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How to Strike a Balance Between Family and Work Over the Holidays

The holidays are wonderful, in part, because they force you to re-examine your priorities. Don’t let anxiety ruin what’s meant to be a time to relax and connect with the people you care about most.

For being the most wonderful time of the year, the holidays can be awfully stressful. Between finishing year-end projects at work and preparing to host guests at home, it’s a prime time for things to slip through the cracks.

Before you know it, you’ve got work projects past due. Those gifts you ordered online aren’t scheduled to arrive until after New Year’s Day, and the roast is burning in the oven. How can you balance work and family obligations while maintaining your sanity?

1. Be present.

When you’re working, get into that flow state. When you’re with family, keep your mind on the conversation. If you’re always thinking about work when you’re with family (and vice versa), you won’t get the most out of either mode.

As much as possible, keep your smartphone out of sight. Time offline is so important for focus that it’s even suggested as an alternative ADHD treatment. Whatever is waiting in your inbox or on Facebook can wait a little longer.

2. Detail your plans. 

While we may think we have everything planned before the holidays, often we’ve only sketched out the big picture. When, exactly, will guests arrive? Where will they sleep? What will they eat for breakfast?

Don’t be blindsided by the unexpected. To keep your holiday productivity high, schedule what needs to be done and when. Make a detailed list, and check it twice.

To stay organized, set incremental deadlines for yourself. What’s your drop-dead date for purchasing gifts? What about wrapping them? On the work side, when should you be finished mocking up each new page of the website? The more steps you break tasks into, the more steadily you’ll be able to complete them.

3. Finish as much as you can in advance.

Once the holidays get into full swing, schedules tend to go out the window. The more you can accomplish before your relatives arrive and your co-workers set their out-of-office responders, the better. 

Implement processes that help you front-load work and allow for spontaneity during those precious days off. Starting in early December, you might arrive at work an hour early or stay an hour late so you can get ahead of deadlines. At home, you can prepare and freeze foods like stews so they stay fresh until family arrives. 

4. Know your “musts.”

When you’re stressed, everything can seem like an emergency. But in reality, there’s little mission-critical work that has to happen over the holidays.

On both the work and personal side, split your to-do list into “must do” and “would like to do” categories. Make sure you and your teammates are on the same page about what work tasks need to get done. Surely, daily social media posts and sales updates aren’t needed between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Who’s reading them?

Your personal “must-dos” might include time to take breaks and exercise. Although you might think those are luxuries during the holidays, self-care time is key in times of stress and unhealthy eating. Give yourself at least an hour each day to mend your mind and body. 

5. Don’t budge on your boundaries.

To both family and co-workers, you have to learn how to say “no.” Although the people pleasers among us will break out in nervous sweats reading this section, maintaining focus and enjoying family time means not overcommitting yourself. Taking on too much ensures nothing will get done well.

The first step is communicating those boundaries. Let co-workers know when you’ll be online, when they can reach you by phone, and when you’ll be strictly unavailable. Tell family what to expect as well: Are there certain hours when you’ll be working each day? Will you be on call for others?

Don’t be afraid to ask for alone time outside of those hours, either. If you’re an introvert, you simply can’t be around people every minute of every day without needing to refuel. Set aside space for reading or meditation time. If someone interrupts you, kindly remind him that you need time to decompress. Suggest when you might be ready to socialize again.

6. Cut yourself some slack.

No matter how well you plan and set boundaries, know that some things simply may not get done over the holidays. Don’t feel guilty; be grateful for the experience. 

If you’re hosting a dozen family members, you may not get one-on-one time with everyone. You might burn the turkey, no matter how good a cook you are.

The same applies to your work life. You aren’t going to lose your job because you submitted that sales proposal a day late in order to visit relatives you only see once a year. Emails you didn’t respond to over the weekend aren’t the end of the world.

The holidays are wonderful, in part, because they force you to re-examine your priorities. Don’t let anxiety ruin what’s meant to be a time to relax and connect with the people you care about most. Do your best, but don’t forget to breathe and take care of yourself. Both your team and your relatives will understand. 

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