Almost everybody I know is operating at an increased level of stress this holiday season. For many people the holidays mean mistletoe, lights, and time with family. Unfortunately, it rarely coincides with reduced stress at work and having family over can be just a stressful as it is joyful. I’m writing today from my holiday balance point. I’ve taken the day off to get some things done around the house and to get prepared for my own holiday travels. What I’ve found over the years is that by taking an entire day off early in the holiday season as opposed to hoarding those days in order to take them sequentially later in the holiday season, is that I am better able to enjoy the whole holiday season. As someone who manages a lot of projects this makes sense. This is essentially a planning and execution day for me.
Today I’ll go buy thank you notes, plan the details of my holiday travel, and take care of the myriad of odds and ends that would otherwise be causing me major stress as I head into the holidays. By taking today off, I also put my planning time on my own terms. This ensures that work doesn’t intrude into my day off because I was able to plan for taking today off two weeks ago. In fact my work should thank me, because by taking today off I’ve ensured that I’m not distracted for the rest of the holiday season. Tomorrow when I get into the office I won’t be worried about what to buy my in-laws or whether or not I’ll have gifts for everyone who isn’t on the naughty list. It will all be done today—at least that is if I get off this post soon and go do it. The holiday movies on TV probably shouldn’t distract me either or the electronics sale just down the road. Yep, as long as I stay focused I should be stress free this whole holiday season.
I guess the holiday season really isn’t that much different than any other time in a busy executive or manager’s life. In order to perform well you need to find balance. The holiday season just takes everything up a notch, testing your ability to execute under pressure. If you want to survive the holidays or even take the edge off of any busy time at the office, remember these three things:
- Plan for down time – the holidays are just like any other really busy time at work. If you don’t schedule some down time to handle odds and ends you will end up going crazy. I plan a day off every year to handle this. I do the same if I have a large proposal or other major delivery at work where I know I’ll be frantic for several weeks in a row. Being over committed is a way of life for many people. Taking an occasional day “off” to catch up will keep you sane and improve performance.
- Stay calm – It’s easy to forget the niceties when you are under pressure. The holidays are the wrong time to become the angry, snarling jerk that cuts off grandma to get a parking space. Any time I get over committed I try to take an extra deep breath or two before I react. Often I find that the root of the problem isn’t what someone did that instant, it’s the accumulation of things I have going on that is pushing me over the edge.
- Enjoy the ride – Don’t forget that it is supposed to be fun. The holidays are stressful because so much is going on. When I get stressed about that, I try to remember that I have a lot going on because I’ve been pretty fortunate in life to have relatives near by, to have people who want to spend time with me, etc. The same applies to everyday life. Whenever I start to feel my schedule getting the best of me, I remind myself that in being busy is a good thing. In this economy, it’s a blessing to be busy and to be working at all.
Finally, I find when I really get stressed during the holidays there is one thing that always puts me in back in the holiday spirit—Santa. Go to the mall or other place frequented by the big guy and watch kids getting their picture taken and sitting on Santa’s lap. This may not help you in June when you have a big proposal due, but if things get tough in December I know I can always count on Santa to cheer me up.
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