"’Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…"
– from The Night Before Christmas, or A Visit From St. Nicholas
So goes the much-loved poem that will be read to countless excited children all round the world this Christmas Eve. If only reality matched the serene scene so perfectly portrayed by the poet!
No, my Christmas Eve involves the now traditional mad rush home from the office. This is followed by a dash to the stores for last-minute essentials, and then a wrapping frenzy as I try to get all the presents looking lovely before they are put in stockings and under trees – all while I try to fit in my favorite Christmas movie ("Scrooged") and eat a mince pie or two.
As much as I try to be, I'm not always prepared for Christmas. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I'm never prepared for it. Much of December is spent fighting off that creeping, uncomfortable feeling that I'm forgetting something, or some things… But, just this once, I've decided to give myself a break. And you should, too.
Just look at the stats! Long-distance trips rise by 54 percent over Thanksgiving and by 23 percent during Christmas and New Year. The U.S. Postal Service will deliver nearly 850 million packages and more than 15 billion (yes, billion!) total pieces of mail this year alone during the holidays. While, for most retailers, the holiday season represents 20 to 40 percent of their total annual sales!
So, what can we do to make sure that we stay on top of it all, and give ourselves time to really enjoy the festivities?
For many of us, the festive period means being super-busy at work, too. Whichever sector you're in, you'll need to make sure that workloads are covered, and that projects are delivered on time and to the same quality as usual. This might mean being unpopular when you say "no" to vacation requests. You can avoid some of the last-minute pain by asking people to submit their holiday requests well in advance, and by being seen to be as fair as possible when sharing out cover.
Planning is also essential if you are going to stay productive. Let's face it, distractions are everywhere at this time of year, and they're often more fun than the things we should be concentrating on. So, if you find yourself thinking about mince pies and mistletoe, when you should be analyzing spreadsheets and schedules, help yourself to stay focused by setting up To-Do Lists and prioritizing your tasks well ahead of the holidays.
Beware the Zombie Office
For some people, work can become a bit of a "dead zone," particularly in that eerily quiet period between Christmas and New Year.
You might find that you're surrounded by empty desks, that half the lights are off, the coffee shop's closed, and even the cleaner is on leave. It's as though you're the last human on Earth; if a zombie apocalypse happened, would you even know about it?
If this sounds like what you're looking forward to, don't waste your time. Use it wisely!
Yes, you could spend this rare undisturbed time in a YouTube wormhole, catching up on all those epic fail and cat videos that your friend sent you. Or, you could say "no" to procrastination and finally get round to ticking off some of those non-urgent tasks.
Make Things Easy For Yourself
It can feel as though the closer you get to Christmas, the faster time flows.
You've got the presents to buy and wrap, the tree to decorate, the lights to put up, food to order, travel plans to arrange, and a whole host of events to attend with family, friends and co-workers. Your to-do list has become longer than Santa's Naughty or Nice list and just looking at it makes you tired.
With all of these competing demands it can be easy to become overwhelmed and exhausted. So, make life easy for yourself, by seizing a few "quick wins."
Take advantage of online wishlists and gift-wrapping services, and avoid any unnecessary travel. This will save you from battling through crowds, facing the worst of the weather (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), and spending on peak-time transportation.
It could save your organization money, too. After all, what's the point in opening the office if it's just you and a few others that will be in? But beware the attractions of home – make sure that you have a "door you can shut" when you need to work.
Keep Calm and Enjoy the Festivities!
While you're juggling the party arrangements and getting those reports in on time, remember to pause occasionally. After all, "Christmas comes but once a year," so spread some festive cheer in your office. Decorate with a tree or a team Advent calendar, put on some Christmas tunes, offer round some seasonal snacks, and be generous!
Finally, know when to switch off from work. And I mean off! Log out of your email, and deactivate your notifications. After all, Christmas is more than just a long list of tasks and rushing from here to there. Christmas should be about enjoying those around you and the moment at hand.
So, when you do get a break, why not treat yourself to your favorite Christmas coffee, put your feet up and relax, and call the people you miss, or settle down with a good book? As the Grinch who stole Christmas once said: "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
Are you working this Christmas? What tips do you have for staying focused? How will you balance festive fun with work? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below.