'Tis the season to take time off around the holidays or serve as a backup for a coworker. If you are the latter employee, you may have busy days at work.
The holiday season is a time for joy, family, friends, and celebrations, but it can also be stressful if you have a lot going on at work and need to help someone else while they are out of the office.
If you couldn't take time off, you might be in for a treat. While it's nice of you to help a colleague, you may have more tasks than you expected this time of the year. Are you still waiting for a promotion, a raise, or a bonus? The wait alone can cause you stress, let alone the pressure to plan for the following year.
With all the extra demands, holiday parties, and gatherings, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and neglect your work-life balance. That's why it's important to set work boundaries to protect your time and energy so you can enjoy the seasons with friends and loved ones without stressing about work. Boundaries can be the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season. Here are seven tips (+bonus) to help you create a happy and healthy holiday season with work boundaries:
1. Set Your Priorities
Contrary to what people make you believe, only some tasks are priorities. Priority means one thing at a time, not eight. Use these three steps to help you set priorities at work:
The Daily Three – Before the workday is over, create a list of your top 3 priorities you must accomplish the next day. Then, block time in your calendar to work on each one separately. The goal is to perform one of those tasks at a time within a time frame. If possible, tackle those tasks when you feel like you have the most energy to concentrate and get them done.
Organize your work tasks by priority to avoid feeling swamped. Create a checklist of three and then move on to the other items on the list. Focusing on completing high-priority items can help you create a more manageable workload. And don't strive for perfection with your regular tasks. Good enough is good enough, especially during the holidays.
Communicate Your Schedule in Advance – Don't want to over-promise and under-deliver? Then, communicate what you can do and when you might be able to do it. Check your workload, priorities, and schedule before you say yes to another task.
Also, let your manager know your availability and capacity to take and deliver tasks during the holidays, primarily if you serve as a backup while a colleague is out of the office. You don't want to keep adding meetings and unnecessary tasks to your plate while the team is temporarily short-staffed.
Take Breaks – Going a million miles an hour? It sounds counterintuitive, but taking breaks can help you work more efficiently and get things done faster. You can even schedule breaks in your calendar. For example, for every 50 minutes performed, you take 10 minutes away from your desk.
Incorporate short breaks into your workday to recharge. Whether it's a brief walk or a snack, these breaks can contribute to maintaining focus and sustaining energy levels. Taking a 5-10 minute break can help you feel invigorated.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Can you perform the 20 tasks your colleague left for you to finish while they are out of the office? Did you say YES to that complex task that your manager asked? Did you agree to deliver a project earlier than scheduled to please the client? You’ll soon realize you can’t tackle all those tasks unless you work 60+ hours weekly. And who wants to do that around the holidays when everyone else is celebrating?
Recognizing your limits and declining additional tasks if your plate is already full is essential. Most colleagues will appreciate your honesty ahead of time if you can’t deliver everything they expected. The same goes for requests from your manager. If something can wait or is not urgent, let them know when you’ll do the task after you complete the other ones on your list. You can even request a few minutes of your manager’s time and show them what you must do before you decline or ask for more time to complete their task.
3. Manage Your Schedule
You probably heard that stress is inevitable, but with a solid plan, you can prevent overstressing yourself during the holiday season with this step: if it’s not on your calendar, you can’t do it. Use this tip as if the item missing from your calendar doesn’t exist. If you skip this step, you’ll feel easily overwhelmed and unable to accomplish what you want to do each day.
You can start by adding everything you need to do to your calendar for that first day. Adding everything and realistically setting a time to accomplish that task is essential. Then, do the same for the next day. Committing to your calendar and moving things around as needed is crucial, but don’t overbook yourself. Leave room for breaks and rest.
The key to successful calendar management is this:
Be realistic about who you are and what you can accomplish daily.
Don’t lie to yourself about what you can do or when you will most likely do it.
If you don’t usually wake up at 5 AM to get to work early, don’t expect to do this for a week if you typically go to bed at midnight.
4. Protect Your Time
Time management is a skill most people think they have mastered, but there’s always something new to learn about. Here are a few tips to help you improve your time management skills:
Leverage Technology – Use technology wisely to enhance efficiency in your work, but be mindful not to spend too much time on unnecessary apps and websites during this time. Technology should help instead of distract you from the tasks you need to accomplish.
