Time Management Experts Share Their Secrets For Staying Productive During The Holidays

An overloaded calendar can make December feel like the least productive time of year. But with some small shifts, it doesn’t have to be.

Time Management Experts Share Their Secrets For Staying Productive During The Holidays
[Photo: Flickr user Design Bridge]

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the busiest. Chances are your social obligations are picking up as well as your off-hours tasks. How do you get everything done without sacrificing productivity at work?


It might not feel like it, but it’s possible to meet goals, beat deadlines, and keep your clients happy during the holiday season, says productivity consultant Peggy Duncan. It just takes time and task management. Here are six ideas for being productive at work during the holiday season:

1. Infuse Holiday Spirit Into Your Work

Set a few goals that you want to achieve by the end of the year, then break them down into 25 specific tasks, suggests Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers, a New York-based professional organizing consultant. “Use an advent calendar to reward yourself when you hit your milestones,” she says.

Also, take a tip from Santa and make lists, checking them twice, Zaslow says. For example, plan your holiday preparations so you can be fully present and productive while you’re working. “If you’re constantly Googling for gift ideas while trying to finish your year-end report, you won’t be effective at either task,” she says.

2. Set Intentions

Decide ahead of time the experience you wish to have during the holiday season, says Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones That Really Work.

“Do you want undistracted time with the family? Do you want to spend just 30 minutes a day checking email and disconnect the rest of the time?” he asks.

Decide the outcome you want and set an intention. Then create the physical environment that makes it more likely that you will follow through on your intention.


“If you want undistracted time with the family, leave your computer and phone [behind]. Or if that’s impossible, disconnect your phone from email,” says Bregman.

3. Decide What You Don’t Want To Do

Just say no to the things that you don’t want to do, says Carson Tate, author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style. For example, no holiday parties the week before Christmas, no end-of-the-year business newsletter, no office secret Santa.

“Who says you have to do everything?” she asks. “You do not. Release any guilt about saying no. Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.”

Instead, say yes to the things that bring you joy and no to the things that suck the life right out of you and turn you into Scrooge, says Tate.

4. Maintain Your Pace

Don’t get swept up into a manic pace just because it’s the holidays, says Andrew Mellen, author of Unstuff Your Life. “I remain focused enough to keep my own pace, regardless of what is happening around me,” he says. “That allows me to get work done and still enjoy my downtime, rather than racing around day and night.”

5. Take Advantage of Downtime

With more people out on vacation and fewer meetings and calls happening, use the opportunity to catch up on those tasks you never have time to do, such as filing, decluttering your desk, and planning for the new year to come, says Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet.


“Get even more purposeful by aligning with management to do an entire office clean-out day, with everyone joining in,” she suggests. “Wear jeans, order pizza for everyone, get extra shredding and recycling bins delivered, and make it happen.”

Or use the slow time to learn something new that could streamline your work going forward, adds Duncan. “This could include learning more about the software you use every day,” she says. “That’ll help you spend less time working, but get more done in the New Year.”

6. Use Holiday Parties As Incentives

Instead of extra activities like holiday parties being a hindrance to productivity, they can be a productivity booster if you use them as incentives, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time coach and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment.

“Give yourself certain task goals, like, ‘As soon as I finish this presentation, I can head out to the holiday mixer,’” she says. “The excitement about getting to the event as soon as possible can help you have extra focus and boost your speed at getting things done.”