Are you counting down yet? - Michelle Gibbings

Are you counting down yet?

It’s four weeks until Christmas and, for many, summer holidays.

Holidays are always something to look forward to, and we often derive much joy purely from the anticipation of the holiday.

Sadly, research suggests that the glow from a holiday only lasts a couple of weeks, so you want to ensure you make the most of your time away so that you come back rested and revitalised.

To do this, you need to manage two critical things.

Firstly, your energy levels. It’s often at this time of the year and in the lead-up to a long break that we can feel like we are running out of steam. Balancing the inevitable rush of work deadlines and juggling life and family commitments before the year wraps up can take its toll on your energy levels.

Consider – are you feeling like the tank is low or running on empty, or are you fully charged and ready to go? If it’s the former, you will want to pay specific attention to how you manage your energy.

Secondly, you need to clear the decks so you can go on leave without feeling as though your brain is stuck in work mode. This approach requires discipline and prioritisation.

Here are five tips to help you wrap up your year successfully and prepare for your well-earned break.

Manage deadlines ruthlessly
Does it need to be completed before the year wraps up?  This is a crucial question to ask because it is easy to fall into the trap of setting Christmas as an artificial deadline.

I see it happen all the time. There’s an urgency and imperative to get tasks completed, reports written and projects completed before the end of the year. It puts enormous pressure on all involved.

However, the key decision-makers often won’t look at the work until they are back from their summer holidays in late January. If that’s the case, why set a December deadline? It may feel good to know the work has been done, but consider if the request is reasonable and the impact on your colleagues and team members.

Be realistic about what needs to be done and by when, and be specific about priorities.

Get comfortable saying no
It can be easy to accept every social invitation or underestimate how long a piece of work may take and therefore set unrealistic deadlines for yourself.

You want to be deliberate about what you take on and prioritise ruthlessly. This starts with examining your professional and personal schedule between now and your holiday and determining what’s essential, optional or sub-optimal (which is a nice word for something that is a waste of time).

For items in the last category, they are an easy ‘No’. The optional type is often a little harder to determine. Remember, everything in life is a trade-off. If you say ‘Yes’ to one thing, it may mean you have to say ‘No’ to something else. So, what matters the most to you?

If you struggle with the word ‘No’, you may want to check out William Ury’s book about the power of saying ‘No’ positively, with no regret and no ‘sorry’ attached to it.

Melody Wilding in HBR also suggests there is a right time to say no.

Pace yourself
After you’ve worked through your schedule at a macro level, next, you want to get micro. This step requires you to look at each day and plan it out the night before.

As you plan, you want to do the most energy-intensive tasks for your brain in the morning when you are most alert. This is because the thinking and reasoning part of your brain (pre-frontal cortex) gets depleted during the day. Do the tasks that are more routine and habitual later in the day.

As you are mapping out your schedule, include some time for yourself. When you are busy, it can be hard to prioritise yourself. However, your body needs time to rejuvenate so that you don’t fall over the finish line and spend the first week of your holiday in bed sleeping.

Plan your time away
How are you going to step away from work? Is there a delegated second in charge who will be looking after things?

It’s easy to tell people you are on holiday and then spend half your holiday period still working. To enjoy your break, you need to be specific about whom you are delegating to and what delegated authority they have. Talk with them about what issues you want to have escalated to you while you are away.

Decide before you go away if and when you will review your emails. There is an element of personal preference here. Some people find it less stressful to do a once-a-day check. However, be cautious that you then don’t fall into the habit of checking your emails – constantly. That approach does two things. It suggests you don’t trust the person you have delegated the work to, making them feel uncertain. Secondly, you aren’t switching off from work.

Decide if you are detoxing
Planning your break isn’t just about switching off the email. It is also about switching off screens and the myriad of mobile devices that many of us have.

The benefit of taking time away from your screen is well known, so decide whether you are taking the digital detox route (or not) before you go away. If you are, set the boundaries and manage your device’s alert preferences accordingly.

Now that you have all this in hand, you can hopefully focus on the coming weeks being successful (however you define that), while basking in the knowledge that you have something delightful to look forward to.

Remember the wise words of the writer, Maya Angelou – “Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.

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