How to stay focused during this long festive season

We are in the middle of the holiday season, and as you try to juggle parties, shopping, hosting, planning, travelling and work, there’s a good chance you will lose focus and momentum in the office.
Proper planning can help avoid stress that characterise the festive season for many workers.
Proper planning can help avoid stress that characterise the festive season for many workers.

We are in the middle of the holiday season, and as you try to juggle parties, shopping, hosting, planning, travelling and work, there’s a good chance you will lose focus and momentum in the office.

“There are so many competing demands and expectations during the holidays that it is very easy to get overwhelmed and even burn out,” says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work.

Casey Moore, a Productivity coach, agrees. She says many people lose focus during the holiday season because their to-do list swells while their time shrinks.

“Travel planning, guest preparations, gift shopping, children’s events and parties, must be crammed into already-full schedules, which causes stress,” she says.

“Personal stress often affects work performance. It distracts people and diminishes productivity.”

Others become less productive at work during the holidays because they simply lose motivation.

It can be difficult to get things done and maintain a high level of productivity when people, especially decision makers, are out of the office, says Marian Morgan, a productivity coach.

However, if you do manage to maintain focus through the chaos, it gives you a chance to stand out, Morgan says. “With lower and fewer expectations from your otherwise distracted co-workers, you can also use this time to get caught up on your important, but not urgent, tasks.”

When you continue to bring in new business, impress clients, produce quality ideas, and steer clear of the holiday drama at work, your supervisors will notice, Moore says. “You audition for your job every day, whatever your industry or level. Performing consistently, regardless of the season, increases your employability.”

You’ll also feel better about yourself, she adds. “You will be ready to start the New Year running, instead of crawling.”

Kerr agrees. He says you’ll have a greater sense of achievement and balance overall, and “being able to rise to a more demanding schedule and stay focused will make a positive expression on any supervisor.”

Ned Russell, an executive vice president at Publicis Groupe, adds: “You’ll be surprised at what a little focus can do to help make this the most wonderful time of the year.”

Here are tips to help you stay focused and maintain high productivity during the holiday season:

Take a few days off

If you have a few vacation days left at the end of the year, take time to do a little shopping or enjoy a day with your loved ones, Russell says. This will give you a chance to refresh and recharge during the busy holiday season.

Create your to-do list and prioritise tasks

Get your tasks and projects, both personal and professional, into a digital or paper system and out of your head, Moore suggests.

Once you see all your commitments and want-to-dos, decide which to drop and those could wait until the New Year. Move the latter onto the back burner. “The psychological relief of clearing your mental clutter and then removing some burdens is immense. It makes your holidays more joyful and energises you to accomplish your front burner tasks.”

Avoid multi-tasking

Work on one project at a time, Russell says. If you have numerous projects going on at once, ask your supervisor for some assistance. In addition, try to avoid working on personal and work-related tasks at the same time.

Don’t take your work home

“In the digital age many would consider this a nearly impossible feat, but it is still one worth striving for,” says Michael Woodward, PhD, an organisational psychologist and author of The YOU Plan. “We all have family obligations during the holiday season. When at the office try to set clear and reasonable goals for what you want to accomplish while at the office and be sure to commit to a hard break. The idea is to use your motivation for getting out the door on time as a way to fight off those tempting distractions.”

Get into the spirit

Being positive during the holidays can make a big difference in your performance, Russell says. “You’ll also be more pleasant to be around.”

Watch out for distractions While at the office, don’t give yourself the assignment to cram in shopping at lunch. At work, focus on work. You can take on the holiday chores during your spare time. It will also free you up from trying to do too many things at once, Russell says.

Take care of yourself physically

“Exercise more, not less, even if it’s just a walk around the block,” Moore counsels. “Sleep more, not less, even if it’s 30 minutes more a night.” When you make time for these activities, the rest of your schedule falls into place.

Also watch what you eat and drink, Morgan adds. “The increase in sugary foods and alcoholic beverages will impact you the next day at work, mentally and physically.”

Remind yourself to stay focused at work

The trick is to forget about “seasons” and focus on “today.” Is today a holiday? If not, behave as you would in September, Moore says. “Follow that procedure every day you work. On actual holidays or vacation days, forget about work and have fun. It’s that simple.”

Do a self-evaluation

At the end of each day, review your level of productivity. Did you get done what you intended to? If not, what got in your way? Not being able to say no? Too many distractions? Some of your own feelings and emotions? What could you have done differently? What will you do differently tomorrow? “Be sure to acknowledge what worked and do more of that,” Morgan says.

Look forward to next year


The New Year is just around the corner. Anticipating new budgets and projects will keep you motivated for what you’re doing now, Russell says.

Remember what the holidays are all about

Keep in mind the holiday season is for celebration, Woodward says. This should be a joyful time of the year.

“A chaotic holiday season is a choice, not a given,” adds Moore. If you want to walk through it fairly serenely, “take it one moment at a time, instead of seeing it as a season of madness or happiness,” she concludes.

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