With the smell of December 1st fresh out of the oven, I’d like to believe that we can all agree on one, simple fact: the holidays are great. There are carols on the radio, the streets are decorated, a slight chill is in the air—okay, personally Kirby hates any temperature below 80 degrees, but I hear that other people like a brisk winter—and each morning your smile gets a little wider.
It’s the season that is practically begging for you to spend your evenings in a comfy chair with a cup of hot cocoa in your hands. Whether you’re reading a book or listening to the crackle of a fire, whether you’re surrounded by your children, your significant other, or fluffy kittens, it is a time of love, warmth, and feeling grateful for all you have. When you can spend your evenings wandering the streets of your neighborhood, admiring the Christmas displays and festive lights. Where Main Street is decorated in ornaments and lights, and even something as simple as a streetlight can be magically transformed with a strand of garland. A time where even sitting in nighttime Downtown traffic doesn’t seem so bad, because while you’re only traveling at 10 miles an hour and the driver in the next lane has forgotten that turn signals exist, the office buildings are awash with green and red.
It is arguably one of the best times of the year—yes, even with the cold—and I am sure we are all planning to enjoy it for the next 31 days.
So here I sit, warm blanket in my lap, hot cup of tea to my right, Santa hat atop my head, scarf around my neck, and… I remember work. That’s right, I’m at work. It’s only 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I have 4 more hours left in my shift, and while yes, I am technically working as I type this week’s Coastal Comments blog, my mind is actually in full vacation mode thinking about which presents I am going to wrap tonight and how to properly decorate my living room. Yes, the holidays are great, but when it comes to the working professional sometimes the holidays are not-so-great for business.
Not only is the everyday worker susceptible to the lazy, luxurious lure of taking it easy during the holiday season, but so are your clients and customers. And, if you do manage to attract their attention during this month of glorious lights and hanging ornaments, there’s the high chance they will only respond with, “I’m not making any business decisions this month. Can you give me a call the first week of January?” The smell of freshly baked cookies is in the air, making it easier to put work on the back burner and spend a little extra time with friends and family, only to wake up to the cold realization that you’re behind schedule and about to miss a deadline the next morning. This season, this wonderful season, has the unfortunate potential to get a little frustrating, so let’s all take a moment with our warm beverage of choice (mine is Cinnamon Mint) and read a few tips and tricks on how to stay safe, safe, and successful during the holidays.
Schedule whatever can be scheduled. I know you keep a work schedule, we all do, but do you ever make the extra effort to schedule things that aren’t work? Next time you write down that you have a lunch meeting at 11am, maybe add a little reminder about baking cookies with your niece at 6pm. Schedule the deadline for your big report on Friday, then make sure you leave Saturday open for holiday gift shopping. It’s all about a work/life balance, and at this time of the year it’s a juggle between all three: work, life, and the holidays; so, to avoid the extra hassle, treat it like you would treat anything else: go into it with a plan.
Make sure to de-stress where you can. Sometimes keeping a strict schedule can be a little overbearing. You get into the groove of placing tasks into allotted time slots and the urge to fill every available hour to maximize efficiency might creep up on you. Resist it. A schedule can help reduce stress, or maximize it, depending on how you treat it. Leave yourself some empty gaps. Remember to be flexible. And if something or someone has a tendency to ruin your holiday season each year, try to avoid it.
Embrace online shopping opportunities. While heading to the mall during the holidays can be wonderful, with seasonal music piped through the speakers and holiday sales and decorations around every corner, it is also heading to the mall during the holidays. You know what I mean. So unless you truly enjoy the experience, don’t feel you need to spend your limited amount of free time at the stores grabbing the hottest deals and grappling with fellow shoppers when you can get the same items delivered to your doorstep with just a click of your cellphone. Seriously. Amazon Prime. Look into it.
Don’t go overboard. Commercialism sends a powerful message (especially during this season) that “stuff” equals happiness. Love someone? Buy them a gift! Love someone a lot? Buy them a diamond! Like someone a little? Eh, a Starbucks gift card will do the job. The media advertises to us each and every day showing us all of the things that we want but (probably) don’t need, and the seemingly-old-fashioned sentiment of presents not being the true meaning of Christmas seems so cliché that we practically smother the message with even more gifts that we found at the register even after we’d filled our shopping cart. Trust me, I feel it too. The need to buy more and more things for the people you love because you love them more than this thing you spent $19.99 on, right? And you’ve been friends for so long that they at least deserve something that is $49.99, right? But then you remember there are so many wonderful people in your life and if, everyone deserves something that is at least $49.99, then your bank account starts to look a little bah-humbug… I don’t care how Hallmark Movie Channel it sounds, remember that you don’t need to spend money to show someone you care.
Don’t think you have to do everything at once. Just because you’re invited to 5 tree lightings, 10 office parties, and 15 let’s-get-coffee-or-drinks-and-catch-up’s doesn’t mean you have to attend all of them. Again, unless you have the luxury of taking the whole month off of work, it’s important to remember that all of your fun, holiday moments have to occur around your work schedule, and that, oh yea, you also need to schedule a few hours of sleep in there as well. Take it easy, learn to say no, and prioritize where your time should truly be spent.
When you do go out, be present. (Hah! Get it? Present?) The few times you can finally make it to the outside world might be rare and should definitely be treasured. That means you need to enjoy them to the fullest. One way you can do this is by leaving work at work. Turn off your email for a few hours, try not to stress about that big client, and do your best to not sneak off to your laptop and catch up on a few things. Enjoy yourself this holiday season, and remember that while work might be a large part of your life, sometimes others don’t need to hear about it and sometimes even you don’t need to think about it.
Resist the lure. “Let’s face it—there’s no way around it, you still need to work during the holidays. Perhaps you get a few days out of the office, but it will never compare to that long, relaxing break you got when you were in school.” If work needs to be done, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but… That means work needs to be done. Sing carols under your breath, light a pine tree scented candle, chew on a candy cane. Do whatever you need to do to get your holiday fix while finishing what needs to be done. Trust me, we get it. It sucks. But it’s necessary. And think about how much less stressed you’ll be than if you put everything off and came back to the office on January 2 with a desk full of to-dos. That sucks worse.
Remember the importance of spending time with your loved ones. Work can be stressful, and I’m sure all of us have felt at one point or another that we have neglected those we love in the name of business. The holiday season is all about being thankful, so take a little extra time to let those you care about know just how much. Have something that really doesn’t need to be done at this very second? Let it wait. Have an understanding client who wouldn’t mind if you pushed the deadline to the New Year? Talk to them. Don’t postpone what is necessary, but if you have a little wiggle room, take advantage of it. Work will still be there in the morning.
Celebrate. At the end of the day, I always urge you to do whatever makes your little heart happy, no matter what it is. For me, that means I wear a Santa hat and scarf every day and always have at least one cup of tea near me at all times. For the lovely Christina, that means “It’s Time” (aka Christmas Radio) is always playing in our office. For you, I don’t know, but I hope it’s something. Just take a look out your window, remember what the holidays are all about, and think happy thoughts until a smile blooms on your face. Then take that smile back to your desk and realize that work isn’t all that bad. After all, it’s the holidays.