If there’s one time of year when we could all use a few more hours over and above the few more hours we need in every day as it is, this is it. Trying to get everything done before we get that much-needed down time over the holidays can add a lot of stress to what’s already an especially stressful season. A couple of time management gurus certainly would come in handy right about now, wouldn’t they?
In a previous post, I wrote about two such gurus: Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, authors of “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months.” In that post, I highlighted the authors’ tips for getting more done in far less time. Now, they’ve released some equally valuable advice on what you can do now to prevent work from spilling over into your holiday time off. Follow their six tips to help you achieve a better work/life balance this time of the year:
Picture the perfect holiday. Pigging out on grandma’s apple pie. Singing carols with your kids. Cheering on your favorite football team. These are the makings of a great holiday season, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before the office shuts down for the holidays. Vision is the starting point of all high performance. It is the first place where you engage your thinking about what is possible for you. The more personally compelling your vision is, the more likely it is that you will act upon it. It is your personal vision that creates an emotional connection to the daily actions that need to take place in your organization. Once you understand the link between your vision (including that perfect holiday season) and your work, you can define exactly what you need to do to make the most of your time off.
Create a pre-holiday season plan. The authors’ book emphasizes the benefits of planning how you use your time via 12 week execution cycles. Of course, the holidays are right around the corner, so you don’t have 12 weeks to work with. That’s OK. The same principles you would use to make a 12 week plan can be used to plan out the time left before the holidays are in full swing. Remember that working from a plan has three distinct benefits: It reduces mistakes, it saves time, and it provides focus. Planning allows you to think through in advance the best approach to achieving your goals. You make your mistakes on paper, which reduces miscues during implementation. Be sure to include in your plan the non-work related tasks the holidays add to your plate, such as present shopping, tree decorating, gift wrapping, and so on. You will need to be sure to factor in time for these activities as well.
Resign yourself to being uncomfortable now so you can be comfortable later. Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. This is just human nature. Problem is, the uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your holiday break are precisely the ones that will blow up, get out of control, or just keep you worrying while you’re trying to enjoy some time off.
Important actions are often the uncomfortable ones. The number one thing you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans, is your comfort. So, if your goal is to have a carefree holiday break, commit to sacrificing your short-term comfort today so that you can reach it. Take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your time off and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.
Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Of course, upping the work ante prior to taking time off won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling—call it productive tension—to get yourself back on track.
Productive tension is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Our natural inclination when confronted with discomfort is to resolve it. Sometimes this leads people to simply bail on their plans. In your case, it might mean resolving that you simply can’t get everything done before your time off that you need to get done. So you throw in the towel and accept that you’ll have to do some work during your holiday break.
But productive tension can also be used as a catalyst for change. Instead of responding to the discomfort by bailing, use the tension as an impetus to move forward. When you eliminate bailing out as an option, then the discomfort of productive tension will eventually compel you to take action on your tactics. If turning back is not an option, then the only way to resolve the discomfort is to move forward by executing your plan.
Make the most of performance time and down time. As you work toward your time off, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.
But even in the frantic rush leading up to the holidays, you should allow yourself some down time. Always working longer and harder kills your energy and enthusiasm. Even before your time off you need to schedule time to refresh and reinvigorate, so you can continue to engage with more focus and energy. And keep in mind, that down time is great for scheduling the fun activities we associate with the holidays, like taking the kids ice skating or watching your favorite holiday movie.
Don’t go it alone. It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends, you aren’t the only one who is a) hoping to have a work-free holiday break, and b) currently working frantically to make that goal possible. And if that’s the case, team up with them. The peer support you receive will be invaluable in your pursuit of the perfect holiday season.
Your chances of success are seven times greater if you employ peer support. We’ve found that when clients meet regularly with a group of peers, they perform better; when they don’t, performance suffers. It’s that simple. But there is a caveat: Whom you associate with matters. Stay away from victims and excuse makers. Treat that mindset like a deadly, contagious disease.