The Holidays Can Be Stressful: How to Clear Your Mind at Work

Songs and movies may proclaim the holidays as the most magical and marvelous time of the year. But for many in business, stress arrives as an uninvited guest during the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

clear your mind for work

With competing demands of home and office, the holidays are actually the most stressful time of year for many reasons. Can you finish your work before going on vacation? Will the vacation itself leave you even more stressed? You don’t want to hear from the office while you’re gone, but it’s likely your boss will contact you with something trivial or worse—urgent. On the other hand, if you don’t stay connected to the office, you’ll worry about what’s going on while you’re away. Other workers—not you of course—are focused on holiday prep and aren’t fully engaged with what’s going on at work. Not knowing who's in and out of the office makes it difficult to plan workflow, deadlines and meetings. Those still in the office are burdened with too much responsibility. There's added pressure to meet quotas and complete projects. And finally, the end of the year is a common time for layoffs.

“People overbook and over commit themselves without adequate time, resources and/or money.  It’s easy to do, with work deliverables and deadlines often out of a person’s control and family obligations just as demanding,” says executive coach Joanne Korman Goldman of JKG Coaching. “Part of the stress comes from what’s not in your control.”

One key to overcome stress and gain control is good preparation.

Schedule Vacations Early

Schedule your vacation time as far in advance as possible so everyone—especially your boss—knows when you’ll be out of the office. If you manage a team, ask everyone to give you their vacation requests or estimated plans in advance. That way, you can do your best to coordinate coverage. Even better, ask your team to collaboratively design a schedule and present it to you, Goldman says.

Coordinate Time Off With Other Departments

Have a vacation-planning meeting with other departments to ensure coverage is adequate during the holiday season. Post or upload vacation schedules to a shared location so everyone has access to available contacts during this time.

Communicate About Vacations And Deadlines

Keep a running list of when people you rely on and work with will be away. Then you won’t be surprised when you receive an out-of-office email reply from a person critical to the success of a key project. Plan ahead for realistic project deadlines, anticipating vacation times, Goldman says. If necessary, reset expectations of project deliverables before the holidays create a crisis.

Keep people informed of sales cycles, deadlines, and key performance indicators that impact the quarter. This may not reduce the stress, but can help people understand what’s at stake within the company.

Manage Client Expectations

If you work with clients, you’ll need to manage their expectations. Do they expect coverage during the holidays? Will they be open then, is it their busiest season, or do they shut down or minimize operations during that time? Find out what they need, and plan accordingly, Goldman says. Work to reach an agreement of what you can and can’t provide. If you can’t provide 100 percent of deliverables because of vacation absences, what can you complete and when? Consider other ways of meeting their needs, and offer alternatives that are satisfactory to them, Goldman says. Provide an emergency contact no matter what plans are put in place.

Hire Temporary Help

Request extra resources, such as temporary staffing to cover other people’s time off during the holidays. Budget for this help during the off-season so funding is there when you need it.

Get Ahead Before The Rush

If it will make a difference, plan to stay late early in the season, and get caught up or get ahead to allow yourself more flexibility and wiggle-room later on when holiday events demand even more time. You can also take steps to get personal chores started early. Make a gift list, buy the gifts, tag them with the recipients’ names and wrap them early. And don’t let yourself be tempted to buy more.

Anticipate Personal Stress

If family events stress you out, make a mental or paper list of all the dysfunction that typically occurs in your family, Goldman says. As each happens, check it off. Does Aunt Matilda always arrive late and make excuses? Does your drunk uncle always insist on carving the turkey? Anticipating what will likely occur can help turn the poor behavior of others into a game, and might actually have you laughing at how well you know everyone. Reward yourself by scheduling a massage. If your personal life is under control, your work life will be easier to get under control.

Communicate With Your Team About Personal Chores

Your team members have personal lives too. Shopping, booking trips and other vacation arrangements will invariably happen during working hours. Acknowledge it with your team, as the stress of sneaking these activities in will weigh heavily on productivity, Goldman says. Come to an agreement as a team to focus on work during certain hours while giving everyone permission for individual tasks at another set time. That kind of transparency is team building at its best.

Creating as much stability as possible and managing expectations will help you power through to a great New Year. “You can’t control many circumstances, but you can make choices personally that will help you get through work, and the holidays in general, with less stress than previous years,” Goldman says.

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