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Work Smart

How To Make The Most Of The Post-Holiday Lull

Nobody expects much from the week between Christmas and New Year's. That's why it's the perfect time to make some foundation-level renovations to your schedule, and your career.

Even when Christmas and New Year’s Day arrive on separate weekend days, the working week between them feels short—or at least, short on work. You talk to more voicemail prompts than people, your email notifier is so quiet you actually wish for open-ended inbox killers, and budgets and reports land in an alternate universe that rejoins our own in early January. Great time to open up Hulu in a side window, right?

Actually, yes—by all means, get up to speed on Bones. But while you’re running in a lower gear, spend some of your spare cycles on setting yourself up for fewer headaches, more control over your tools, and more output in the upcoming year. They’re not resolutions—they’re just smart investments you can make when nobody is expecting you to show off.

The stuff we already told you to do

Sure, we feel the intra-holiday slowdown in the Work Smart section, too. And, yes, we have a few items we can link you to that make for great, easy round-up material. But we’re going to link it all up right up front, so we can pass on some original advice, too. We do try to practice what we preach.

So, if you’re feeling prone to self-improvement this week, you might want to:

Make little ergonomic changes that will pay off in big ways

The angle at which you view your monitor, the centering of your keyboard on your desk, the number of breaks you take and how often you take them—they all seem so inconsequential, minute to minute. But feeling like your boss lifted you by your spine with a coat hanger, that’s a feeling you’ll get many days, if you don’t take the time to fix up where you work. Lifehacker’s Whitson Gordon offers a good first-time primer. Your government’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration has some deeper reading on sitting positions. And while a standing desk setup may sound like a killer project for 2012, maybe you can just take a small step forward by simply getting up and moving around every 20-30 minutes, as Cornell University’s ergonomics team found to be the most important aspect of workplace health (besides that tested advice about running with sharp things).

Upgrade your office attire

Normally, it’s both trite and contradictory to recommend shopping online on your company’s bandwidth and time. But this year is different. Because you and so many like you are actually going to work this week, many stores are concentrating their typically strong sales online, as DealNews finds in its analysis and review. The best of those sales are among the clothing retailers, who are looking to capitalize on sales made in addition to returns. So snap a picture of your closet, think of how long you can go on a single laundry cycle, and set aside some quality time with your browser this week.

Take time to hear what’s really happening

When all the things that bring people and their messages have gone quiet, you may find yourself with an unusual capacity to think. Not just about what needs to be done, or how soon you can get away, but what you actually do at your job, and how you’d like to be doing it. It’s what Rands (aka Michael Lopp) calls the Noise, and when it’s gone, you can find yourself making some smart notes for when you get back after New Year’s. Or maybe deciding it’s a good time to really make it a new kind of year.

[Image by Flickr user renaissancechambra]