Mindfulness During Holiday Rituals And Holiday Fun
Holiday business events are a rare chance to connect one-on-one with co-workers and clients. Don't sequester yourself with work pals. Instead, make the effort to meet people you rarely talk to—and whose support you might need in the year ahead.
At family events, put your work concerns—and your phone—away. While the family opens presents, guess the contents of every box, celebrate the reveal of every gift, and offer heartfelt thanks for everything you receive. When the family gathers around the TV, make it your mission to be the one who notices something new in holiday standards like It's a Wonderful Life or Frosty the Snowman.
Enjoy And succeed in December
Accepting the fact of holiday stress is an important first step—you'll need to alter your routine, and you shouldn't put those tough choices off. Using productivity best practices like time-boxing, outsourcing, and practicing mindfulness can help you both enjoy the season, and hit your goals.