Is your diary jam-packed? Are you looking ahead and seeing limited or no more gaps in your working day? Are your weekends loaded with social engagements? Are you feeling the pressure to get things tied off before the end of the year?
If so, you’re in that inevitable pre-Christmas and pre-summer holiday rush.
It happens every year.
Christmas is set as an arbitrary deadline. Whether you celebrate it or not, it’s set as a reference point for getting things wrapped up before people break for Christmas or the summer holiday.
In some sense, it’s natural. It can feel good to finish business activities, close off the books, get things off the agenda and feel like you have work in order before you head off on your summer break. There’s also the psychological effect of the ‘fresh start’ that comes with the new year that can motivate you to clear the slate.
However, this rush to meet targets, complete projects, and finalise budgets (or whatever else it may be) can create an unnecessarily high-stress environment, not just for you but for those around you.
Plus, there is the pressure of getting everything organised for the festive season or holiday and attending all the social engagements that come your way. Once again, we seem to think we must catch up with everyone we haven’t seen in 2023 before 2024 rolls in!
The best approach is to get realistic about the fact that time isn’t elastic, so you want to be strategic, selective and systematic about what you do and don’t do.
Strategically find your Goldilocks zone
Pressure! Some people hate it, while others thrive on it. While everyone reacts to pressure differently, one thing is consistent: pressure is part of our everyday working life.
A certain amount of pressure is good for you because it helps motivate you to act and keeps you focused.
This is because when you experience the right amount of challenge and interest, chemicals are released in your brain (noradrenaline and dopamine), making you more alert, motivated and ready to learn.
Researchers and educators often refer to this as the Goldilocks zone. It is the zone of optimal performance, where a task or learning something is neither too challenging nor too easy.
Like the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it is ‘just right’.
This zone has parallel ideas with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘flow’, a state you experience when you have the right skill level and the right amount of challenge. If one of those elements is missing, you’ll either be anxious, bored or somewhere in between.
Being in flow can be characterised as feeling like you are ‘in the zone’ or ‘in your groove’. It is when you find work almost effortless. You reach this peak when you are working on things that challenge you, but you feel equipped to rise to that challenge.
Mihaly said: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
As you head into this busy period, focus on finding your flow and a rhythm that works for you.
Be selective with your priorities
Not everything needs to be completed before Christmas. You want to be selective about what you prioritise.
If you manage your workflow, this can be as simple as writing down everything you need to do and then considering what’s a ‘must-do’, ‘nice-to-do’ and non-essential. Break the work into manageable chunks. Next, consider the tasks, whether they are in your personal or professional life, where you might be able to outsource or delegate.
If you want to outsource to a third-party supplier, get in early because the best support crews and people book up quickly.
If you are delegating to others, make sure you are reasonable in your request. Don’t shift the workload to make your life easy but someone else’s miserable. If you are delegating to people in your team, openly discuss workload and priorities. Remember, when people are stressed and rushed to meet unrealistic or unreasonable deadlines, that’s when mistakes happen and work quality is reduced.
I’ve seen many examples of work that was ‘urgent’ before Christmas but not needed until the end of January. So, if you are delegating work, be considerate. Do you really need it done before Christmas, or is the request just to alleviate your pressure? If the work is delegated to you, examine it in the context of what else is going on. Ask yourself, what’s the most important? If I complete this work, what else will I stop doing or delay doing?
Communication and negotiation are crucial in this realm. Talk with your leader, colleagues and clients about workloads and expectations. Be honest about what’s doable and negotiate realistic and practical deadlines.
Similarly, communicate with your team. Discuss workload and deadlines to ensure everyone is on the same page. Examine how you can best collaborate and support each other to share the load during this hectic period.
Systematically set your boundaries
Boundaries don’t happen by accident. They are deliberate and involve a systematic process of determining what boundaries you want to set, potentially (when needed) negotiating those boundaries with the people impacted by them, communicating the boundaries, and then putting in place the practices so you stick to them.
Get practical and work through what boundaries you want to establish. Be ruthless about managing your schedule. Avoid wasting time or procrastinating; neither will help you.
As part of this, you want to master the art of the diplomatic but direct ‘no’. This might be a ‘no’ to more work. A ‘no’ to another social engagement. The ‘no’ to hosting another event. It’s as simple as, “Thank you so much for the invitation/request. I’d love to attend/be involved, but I already have commitments I can’t shift”.
Know your limits. Don’t overcommit, and avoid letting other people’s expectations force you into an obligation you don’t want to do. As social creatures, we are easily influenced by others and can feel compelled to follow social norms. Be okay with the person who attends the social event with the store-bought dessert. Be okay with declining an invitation that comes in late, even if you could go, because you need some downtime.
Be ready and willing to allocate time to yourself and your needs. Whether it’s going for a swim, taking a Pilates class, or hanging out in the pub or cafe with a friend, find the time to do what you want to do.
This is also a special time of year when we have the opportunity to connect, so find times to savour those special moments.