How to Get Work Done During the Holiday Season

Posted on December 15, 2016 | Updated on June 28, 2022

Ah — the holidays. They bring joyful music, heartwarming food and gift giving. So play Mariah Carey, grab a cup of cocoa and get shopping! Oh wait. You still have to work full time. After all, those holiday bills don’t pay themselves. So how do you get work done during the holiday season?

You can still enjoy the festivities if you streamline your workday habits to be productive on the job.

1. Compartmentalize Your Life

Leave work at work. Don’t bring papers, reports or contracts past your workspace — whatever you think you might read over — because you won’t. All you’ll bring home is a bundle of guilt — which you’ll have to lug back. This will not foster holiday spirit.

Leave your personal tasks outside the office. Don’t shop for gifts online during your lunch break, even if you only just found out that you must buy a Hatchimal for so-and-so’s children before they’re gone.

Shopping will interrupt your work mindset and will suck up more time than you think. Your goal is to leave work on time so you can have a full evening devoted to holiday activities.

2. Avoid the Email Abyss

Courtesy of Giphy
Courtesy of Giphy

Avoid falling into the email vacuum.

Send spam to the trash and respond only to important messages. Keep your week email separate from your personal email and do not use it to make personal purchases. If you use your work email for any purchases, chances are you’ll be inundated with special promotions to shop online. Don’t set yourself up to see these types of messages. Keep your work as work.

Don’t read your email once you’ve left for the day. Once you check, then you’ll feel compelled to reply, Next thing you know, there goes half an hour you could have spent wrapping presents. Or worse, you read an email that strikes a negative chord and there goes your daughter’s winter concert or a fun night out with your girlfriends.

Likewise, there’s no need to respond to every email. You do not need to supply a witty comeback to the guy who forwarded a video featuring everyone’s heads pasted on elf bodies. Make it clear that you do not respond to emails immediately.

Spread the word that you only allow yourself so much time to check email each day, because otherwise, it’s hard to get things done. Who knows! If you smile and speak like this is such a universal truth — Who doesn’t get bombarded with email? Isn’t it great when you check them and discipline yourself to responded to them quickly? — maybe your mindset will catch on around the office.

3. Use Sticky Notes or a To-Do List to Prioritize

Consider, realistically, what you can accomplish in one day. Write each task/project on a sticky note. Keep a written or digital to-do list. However you do it, keep this list in front of you all day. As soon as you complete one task, crumple up that note and pitch it in the can, cross it off or delete it. Your objective is to toss all the notes and check all the boxes by the end of the day.

What about those random holiday thoughts that pop in your head? Slap them on their own list. Stack them in a pile of sticky notes and take them with you. Write each idea down for later, dismiss it and move back to work.

4. Keep Co-Workers from Distracting You

Courtesy of Giphy
Courtesy of Giphy

If you’re lucky, you actually like some of the people you work with and you sincerely want to hear about their holiday plans: a good shopping deal, a delicious recipe or a new outfit for an upcoming party.

But when work deadlines loom, you need to convey a sense of boundaries.

One way to do that is to wear noise-cancelling headphones. They convey an I’m-in-my–zone vibe that deters socializers, and you could suggest this as an overall office rule. People with headphones are getting things done, so unless it’s an emergency — and it rarely is — send them an email letting them know you need to review something with them.

Remind co-workers who persist or just want to chat that you’ll catch up with them at the upcoming company party. If you have consistently loud co-workers that interfere with your productivity, lead by example and present a few solutions to your boss. They’ll get the hint that your productivity is suffering, and by bringing solutions, you’ll be seen as helpful versus complaining.

5. Limit Office Celebrating

No one likes a Scrooge, but it’s not always possible to participate in every holiday event. Some workplaces host holiday lunches, happy hours, gift exchanges, cookie swaps, charity drives and ugly sweater days. Within departments, staff may have more gift exchanges and out-of-work gatherings.

It’s not feasible to commit to all these social activities and still have time to do your work to the standard that’s expected.

So be selective. Pick the activities that are easiest for you or resonate with you the most. And then engage in those with a cheerful heart.

6. Sleep

Courtesy of Giphy
Courtesy of Giphy

You are no good to anyone if you’re exhausted. Make getting seven hours of sleep a priority. If you consistently get less sleep, your ability to perform complex mental tasks tanks.

Look at the clock. Time for bed? Put down the cookie dough and unhand the wrapping paper. Sleep. Dream of sugarplums. You’ll feel better all day at work and confident knowing you are rested and energized.

7. Ask “If, then”

Face it, some days you may not want to do your work when festivities are in the air. Maybe YOU want to be the one who puts co-workers faces on elf bodies.

Your ability to resist distractions or projects that aren’t helpful to your overall goal is limited. Willpower is a finite resource, especially if holiday-related items tempt you. Psych yourself up for the challenge of getting things done.

To motivate yourself, consider if/then statements. If I finish this task — that I don’t want to do — then I can make it to the holiday lunch.

When overwhelmed by the demands of the season or projects at work that could interfere with your main objectives, keep things in perspective. Ask yourself what the priorities are, and if you’re not sure, ask your boss. Keep checking in with yourself to make sure you spend your valuable time on projects that affect your goals.



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About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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