"Achieving a healthy work-life balance during the holidays" is one of those phrases that feels like an oxymoron. Preparing for end-of-year close in between a calendar packed with strategy meetings for the new year—while booking airline tickets to grandma's house between holiday parties—can fill this time of the year with more migraines than merriment.
Throw in the unique challenges you encounter when you work from home, and most of us would be satisfied with simply surviving holiday overload.
During the holiday season, leaders must tend to their own work-life balance as well as their team member’s, just as scheduling challenges, work projects, deadlines and demands from friends and family clamor for attention.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, you're in good company. And we have good news: balance during the holidays is possible. Take a deep breath, grab a latke and let's get into how to achieve it.
Prioritize Planning in Advance of the Holiday Season
For the most part, holidays are fixed events. And since they come around at the same time each year, you can use that to your advantage. Instead of making decisions about what work and personal obligations you'll devote your precious (and waning!) attention to as they clutter your inbox in the last two months of the year, decide ahead of time and then backward-plan the last quarter from there.
You probably already know what's important — school pageants, year-end client gifts, winter break travel and all-hands audit prep, for instance — and what can safely go on without you? Plan around the important things, accept that you'll have less working hours and then redistribute any can't-miss work projects into the weeks before the chaos begins.
Use Your Team as a Support System for Work-Life Balance
As a leader, the temptation to shield your team from the worst of the stress and try to get in front of derailed timelines by shouldering everything yourself can be overpowering. Succumbing will only set you back on your quest for healthy work-life balance, however. During the holidays, it's important to start by accepting that you may not be able to logistically accomplish all the tasks on your plate. You'll have a much better chance of accomplishing it, however, if you allow capable members of your team to support you.
Begin by ensuring you don't "own" the entire workload mentally — get it out of your head and onto a shared agenda. For most of the year, you likely have a delegation rhythm that allows you to spend less time on backfilled tasks and "one more thing" before winter break. The same system can work just as well during the holiday season, if you plan ahead of time to account for employees that have their own travel plans.
By the way, this also works outside of working hours, too. No one's suggesting you start BCC'ing your children on holiday party PTA email threads or "circle back" with Aunt Diane in regard to her annual newsletter — but letting others shoulder the load once in a while can give you time to catch your breath.
Create Boundaries Between Work Time and 'You' Time
It can be challenging to create an off switch between work and home – especially if you work remotely. However, distinguishing between the two worlds and setting boundaries is key. The great thing about working remotely is that you no longer have a commute standing between the work day and your home life. That's also the not-so-great thing about it, too.
Multi-tasking is great, but it can soon overtake your priorities, causing even more stress. There's a productivity event horizon that's especially easy to overshoot when you're working remotely. There's a lot to be said for setting your focus onto a single thing and working in a sprint — a short burst of laser-focused work on a single task.
Boundary (or border) theory posits that creating space between "selves" — your work self and your home self, say — is important for transitioning between the roles you inhabit in each. So, if you're trying to strike a WLB (work-life balance) while you WFH (work from home), put some literal space between working and personal hours. This might include going to your local gym, running errands or making plans with friends. Moreover, scheduling activities immediately after you clock-out for the day ensures that your mind is preoccupied with things other than work.
Leave Work at Work & Know When to Unplug
It's equally important to commit to actually leaving work in the rearview at the end of the day, even if the rearview is figurative or symbolic. Resist the urge to "just check" your work email, fire off that Slack message or "unwind" on the couch with the quarterly reports and Netflix after the kids are in bed or once your vacation is officially underway.
59 percent of employees admit to checking in on work matters when they’re supposed to be off for the holidays. That goes beyond blurring the lines between leisure and work — that's just a hostile takeover. Take novelist Ann Lamott's advice this year and remember: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
If you find you feel you need permission to unplug completely without any nagging guilt, remember that as a leader, you're authorized to give such approval. If it helps, try:
Viewing downtime as a recovery period. Just like the rest of your body, your brain also needs time to recoup.
Thinking of your team. If you’re a leader, you set the expectation for your team, including the importance of mental and emotional health.
Removing distractions. It’s easy to get caught up with work when it’s constantly in your face. The easiest solution? Log-out of all work programs at the end of each day, delete email and chat apps from your phone and create a separate workspace if you work remotely.
Avoid Known Stressors to Achieve Work-Life Balance During the Holidays
Often, we don't consider where stress originates until the lockjaw or migraine sets in, but outside of the melee, most people can rattle off at least a few things that set their teeth to grinding. And by the end of the year? It's like the whole world is playing the hits. Consider these things beforehand, if you can.
Perhaps you have a knack for picking the perfect white elephant present for the yearly office shindig but feel nothing but anxiety when it's time to pick a potluck dish for the family get together. Maybe you derive a sense of satisfaction from putting the polish on the next year's tax projection slides, but dread collecting on outstanding invoices. Wherever you can, seek support for tackling known stressors or better yet, delegate them to someone with complementary pain points or even skipping them completely. After all, the potluck only needs so many dozens of deviled eggs.
The Best Way to Achieve Work-life Balance During The Holidays? Don't Be Afraid to Say 'No'
It’s easy to get into the mindset of being a people-pleaser. There’s the holiday party at your child’s school, clothing donations in the neighborhood and volunteering for the charitable organization. All of this on top of work projects can start to feel like too much. The solution? Pick and choose your activities by allowing yourself to say no. No one has endless strength or time so it’s important to prioritize what matters most.
Juggling the holidays and work is no easy feat, but it’s a challenge you’ll face year after year. Rather than stress your way through the next few months, follow the above tips to achieve a positive work-life balance during the holidays.
Still need help? Outsourcing is another great way to get things done without the stress. Get in touch with us to explore how we can help you take the weight off your shoulders and let you focus on what really matters – growing your business.