First pumpkins, then turkeys, then gingerbread houses and twinkly lights all in a row. There are so many things to enjoy about this time of year. And that means an equal number of distractions to draw our attention away from our goals. Even when we try our best to stay on track, we’re distracted by the sounds, smells, and activities of the holiday season. It happens to the best of us, no matter how hard we try to stay focused.
Feelings are Contagious
Even if you weren’t thinking about celebrating, relaxing and basking in the holiday cheer before – when we see people around us doing so, it’s likely we’ll start. Why? Because feelings are contagious. The willingness of our peers to let their work fall by the wayside is likely to rub off on us too. It’s a strange but true fact. As some researchers say, “Other’s moods may be as easy to catch as their germs.”
While it’s likely that our moods will be impacted by those we come directly into contact with, it’s also possible that our emotions can be influenced by people we don’t even know. Researchers note:
“A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon”
We feel what others feel. The reason for this spreading of moods from person to person is a three-step process known as “emotional contagion.”
The first step of this process is when we copy one another’s nonverbal cues. We subconsciously notice things about another person, such as their facial expression, their posture, or even their movement. Then we copy it without realizing we’re doing so. Think about the person waiting in line in front of you at the coffee shop. They just received their pumpkin spice latte. And now, because you saw their grin, you’re also smiling, even though your seasonal drink hasn’t arrived yet.
The next step is to feel the emotion you’re expressing. So while you’re still waiting empty-handed for your drink, you saw the happiness that the drink brought the person in front of you in line. And as a result, your mood may have picked up a bit too.
Finally, in the last stage, you share your experiences with the other person until your emotions and behaviors both are in alignment. Your neighbor takes a sip of the drink and sighs happily. You do also. Your project’s deadline is now a distant memory, replaced with fond thoughts of holiday treats.
The moods of others impact us. And while it’s great to receive and spread holiday cheer, our productivity can collectively take a dip when this happens.
Time isn’t Infinite
When the holiday season creeps up on us, seasonal tasks start popping up everywhere. We often brush them off thinking that we can get them done in a jiffy. But often they end up taking more time than we allotted for. Take the annual tradition of sending holiday cards as an example. If only it were as simple as picking a card and sending it in the mail. Instead, before we can even put the stamp on the envelope and print our address labels, we need to first revise our recipient list, then update our address lists, which requires reaching out to our connections for their address changes. One simple task ends up being quite time consuming. Add other seasonal necessities like online shopping or meal preparation to the schedule and somehow, we find we had much less time to do the things we must get done.
Research backs this up. According to the Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, the average American expects to spend about 42 hours buying, wrapping, and returning gifts as well as partying and traveling to visit family and friends. In other words, as the end of the year is rapidly coming to a close, most of us lose the equivalent of a whole week of work to miscellaneous activities. And this doesn’t even take company holidays or vacation days into account when we are clearly not working on our professional goals. While fun, these things that fill our days aren’t helping us to reach our overarching goals.
Getting Results During the Holiday Season
If you’re like us and don’t want to write off the rest of the year on your goal-seeking trajectory, there’s still hope. In order to keep your goals on track, despite the season, consider following these five suggestions:
Tip 1: Reduce the number of things you plan to accomplish.
There is limited time left in the year. Be realistic and plan accordingly. As we ask in The ONE Thing Planner as the fourth quarter gets underway, what’s ONE Thing you can say no to in order to ensure success? If you have a list of the ten big things you want to accomplish, it’s time to simplify. Instead, picture yourself getting ONE big goal completed by the end of the year. What would it be? Now work backwards for the last few weeks of the year.
What smaller dominoes do you need to knock over in the coming weeks in order to achieve your larger goal? Think of it as a micro-level Goal Setting to the Now. If we are realistic about the larger goal that we can reach by the end of the year, we can drill down to the tasks that can be done right now in order to achieve it. Doing so will help close the gap between where we are and where we want to be. Being realistic is essential here. It doesn’t do anyone any good to over-promise and under-deliver on our goals. Instead, the key is to focus on what’s achievable.
