The holiday season is that happy time of the year filled with parties, sumptuous food, presents, and family gatherings where we get a good laugh wearing those ugly sweaters.
But along with these come traffic jams, shopping malls and groceries bursting at their seams, cranky store clerks, tight budgets, and unexpected visits from relatives who swear you told them that they can come over. On top of that, you still got deadlines to meet, deals to close, and reports to submit at work.
The sad reality is that the feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, and stress often outweighs the happy feeling the holiday season. And the struggle is real, particularly among us women. We’re expected to handle decorating the home, do the holiday shopping, prepping the house, hosting the celebration, cooking the meals, and cleaning up after all the guests are gone. That’s on top of our responsibilities at work.
In fact, one study shows that 44% of women reported experiencing their stress levels increase during the holidays compared to men (31%). And while striking a healthy work-life balance can help, this is challenging, regardless of the time of the year.
Work-life balance is a challenge
The demands of work coupled with the fact that we live in a fast-paced, digital world. Corporate cultures upheld by many businesses affect how we balance our time at work, with our families, and with ourselves.
According to a study done by the Center for the American Progress, many companies now regard having a 40-hour work week as part-time. This study is supported by the OECD Better Life Index report, where 1 out of 8 full-time employees works at least 50 hours per week. That depends on their job title and position.
Then there are the work responsibilities you’re expected to fulfill. As a manager, you’re supposed to still deliver the same work quality and results even if you’re understaffed. Otherwise, it can cost you your job.
Naturally, the more time you spend at work, the less time you have left for your family and friends, eating, and sleeping. And if you stretch yourself too thin, it’s going to drive you crazy!
Achieving a healthy work-life balance is tough, especially during the holidays. But, it’s not impossible.
In this guide, I share with you 10 ways to have a healthy work-life balance this holiday season and beyond. I’ve also included a checklist that you can download to take with you.
Ready? Let’s get started!
10 work-life balance strategies for the holiday season
1. Plan way ahead of time.
The holiday season doesn’t sneak up and surprise you. You know exactly when it happens. You also know what’s very likely to occur during the weeks and days during this time of the year.
That said, take into account the worst possible scenario that could happen concerning cash flow, staffing changes, and even weather conditions. List all these down and discuss this with your boss.
For example, if your area is prone to experiencing severe snowstorms that can cause your operations to stop, perhaps you can suggest outsourcing tasks to remote workers and freelancers living outside the US or propose to the executive team to allow them to work from home during this time of the year. That way, your activities don’t, and you don’t compromise on your deadlines.
Also, make sure that you set and communicate expectations to your team.
Schedule a meeting with everyone in your team to talk about your expectations for the upcoming holidays. These should include when you need them to report to work and what tasks they need to complete before they go on leave.
I recommend doing this one-on-one rather than having one group meeting. This would make your direct reports more comfortable to talk and open up with you if they have some concerns. At the same time, they’ll be more willing to work with you, so they still meet your expectations without compromising their own work-life balance.
2. Schedule all your activities.
Most people only list down their work responsibilities in their planners or calendars. The problem with this is that it’s very easy to forget your personal appointments or errands, especially as we enter the holiday season. As the demands at work and your own life increases, it can make you start feeling overwhelmed. Not properly scheduling all your activities also makes you stressed and irritable, turning you to a female Mr. Scrooge.
Using a planner or digital calendar helps. It gives you a visual reference of all your deadlines at work as well as your social and personal engagements. That way, you can keep track of where you spend most of your time daily, weekly, and monthly. At the same time, it compels you to become accountable for everything that you’ve set out to complete.
When planning your schedule, start by listing everything you need to complete for the month on a sheet of paper, not just meetings at work and deadlines. Write down doctor appointments, family get-togethers, birthdays, movie nights, household chores, bills due dates, dance recitals…you get the picture. Include the dates when these are happening on your list.
Next, highlight those that you consider as the most important ones and add these first to your calendar. After you add these to your schedule, highlight the second most important tasks or events and then add these to your calendar or planner. Keep on doing this until you’ve transferred everything from your list to your planner or calendar.
3. Practice the art of time blocking.
Time blocking is a scheduling practice where you allocate a time to complete a specific task. This is a great work-life balance habit to develop for two reasons.
First, it gives you a visual overview of just how much time you’ll be spending each day to complete specific tasks. That way, you prevent yourself from scheduling too many things in a day, so you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Second, it helps you form the habit of deep work. In the book, Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as being able to work on a “cognitively demanding task” for an extended period of time without getting distracted. That way, you get to finish all the tasks you need to accomplish faster. The quality of the work you do is also much better.
For this, I use Google Calendar. It lets me assign a color to each of my task categories. This makes it easy for me to quickly glance at my schedule and see what I need to accomplish.
4. Be willing to delegate tasks.
Just because you’re a manager doesn’t mean that you need to do everything. So don’t be afraid to assign specific tasks to your team. Doing this gets the work done faster. It also lets your team members know that you recognize their skills and abilities to get the job done.
