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]

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  • Chia-yu Liu

    I read the news of the advantage of stand up working, and bought a set of standing desk for my mom who works at home as her Xmas gift. 
    It seems that she does not have to look down for her laptop monitor, and she likes it a lot. Im glad she gets benefits from my gift! 

  • Karen Nierlich

    I work for myself and I'm taking this time to learn some things I've been meaning to get to for a while and get started on my 2012 goals. That said, I believe in time off too. So am working half days and relaxing or spending time with family half time. 

    Happy New Year All!

  • Matt Brennan

    Now is a good time to get organized. You can set up your Google calendar, or work on expanding your social networks, or revise your marketing plan. It's a good time to focus on smaller details that suffer during your busy work schedule.

  • robert logan

    The thing that caught my eye was the drawings of the hand. OSHA and working like a drone are not the things that interested me. I guess when you count your hours by the hourly pay that you get it gets to be a bit booring. Getting up away from the desk and computer are recommended in a healthy way, NICE.If there is someone who is so attached to the desk, computer and mouse that the contracted the mysterious and unacknowledged "carpal tunnel syndrome"weI would like you to investigate our"cure" for CTS. An accroutement to the mouse and a revalutionary mouse (we have 2 patents and one design patent for this)  to relieve the associated pain for working hard with the same old design of the mouse for the last 30 some years. Nice drawing of the hands. Too bad it doesn't reflect the pain. Sitting for long periods of time is just another job related injury that no one cares about.

  • Dieter Georg

    OR. Spend a little time on that neat idea(s) you had some while ago but never really had the time to do, and "Wow" someone (preferably your exec management) upon their return to the office, week after New Years (..and hey, at least you won't have anyone looking over your shoulder asking what you're doing/why you're browser is pointing there?)


  • Whitney Kelly

    Currently sitting in a ghost town of an office, I'm getting good use out of this week. Just like you suggest - getting organized, catching up on things I've had to set aside for "top priority" items, commenting on Fast Company articles... I agree with David, why take these days off? I'll keep my PTO days for the summer.

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    Back when I was working as an employee, I would never take days off around the holidays. These are the best days to work: come in a bit late, get twice as much (or more) done as on a typical day because there are fewer meetings and distractions, get head of the game for once, everyone is in a good mood because it's the holidays (and it's slow), and leave early. Why would I want to take THAT day off? No way. 

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach