Finding Focus in the Holiday Rush

When you hear the word “Thanksgiving,” what comes to mind? Is it turkey? Gratitude? A crowded family table? Overindulging? Black Friday sales? Time to pull out the holiday decorations?

If you’re like most people, the answer is “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes, that too.”

This time of year, there’s a lot written about gratitude and the positive impact it can have on you, your work, and your relationships (personal and professional). Rightfully so. We’ve certainly written our fair share on the subject over the years. This year we’re going to go against the grain. For one thing, gratitude is something you should embrace and express on a regular basis, not just seasonally. For another, the American holiday also marks the official kick-off of the holiday season and that’s something we need to talk about.

Distraction Here, There, and Everywhere

Your calendar is loaded with office holiday parties, social engagements, school concerts, and social gatherings. You’re also juggling a host of year-end deadlines. You’ve got about 4 weeks left to hit this calendar year’s targets. You’re running out of tomorrows if you want to book business before the books close on December 31st. Yet, you’ve also got vacation days you’ve not taken, and the clock is ticking down on them, too. You’re in the “use them or lose them” stretch. You’ve made plans to get it all done and take a few days off, but then a vendor drops by with a gift basket and you’ve just lost a solid 30 minutes picking through the pile of items with your coworkers trying to decide which coffee to sample first. Let’s face it. It’s always easy to get distracted. Adding in the layer of end-of-year interruptions can put even the most focused, resolute among us at a disadvantage.

Take that Vacation Day

Yes. You read that right. You might worry about how you’re going to juggle your year-end crunch if you’re not in the office every day, but if you’ve got some PTO left, take it. Schedule a random Wednesday off. Extend your weekend by a day. Use that time to fit in your holiday shopping, your cookie baking, your decorating, or whatever else needs your attention outside the office. Carve out time to refresh and refocus. As we’ve said before, downtime can help us solve problems faster and increase our creativity. Your day off will make you better at your job.

Just Say “No” to Multitasking

Sure, doing more than one thing at a time feels like we’re being more productive. We can brainstorm with a coworker while catching up with our filing and organization, all the while sipping a Peppermint Mocha. The truth is we’d be better off focusing on filing or the conversation, not both. (The Peppermint Mocha can stay in the equation either way. Enjoy it!)  Downtime can help us solve problems faster and increase our creativity. Researchers have proven that multitaskers are actually less productive and less effective than their non-juggling counterparts. In fact, a study out of Stanford says “By doing less, you might accomplish more.”

Make a List and Check it Twice

Take a page from that jolly old elf, Santa. He knows a few things about getting organized apparently. Make yourself a to-do list. Prioritize the items you’ve jotted down. As you check items off, take a moment to re-evaluate your list and the order of importance you’ve placed on each item. Are there items you can delegate? Is there something that can be done later when things slow down? Is there something you can check off quickly for an easy win?

Just Say No

There is plenty of opportunity to meet up with friends, family, and festive business partners during this season. You don’t have to accept every invite. Go ahead and read that again. We’ll wait. Be honest about the time you have available for dinners out with business associates. If you’ve got plans for your daughter’s basketball banquet at school, it’s okay to tell your best friend you simply can’t meet up for coffee later the same evening. If you really dread the idea of cooking 4 dozen cookies, say no to the cookie exchange your neighbors are organizing. You don’t have to do it all. Select the activities that bring you joy or help you meet your goals.

Aim for Bursts of Productivity

You don’t have be on target 24/7. You don’t even need to be in the zone every minute of the typical workday. You need to get your stuff done. You don’t need to get it all done at once. Focus on incremental progress. That big end of year pitch you’re working hard on has multiple components. Set-aside a reasonable block of time to work on one facet of it. When you are done or you reach the end of your allocated block of time, go ahead and stretch. Refresh your coffee cup. Take a moment to hear about your coworker’s plans for a trip to Cancun, and then head back to your workspace with a refocused, ready mind set.