How to achieve work/life balance during the holidays

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Work/life balance during the holidays IS possible. Here’s how.

  1. Prioritize all activities, big and small.
  2. Plan in advance – way in advance.
  3. Schedule everything.
  4. Set boundaries.
  5. Work around what stresses you.
  6. Work a flex schedule.
  7. Work from home.
  8. Know it’s ok to say NO.
  9. Create some ME time.
  10. Spread a little holiday cheer at work.
  11. Getting sick? Jettison everything.


With the holidays nearly upon us, are you facing a challenging time of wrapping up everything that needs to get done in the office while completing (or starting!) your holiday preparations? Mid-November through early January are no doubt “the most wonderful time of the year,” but oftentimes they’re also the most stressful time of the year.

It can be hard to balance the time you want to spend with your family along with the time you must spend completing projects at work. Add in holiday parties, shopping, hosting guests, travel, increased end-of-the-year workloads due to others who’ve taken vacation time – and spending time with friends and relatives who you’d otherwise avoid – and now you’re facing holiday overload.

How can you achieve work/life balance during the holidays? Consider these 11 steps.


Prioritize to achieve work/life balance during the holidays

Start by making a list of your work and personal activities. Divide it up into categories like “must do,” “want to do,” and “feel obligated to do.”

Of course, work projects with looming deadlines should take precedence. But if you can eliminate any tasks on your “must-do” or “feel obligated” list, the rest of your to-dos will start to look a lot easier. Once you’ve listed all the “must do” work assignments, start focusing on your activities outside of the office. This is where the juggle between family, festivities and other holiday-related tasks begins, says Top Resume in their career advice. List those events and activities in order of importance to you.

Now start working down your list. And because you’re human and not a machine, in between your must-dos tasks, include a want-to-do task to re-energize yourself. That’s the tenet of work/life balance during the holidays.

Forbes coaches gave this bit of advice: “When feeling overwhelmed with the sheer number of personal and professional demands on your time, ask yourself, ‘which of these things will I most regret not doing?’”

Related: Holiday hazards and safety tips [infographic]


Plan in advance

Now that you’ve settled on your priorities, it’s time to determine how you’ll use your time. Start by auditing your weekly activities. This way you can determine your weekly requirements, then look for the extra time you can spend on holiday events like parties and shopping.

Sit down with your calendar to get a solid handle on the big projects and assignments you have coming up during the holiday crush. Prioritize those tasks based on their deadlines and importance. Work ahead as much as possible, so that any last-minute jobs that come in don’t completely throw you off your schedule. As Glassdoor advises, “Make sure your boss or manager knows you’re front-loading so that when they see you sneak out at 3pm on the days leading up to Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, they won’t give you a look of disapproval.”

Can you enlist the help of a friend or family member for errands or shopping? Better yet, do your shopping online. It saves time, reduces stress (no circling the parking lot, looking for a spot) and often guarantees that your items are in stock. Many retailers offer deep discounts online during the holidays as well, starting with Cyber Monday and lasting until mid-January, so take advantage of this opportunity to check off some holiday chores.

Related: Avoid these holiday hazards for a merry season


Schedule everything

Now start scheduling your holiday hours. Grab your Outlook calendar, smartphone or day planner, and schedule everything: Your project due dates and the amount of time you need to complete them. Your holiday parties. Any volunteer events. Kids’ parties and special times. Save items like shopping and baking for last, since they are more flexible. Mark them all down and honor them as you would any professional appointment. And don’t forget to add a little “me” time.

Related: Insurance agency email tips during the holidays


Set boundaries to guard work/life balance during the holidays

“Know that there are times that you will need to work and need to play. Be very purposeful when doing both. For example, if you are having family time, leave the phone off and in a room that is nowhere near where you will be. Set boundaries, even if for short periods of time,” says Forbes coaches.

Granted, this is easier said than done, but it’s crucial to having a healthy work/life balance during the holidays. Start by setting limits on the time spent on work. Of course your employer mandates your work hours, but working overtime or taking work home during the holidays isn’t healthy. Be careful to use your time at work efficiently, completing everything you need to do.

“Once you’ve set your holiday work hours, stick to the plan,” says Top Resume. “That means that while you’re at work, use the time exclusively for work-related projects and meetings. Don’t bring your holiday to-do list or personal activities into the office. Keep your mind focused on the tasks at hand.

“By the same token, avoid bringing your work home with you,” they added. “Once you leave the office, leave the office behind you. Don’t check your email, reply to messages, or log in to your account. Ask your team members to respect your time with family and friends and explain to them you will not be available after hours until the holidays are over.”