Delegating tasks to other people also shows that you trust them. This is extremely valuable in building relationships at work and in your personal life.
So let’s say that you’re in charge of hosting this year’s family Christmas get together. Instead of slaving away preparing every single dish you’ll be serving, why not ask some of your guests to bring some of the food and drinks for you to share? Or perhaps you can hire someone to help with cleaning up and decorating your home. The more you’re able to delegate your tasks, the more time you can free up to spend with your guests.
5. Stop multitasking.
Perhaps the biggest myth that we’ve believed for the longest time is we get more things done if we master the art of multitasking.
Recent studies have already debunked this myth. In fact, what these studies discovered is that jumping from one task to another not only causes your productivity to plummet but even causes you to develop a shorter attention span and make you feel even more stressed.
The reason is that our brains are wired to focus on one task at a time. According to Earl Miller, a neuroscientist from MIT, each time that we think we’re multitasking, what really happens is that our brain shifts its focus from one task to another.
Think of it like a juggler trying to keep several plates spinning at the same time. It’s fine at first, but the more plates added, the more frantic the job becomes. It’s only a matter of time before the dishes start crashing.
Have you worked on several things at the same time and then stopping to ask yourself, “what was it I was supposed to do next?” That’s usually when your brain can no longer keep up shifting its attention from one task to another.
The solution: focus on one task at a time, especially when it comes to work-related tasks. That way, your brain can process everything correctly, and you’ll end up finishing your work at a much faster pace than you would have you tried to juggle several things at once.
6. Take advantage of internet technology.
Rather than fighting your way through the shopping malls to get your holiday shopping done, why not just do it online? There are many online shopping sites and apps where you can go during your lunch break and buy great gift items and still get amazing discounts. Some will even gift wrapped these so you can have these already shipped directly to those in your list.
You can also keep tabs with your team’s progress during the holidays through any one of the many project management apps like Asana and Clickup and team communication tools like Slack. That way, even if they are not at the office, you can quickly check on the status of the projects you need to complete.
The best part about these tools is that many of these are free to use, so it won’t cost you or the company more to implement this at work.
7. Monitor your spending.
With all the gifts and food you need to prepare during the holiday season, you need to be extra vigilant in monitoring all your expenses. Otherwise, you can find your stress level going through the roof once your credit card bill comes right at the start of the New Year.
Set a budget for your holiday shopping and stick to it. Using an app such as EveryDollar come in very handy. This app lets you set a particular budget to allocate for your holiday shopping. Each time to log in an expense, it will tell you how much is left in your budget to spend. That way, you hold yourself accountable to how you do your Christmas shopping.
8. Don’t be afraid to say “No.”
Let’s face it: turning down an invitation can be tough, especially if it’s from a family member during the holiday season. Author Shauna Niequist explains in her book Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living that the challenge falls on our need for affirmation and acceptance. When we say “no,” we are disappointing the other person, and that can make us feel guilty.
The thing is, if you want to achieve a healthy work-life balance during the holiday season, you got to learn to set your boundaries. After all, you can only handle so many things each day before you start feeling stressed out and cranky. And believe me, no one wants to have a grouch for a guest.
9. Be in the moment.
For the love of all things holy, disengage from your cell phone while you’re in a gathering or spending time with your family during the holidays.
I understand that you’d want to share every single funny picture and give a play-by-play of what’s happening on your Facebook for your other relatives and friends to see how much you’re enjoying the holidays, but you’re missing the entire point here. These are the times for you to catch up and reconnect with your family, friends, and especially children.
The reality is that even though the holidays happen every year, people grow old, move to a different place, or pass away. So take time to cherish each and every single moment you have with them while you can. Besides, you can always post these on your social media accounts after.
10. Take care of yourself.
In the midst of the holiday cheer and festivities, don’t forget to take some time to relax, unwind, and just have time for yourself. Make it a point to include something in your schedule just for yourself. That could be reading a book, taking a leisurely walk, or enjoying a hot cup of tea while listening to your favorite music.
Be sure to also catch up on sleep. Studies show that sleep is the time when your body repairs and rejuvenates itself from the holiday festivities. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep during this time will help you wake up refreshed and energized to face another day.
Lastly, mind what you eat in between parties. All the alcohol and food you consume during the holiday season can take a nasty toll on your health. Eating foods rich in fiber and antioxidants in between can help your body flush out all the toxins, which can cause you to feel sluggish and even get sick. And that’s the last thing you’d want to happen.
One last thing…
The holidays are a time for celebration and beautiful memories. Finding a healthy work-life balance during the holidays will make that happen. The strategies that I’ve shared here will help you with that. When you stay committed to practicing these habits, you’ll find that you’ll be able to experience a healthy work-life balance well after the holiday season.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. What’s the one strategy I’ve shared here that you will start practicing today to begin your journey towards achieving a healthy work-life balance this holiday season? Do you have other ways to help you to balance work and life that I didn’t mention here? Share your thoughts in the comments below.