Every year, you probably make more or less the same New Year’s resolution: to re-enter the workplace refreshed, energetic, and ready to be more productive than ever. (And go to the gym.) Yet, like so many resolutions, you don’t always follow through. Why?
The key may be in realizing that January 1 is like the starting line of a race. And like any race, you can’t expect to win without preparation, nourishment, and rest. How you feel and act come January has everything to do with how you manage your holiday season as a whole.
How do productive people recharge through the holiday and enter January with renewed focus and energy? We spoke to a handful of such individuals, boiling down their advice to seven tips.
1. MASTER THE PRE-HOLIDAY WIND DOWN
If you’re hoping to feel refreshed come January, you need to relax over the holidays. Therefore, it’s important to reach a graceful stopping point toward the end of the year. “When the holidays come, even if you turn off work, it can be hard to turn off your brain,” says Molly Sonsteng, co-founder of the productivity retreat Caveday. “To help, I like to turn to the old-fashioned tool of making to-do lists.”
The beauty of Sonsteng’s holiday-themed to-do lists? In a sense, they’re really not-to-do lists. By writing everything down in mid-December that she wants to tackle in January, Sonsteng is giving herself permission to ignore these things during the holiday. “It’s important to park it all in one place, so you can find it when you come back.”
For Jaime DeLanghe, Slack’s search, learning, and intelligence product lead, December is about “making sure that all the projects we’re working on are in a nice place to pause, so that we can pick them back up. It’s a little like getting your house ready to go on a vacation: You tidy up, sweep the floors, make sure that it will feel nice when you come back, so you don’t stress about it [while you’re away].”
2. DO THE HOLIDAYS RIGHT (AND DON’T OVERDO THEM)
People talk about achieving a healthy work-life balance. But just as it’s possible to overdo work, it’s also possible to overdo life. “Each year has felt busier, more hectic, and less enjoyable,” confesses Sally Susman, Pfizer’s executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer. She’s speaking of her holiday season, not of work.
Susman’s solution? “This year, I’m accepting fewer invitations,” she says. “And I’m attempting to have a ‘thing-less’ Christmas. For example, I’m offering my spouse a home-cooked meal on the day of her choosing, and I’m offering my young adult daughter the chance to tag along on a business trip. It’s really all about time together.”
To that end, rather than a rushed “vacation” to some far-flung beach this year, Susman is planning “low-key time with extended family in a cold-weather location, where there’s little pressure to do anything more than sit by the fire, read, cook, and dine together.”
3. KEEP WORK OUT OF THE HOLIDAYS
DeLanghe’s rule is simple: “If it’s not absolutely essential, I try to keep work out of the holiday.” She recalls a holiday when she was visiting a friend abroad and checked her personal email on her phone. “I accidentally opened my work inbox,” she says, “and I could feel my blood pressure just spiking immediately.” She decided to try an experiment, deleting her work email from her phone. And nothing exploded. “It was this great beginning of me carving out my nights and weekends for myself and feeling confident that when I left,” she says. “Everything was totally fine.”
To this day, Susman laments the Christmas Eve dinner she missed to take a call from her boss who had created a “faux crisis.” “I can’t remember what the crisis was,” she says. “The only thing I remember is the disappointed look on my father’s face when I told him I had to miss the family dinner.”
4. IF WORK MUST INTRUDE, BE FOCUSED AND MINDFUL ABOUT IT
When a work situation comes up that requires attention, however, DeLanghe simply tackles it and moves on. “Multitasking is my enemy,” she says, “especially when it comes to trying to spend time with the people I love and trying to get work done. If I try to attack on both fronts, then I wind up doing neither thing well.
“I make sure I’m putting all my attention where it needs to be just for a short period of time,” she continues, “so I can get back to spending time with my family.”
5. BE WILLING TO EXPERIMENT
Another way to recharge your battery over the holiday break is to vary your routine. “Changing a simple routine can defamiliarize a workday and help us to approach all sorts of new problems with a fresh perspective,” says Dev Aujla, CEO of the recruiting firm Catalog, and author of the book 50 Ways to Get a Job. What if you move that evening workout to the morning? Or switch from coffee to tea? The risk of experimentation is lower during a vacation—and the reward can be a new angle on your daily rhythms.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO PRESS RESET
In the days before returning to the office, it can be tempting to catch up on all the email chains and Slack channels you abandoned in an effort to return to the exact place you were when you left off. But DeLanghe maintains that such busy work might not be worth the stress.
“Instead of spending a half day catching up and triaging things, sometimes the best thing to do is simply to declare bankruptcy and start over from scratch,” she says. No one is truly expecting you to snap right back into the place where you left off. “Don’t be afraid to mark all of your channels in Slack as read, and wait for things to come back to you.”
7. FOCUS ON THE RIGHT STUFF
It’s January and you’re back at your desk. Now what? “It’s easy to confuse doing a lot of things with being productive,” DeLanghe says. “But sometimes productivity is actually about focusing on doing the right things, and being able to say no to the other stuff.”
Aujla suggests keeping a “commitment notebook” through the first weeks of the year, to keep track of the commitments you make—and to avoid overcommitting. He also recommends starting the month with a list of what you want to learn in the new year. “Prioritize what you say yes and no to at your job,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘What will I learn by taking on this new project at work? How can I use my current job to learn different items on the list?'”
Finally, DeLanghe says, “Ask yourself what’s important. Center yourself and think about what you want in your whole life—not just your work life.”
This article was created for and commissioned by Slack.