Be personal in your out-of-office message: mention spending time with your kids or include a reminder that that holiday is for R&R, adds Glassdoor.


Work around what stresses you

Refuse to live up to someone else’s expectation of the holidays; instead stay merry by outsourcing your stressors. “If cooking for a large group, baking cookies, or Christmas shopping are your key stressors, don’t do them,” advises LifeHack. “Lots of grocery stores will help cater your next holiday meal, bakeries exist for a reason, and gift cards are much appreciated by all.”


Work a flex schedule

No doubt your daily commute adds its own stress, especially in the rain/snow/sleet or hail. Ask your boss if you can rearrange your work hours, coming in earlier and leaving earlier or coming later and leaving later, to avoid peak rush hours. Or ask if you can work from home a day or two a week before the holidays so that you can save time, get more done and reduce your stress.

Related: Winter loss control tips for your business during the holidays

Yes, you’ll need to complete your projects on time and probably work just as many hours as you would in the office. But, being able run the dishwasher and do a load of laundry while you’re on a conference call or put a batch of holiday cookies in the oven in between emails can not only help you get more done, but also make you feel more in control of your schedule.


Work from home

When the kids are out for vacation, or home sick with the flu, ask to work from home to maintain your seasonal sanity. After all, you’re getting tasks done, rather than taking sick leave.

And if the kids aren’t sick but just home for the holidays, a break from the office commute and working from home is energizing.  If you really need to knuckle down for a few hours to complete a project, consider heading to your local coffee shop for some concentrated, uninterrupted time (if kids are old enough to be by themselves, of course!)

Related: Holiday safety with smart home devices


Know it’s ok to say NO

Saying “no” may be a sanity-saving maneuver to help you maintain work/life balance during the holidays.

While it strokes your ego to be that go-to person that people can count on in a pinch, it may not be realistic with your holiday schedule.

“If your manager approaches you with a new project idea, don’t enthusiastically agree immediately. Instead, take some time to look at your current commitments and workload,” says ZipRecruiter. “You don’t want to only factor in the work that’s currently on your plate. Also think about any upcoming obligations outside of work. Do you have social commitments or family activities that would prevent you from pulling the late nights needed to get this project done? Think twice before agreeing to take that extra work on.”

Whether you’re saying no to your boss or coworkers, friends or family, saying “no” isn’t selfish or rude, it’s protective. Only you know what’s too much for you during the holidays. Don’t be afraid to decline more work or more responsibility.


Create some ME time

The main benefit from a healthy approach to work/life balance during the holidays is reduced stress and more “me time.” While holiday activities are fun, neglecting yourself in favor of them may cause burn out. Try to schedule some time each day just for you — take a walk at lunch, read a book at your local coffee shop, get a massage or facial – whatever you choose, you’ll need downtime.

Many professionals end up neglecting their normal exercise routine during the winter months because of hectic schedules or unpleasant weather. “If you can’t make it to the gym, find ways to add some extra steps to your day — park farther from the door, use the stairs, send your documents to the furthest printer, or even spend a few minutes walking around the office to say hello to co-workers,” says Top Resume. “Adding those extra steps will increase your energy and help support you in the long holiday season.”


Spread a little holiday cheer at work

If you picked the short straw, meaning you must work the week before or after Christmas, bring along some holiday cheer, says Deskchairworkspace. Decorate your space. Play Christmas carols on your computer. Bring in your crockpot and apple cider for the team.  Add in some holiday goodies. (If it’s the week after Christmas, take all those goodies in to share, so you won’t be tempted to eat them all at home!)


Getting sick? Jettison everything.

The best way to stop the latest COVID iteration, the flu or even a cold from dragging into next year is to stop it at the start. Unless a task or activity is an absolute necessity, cancel your plans, put away your to-do lists, and settle in for a long winter’s nap. Rest should move to the top of your priority list. “Feel badly about canceling on friends and family? You’re doing them a favor,” says LifeHack. “Once people hear that you’re sick, they’ll be glad you stayed away — they don’t want to come down with a cold during the holidays any more than you do!”

Maintaining a work/life balance during the holidays is a challenge. When people stop expecting so much from themselves, they report feeling less stressed about the holidays. After all, nobody puts as many expectations on us as we do ourselves. Rather than focusing on what we feel obligated to do, when we focus on what we want and need to do, our load gets lighter. The holidays become merrier. And we learn to live in the moment.

Enjoy the holidays! We at Arrowhead wish you a very merry season and a prosperous New Year.

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