Tip 2: Evaluate the hurdles you’ll have to overcome.
Holiday parties, planning, and even shopping take up far more of our time during the holidays than any other time of the year. Many of us have difficulty accepting this as fact, it’s important to consider to make sure we have an accurate idea of how to manage what little time we have. To plan more accurately, we suggest writing out all your obligations or holiday plans on your calendar. That way, you aren’t taken by surprise whenever something comes up. This is something we also address in The ONE Thing Planner. In it, we ask you to think about the three things that are most likely to stop you from accomplishing your priorities. Then, we ask what your solution is for each. These same questions are a great tool to use when planning around holiday activities. That way, you’ll know what activities will prevent you from being productive, and have a game plan to help you keep on track.
Recognize you have things that will get in the way of you focusing on your goals, and plan for them. For instance, are you planning to go holiday shopping during your lunch breaks? You’re not alone. The average person spends 15 hours shopping during this time of year. Because a lot of us can’t squeeze it in after work or on the weekends, we end up skipping lunches to hit the mall. So block out time for it. Is your child in a holiday performance at school? Make sure you block out that time as well. Does your company spend days away from the office during this time of the year planning for next year’s projects? According to Harvard Business Review, off-site retreats are a common event across many companies. If your company takes part in these meetings, you need to plan on this time being spent away from the office. All of these extra activities are important and worthwhile, yet add up to a substantial amount of time being taken away from your primary goals. You can’t be realistic about what you can get done if you don’t take the time to recognize what you’ll be doing when you aren’t working toward accomplishing them.
Tip 3: Cut yourself a little slack
For all the good they bring, the holidays still present us a hurdle to get over in order to reach the goals we set. Recognize that this time of year offers just a bump in the road rather than a reason to get off track and stay off track permanently. On a personal health level, for instance, the holidays are a notoriously difficult time to keep to the healthy habits we’ve worked to create all year. So give yourself a little leniency and have a plan to get back on track. Think, for instance, about the annual cookie swap or pie contest that you’ve been seeing signs for around the office. Participate in it if it brings you joy, but have your meals accounted for over the few days that follow it so that you don’t continue the slide.
Tip 4: Time block for your goal
You’ve accounted for the time you may be needing to cook holiday food, attend the office’s party, brainstorm for next year’s objectives and wrap the gifts. Now, you need to time block it.
For the entirety of the year (holidays included), the first thing we schedule is our time off. If you need to travel to see family or friends, account for it in the time you plan to take off. Next, is the time block you need for holiday prep work.
Once all of the seasonal activity time is accounted for, you can time block for your ONE Thing. Recognize you’ll likely have far less time to allot to your ONE Thing than you normally would, so reread steps 1, 2 and 3 when looking to time block for this end of year goal. We still recommend time blocking for your planning time during this holiday crunch period as well. However, we realize that in order to fit in both seasonal necessities and your ONE Thing, this planning time block may be reduced temporarily. Rest assured, this is a short-term change and it is perfectly acceptable.
Tip 5: Have spare time? Use it to get ahead!
If you are someone that doesn’t get wrapped up in the holiday bruhaha, this is the perfect time of year for you to be productive. In fact, think of it as time you can dedicate to getting ahead at work. Use the quiet time to get closer to reaching your goals. And while everyone else is attending the holiday luncheon, you can put the time to other use. For instance, consider making a list of the skills and knowledge that you bring to the table. You can then use this information to clarify how you want to apply it in the coming year. You can also use this time to lay out your goals for the coming year in the shape of a G-P-S. Determine what goal you would like to achieve in the year ahead and then walk through the priorities you will need to set in order to reach that goal and the strategies you’ll need to apply in order to achieve each priority. If you need additional guidance for creating your own G-P-S document, read more about it here.
When everything is said and done, time during this season seems to move faster than time any other time of the year. So embrace it, enjoy it, and be productive in it. All are possible! How do you get it all done? Tell us your seasonal productivity hacks on our Facebook page!