It’s that time of year again. Festive decorations greet you everywhere you go. In addition to your office holiday party, you probably are also dealing with invitations to a wide range of events. That’s in addition to trying to get all your shopping done. If that isn’t enough, the business world typically shuts down the last week of the year, giving you a shortened month.
With all of that going on, it’s more important than ever to find a way to stay focused. Chances are, your projects and clients can’t be put on hold while you eat cookies and swap gifts all month. You’ll need to find ways to get work done even with all the distractions. To help with that, we’ve put together some tips to keep you on top of things through the end of the year.
Make a Plan
There are two major benefits that come with planning your December in advance. One is that it will help reduce stress as it makes you feel as though you’re in control. You can dedicate specific days to taking care of baking holiday cookies or buying gifts. It may also help relieve financial stress if you draft a budget that you can then follow as you shop. Share it with other members of your family to avoid creating more household debt.
The second benefit is more directly connected to your productivity at work. As you plan your holiday season in advance, look at any project deadlines or big meetings you have coming up. Make sure to note those on your calendar. You can then plan your holiday activities around your big days at work to make sure you can easily manage all aspects of your life.
Find a Quiet Space
If your daily commute is the only peace and quiet you get, you probably need to get away from everything occasionally. That’s even more the case if even your commute is filled with urgent phone calls. You’d be amazed how much work you can get done if you hide away in a coffee shop or coworking space for a few hours a week.
Once you’ve found your secret hideaway, buckle down and get some work done. If possible, turn off your phone and email notifications for chunks of time, setting a goal to check a certain number of tasks off your to-do list before you check for messages and calls. Even if you only do this in 15-minute increments, you’ll be better able to focus if you aren’t constantly being sidetracked.
In a busy month like December, it can be tough to stick to business as usual. So don’t. Instead, make a list of things you must get done on a daily or weekly basis, then list them in priority order. If you can finish the must-do items, move on to those that aren’t nearly as urgent.
As you’re making your list, ask yourself if there’s anything that can wait until January, when things aren’t as hectic. That will free you up to dedicate extra time to tasks you aren’t dealing with any other month of the year, like planning the office holiday party or sending notes of appreciation to your top clients.
Schedule Holiday Time
As you’re blocking time off each week for business meetings and deadlines, don’t forget to set some time aside for those holiday tasks. You’ll need a day to holiday shop, for instance, so find an afternoon and schedule it. If you know Fridays tend to be quiet at the office, make an appointment with yourself to leave work early one Friday just to get your shopping done.
As tempting as it can be to push those personal tasks aside as life gets busy, the truth is that you’ll save yourself more time by getting them out of the way early in the month. Procrastination is a productivity killer, distracting you throughout the month. If you know your holiday gift-buying list is looming over you, you won’t be able to fully focus on the work you need to get done.
Rely on Technology
Thanks to the many apps now available, you can have your own personal assistant in your back pocket. As the holiday season begins, make sure your computer and phone are stocked with the tools you need to stay on top of things. These include the apps you already use in your everyday work life, but you should also consider a few productivity tools you might not know about. Below are some of our favorites.
Google Keep – There’s no limit to what you can get out of Google’s productivity app, starting with making your shopping lists and checking off what you’ve completed. You can access your Google Keep data from your computer or your smartphone and there are even widgets that will make it easy to access the app from your home screen. The collaboration feature means you can share your list with others, including family members who are helping out.
Trello – If you aren’t already using a project management tool for work, the busy holiday season is a good time to start. With Trello, you can create tasks and delegate them to reduce your workload. But you can also use Trello for personal project management. Create tasks for your various holiday-related projects and add family members to cards to delegate things like gift buying and party planning.
Google Calendar – Sure, your various devices come with built-in calendars, but they probably aren’t as useful as Google Calendar. With Google’s app, you can access your calendar from anywhere and even connect family members and control what they can see. Best of all, Google Calendar integrates with Gmail, which means when someone sends you a message with a date included, you can add the item to your calendar directly from the message.
Skype – As useful as text messaging and email can be, sometimes a face-to-face conversation can accomplish more in less time. If you’re trying to plan your holiday get-togethers with faraway family members, videoconferencing is a great option. Skype is available for all platforms and can be used for video or voice chat. It’s especially handy if you have family overseas since international calling is free.
ClickUp – Another valuable tool is ClickUp, which combines the power of project management apps with the simplicity of list-making tools. You can create Kanban boards, Gantt charts, calendars, documents, reminders, spreadsheets, and more. There are even personal productivity tools built in to help you with exercise, travel plans, and more to keep you on top of things year round.
Spotify – Tasks seem a little less grueling when you have a little background music. Put Spotify on your devices and you’ll have holiday music while you’re decorating, cooking, doing your holiday shopping, wrapping gifts, or just relaxing in front of the fire on a cold December night.
Office 365 – As productive as you try to be, there are times when you’ll inevitably be stuck waiting around. You may be stuck in the car while picking your kids up from their extracurricular activities or seated outside a dressing room while your spouse chooses the perfect outfit for that office holiday party. Having Office 365 on your mobile device will let you get to your work files no matter where you are, helping you slash a couple of work tasks off your to-do list.
Wunderlist — Kick-off shopping by getting organized. Wunderlist makes it easy to create shopping lists with handy little checkboxes. You’ll get a big sense of accomplishment every time you put a checkmark next to an item.
Mint — All that shopping can take a toll on your finances. Mint lets you set a budget category for your holiday shopping and easily track your spending. For best results, estimate an amount you want to spend on each person on your list and leave a little wiggle room for those unanticipated overages.
Pinterest — Previous generations used catalogs for inspiration. Today’s consumers browse boards on Pinterest, where you’ll find plenty of gift ideas for everyone on your list. Pinterest is especially useful if you want to make unique presents, like Mason jars filled with candy or DIY gift card holders.
Amazon — The best thing about Amazon is that even if you wait until a few days before Christmas, you may be able to get things delivered in time. There’s an entire section of the site with last-minute gift ideas, but if you’re a Prime member, you can also filter your searches by items with one-day shipping.
Outsource Where Possible
Outsourcing is often associated with business-related duties, but there’s no reason it has to be limited to that. A quick Google search will pull up a wide range of personal shoppers who can take the information you give and put it toward buying all your gifts. If you prefer to do things yourself, you can still save time by paying someone to wrap your gifts. For parties where you’ve been asked to bring a dish, consider buying from a local baker or chef.
But you may prefer to take care of the holiday-related chores. In that case, look at areas of your business you can outsource. Think of the time-consuming business process-oriented tasks that zap your time and your patience. Find a virtual assistant or a professional on a crowdsourcing site to handle them for you.
Learn to Say “No”
We all have those moments where we agree to do something, only to regret it once it’s time to follow through. The time to prevent that is in the moment you’re invited. It’s important to learn to say “no,” reminding yourself that you only have so many hours in the day and you need your energy to make the most of them.
When turning down requests, be firm and clear. Putting the request off will only waste everyone’s time. You’ll likely find people are less disappointed than you assume they’ll be. Decide early in the season what you want to do and decline requests that don’t make that list.
One of the most time-saving things you can do is to organize all your apps in one place. Shift will hold all your tools, from the project management solutions you use to organize your teams to the messaging software that helps you stay in touch. With everything in the same place, you no longer have to worry about logging in and out of accounts and switching from one app to another. You’ll save time during the holiday season but, most importantly, your improved productivity will continue throughout the year.