Set Work Hours – Establish specific work hours to maintain a predictable schedule, and be realistic about what you can accomplish around your regular hours. For example, if 8 AM to 4 PM is your regular schedule, don’t overstuff your schedule to compromise your time. Your goal is to manage your well-being outside of your work hours so you can spend quality time with people and do things you enjoy.
Manage Your Time – If you receive a request and know you don’t want to do it right away, say no. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everything, such as critical requests from your manager. But you can say no to some tasks and invitations. You can even create a folder in your inbox with those emails, then go over each message and write a polite declining response. Here are a few sentences you can use to say no kindly:
Hi [Name], Thanks for this invitation. I appreciate it! Unfortunately, I’m on a tight deadline with some projects, and I won’t be able to make it. Again, thanks for thinking of me.
Hi [Name], Thanks for your message. Unfortunately, I’m on a tight deadline with some projects and can’t help with this task right now. If the task can wait, we can chat again on [add date]. Does that work for you?
If you use the second template, add a note to your calendar to remind yourself that you told the person you would be available on that date to discuss the task. This way, you’ll know what to expect if they take up your offer.
Saying yes feels good and can open up possibilities. But getting things done means having the time and capacity to commit to what matters. When you say yes to everything, it decreases your available time and increases your stress. Your goal is to work on the tasks you can handle without compromising your well-being.
5. Create a ‘Next Year’ List
Most people use the holiday season to review items in their inboxes or to-do lists that are not top priorities, but you don’t have that luxury right now. Instead, you can create a ‘next year’ list and move those tedious tasks to sometime in January. When you have a busy holiday season, you don’t want to get distracted with tasks that won’t impact the needle and help you accomplish your goals.
If a task doesn’t make you miss an important deadline or charge you late fees for missing a payment, it can wait until January. If the task has been on your calendar for a long time, waiting another month won’t make a difference, especially if you’re overwhelmed.
6. Ask For Help
Do you have an assistant or intern on the team? Ask if they can help. Yes, even when some people on your team are out of the office, you can still ask for help. If you still can’t manage your workload, ask if someone else can help you finish a task or if they have any suggestions on how to get it done faster.
Sometimes, a colleague could have an idea or perform something differently and help you save time. You can also ask your manager for help delegating tasks to other team members or prioritize what needs to get done first. If your manager doesn’t know what you have on your plate, they might assume you are handling everything without struggle.
7. Limit Distractions
Need to concentrate on a task? Mute notifications or put your phone away from your sight. Sound simple? It is, but most of us allow our phones to distract us for hours every day. If you use a chat tool at work, put your status to busy or offline. Let your manager and team know when you’ll check emails so they know they shouldn’t expect an urgent response. Let them know how to reach you in case a priority comes up. You can find a dedicated, quiet space without noise if you work from home. You can also use noise-canceling headphones. If that’s not possible, some public libraries have quiet rooms, and most offer silent environments even in the main areas.
BONUS TIP – Be Kind to Yourself!
The holidays can be stressful, especially if you add work busyness to your day. Remember that you are a human being deserving of love, health, and well-being, so don't be too hard on yourself. If you make a mistake at work, own up to it, pick yourself up, and keep going.
Be Gentle to Your Mind – Set limits on work emails and phone calls. If something doesn't need to be a 60-minute meeting, call the person and discuss the matter for 15 minutes. Turn off work notifications on your phone and computer outside of work hours. If you need to check your email, set aside a specific time each day.
Even when you are busy at work, you still need to get your mind away from the office tasks. Schedule some time for yourself each day to relax and recharge. It could be anything from reading a book to taking a walk to spending time with loved ones. You deserve to put yourself on your schedule!
If work is taking a toll on your mental health, check if your company offers resources to help employees manage stress during the holidays, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) or wellness programs. They can help you manage work stress and help you improve your work-life balance.
The holidays can be a joyful but often busy time for everyone, primarily if you are a backup for a colleague at work. It isn't easy to deal with the season's busyness, but work boundaries can help you manage this time of the year without compromising your well-being. You deserve to feel joy, rest, and relax despite your workload. If you need help to begin your journey toward well-being, I have a free resource to help you. Get the Weekday Well-being Checklist here.