‘Tis the Season to Be Distracted: Staying Productive During the Holidays

The end of daylight saving time each fall brings with it an extra hour of sleep for most working adults, but it also means that days are growing shorter, sunrises are arriving later and the winter nip and snow are nearly upon us.

It also means the holiday season is fast approaching, and between the groggy feelings that many of us suffer with reduced daylight and the worries and distractions of holiday preparations, cooking, travel and gift shipping, productivity at the workplace often suffers as a result.

While it doesn’t happen to every person or in every industry, surveys and studies show that the holiday season often leads to slower-than-normal productivity levels in workplaces around the world. In fact, according to one study from Toggl, activity levels among employees at North American businesses drop by more than 50 percent between the mid-December start of the holiday season ahead of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

So, how do you keep on track when there’s so many distractions? Let’s take a look at a few tips to help your staff stay on task and still balance the home-life demands that come with the end of the year.

Balance Schedules – At Home and At Work

Holiday Work DistractionsFirst and foremost, employees will typically take more time off from work around the holidays. Whether it’s to accommodate for traveling proverbially “over the river and through the woods” or simply to take care of preparing their home to host family or guests from out of town, businesses will typically see an increase in time-off requests during the last two months of the year. While you don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, you also can’t miss deadlines or fail to meet your client’s needs.

Review schedules and make sure that you balance time off requests fairly and in a way that keeps staffing at levels to guarantee you can meet your customers’ needs. Some workplaces use a lottery system or factor in employee seniority to grant time off. Other offices may incorporate more flexibility or only grant time off if requested before a certain date. Still others may allow staff to take time, but require that they’re available on call if there’s an emergency request. Whatever your approach, make sure that it’s clear to employees and customers alike so that everyone has a fair understanding of what to expect during holiday weeks.

Be Flexible 

Another way to succeed during the holidays is to be flexible. Allowing flexibility in where your people work can be a benefit for your team – but one to be careful with. Allowing employees to work from home on the day before or after a holiday or to take one day a week during the holidays working remotely can be a great benefit. Your employees don’t have to spend time commuting to the office on a day they’re working remote and the flexibility also allows them to passively take care of some home needs between work tasks. But, if not properly managed – by either the employer or the employee – this can end up falling into a productivity trap if home distractions take over the day.

If you normally allow remote work, your staff is already familiar with your expectations and will often be just as productive as during any other time of year. If remote work is new to your team, however, the holidays could be your opportunity to explore how it can work for you while offering more flexibility to accommodate the hectic demands of the season. No matter if remote work is new or routine, make sure that you have set the expectations you have for work-from-home days in terms of employee accessibility and productivity, and suspend the practice if you see missed deadlines or customer disappointments.

Organized and Early

Another recommendation to get ahead of the holidays is to literally get ahead of the holidays. Prioritize your most important tasks and projects, and aim to get them completed within the first few weeks of November or December. This ensures that your staff knows the most demanding commitments and makes sure they are tackled before the real rush hits in the week before or during a holiday. This also allows you make sure your smaller projects can fit into your schedule – or around your schedule – and relieve a bit of stress as you get closer to the actual holiday days.

With that in mind, it may also help to take a cue from the master of deadline management, Kris Kringle – make a list and check it twice. Have everyone on your team put together lists of all their upcoming tasks, deliverables and client commitments and include all their own to-dos for the holidays – shopping, packing, preparing and more. This can make it easier to prioritize all there is for employees to do at both work and home during these bustling weeks and can identify projects that may require some extra help or that may need to be rescheduled, if possible. Plus, there’s always a cathartic boost of seeing to-dos get ticked off that can serve as a bit of positive reinforcement.

Do Something a Little Different

Another way to help keep everyone productive during the holiday season is to make the holidays a little different from your regular work routine. This is a special time of year and full of irregular schedules and challenges, so change with the times and offer a little something outside of the norm with it.

This can take many different forms, depending on your business and your work style. Some offices may offer bonuses or incentives if certain productivity or sales goals are met within teams or departments. Other workplaces may have some fun with a decorating contest to see which person or team is the most creative or who has the most holiday spirit.

You can also get out of the office and hold an end-of-year meeting or an informal feedback session somewhere different, like Space Between. Getting out of the office can often spur new creativity and open the mind to new ways of thinking, and Entrepreneur notes that informal sessions can provide an invaluable opportunity for team members to bond and grow, helping them to succeed and further develop as valued employees beyond the holiday season.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Season

Finally, despite all the stresses and deadlines and weather than can make the holidays so hectic, it’s important to not forget to relax and celebrate the season. The holidays are a time for friends and families to reunite, to enjoy spending time together, and to share meals and gifts and memories of the year and years gone by. It’s important to make sure that you actually take the time to enjoy this reprieve from work, and recharge your batteries in the company of loved ones.

At work, you can also incorporate a bit of levity and seasonal spirit with activities like office potlucks, ugly sweater contests or gift exchanges. Even simply buying lunch for the office can be a big benefit, giving your employees one less thing to worry about for the day and providing a midday break to recharge and refresh. And, of course, there’s always the holiday party where your workers can all spend some time chatting and bonding without the hustle and bustle of client calls or looming deadlines. Encouraging high spirits and camaraderie among your employees can be a boon for your business, so setting aside some time for your office’s good cheer will pay dividends well into the new year.

No matter what holidays you celebrate, going into the season with a plan can help you stay on task and keep on your deadlines and commitments. You don’t have to be Scrooge, but you don’t have to be Santa either – find the right balance for you and your team and you’ll make the holidays a festive, fun and productive way to end 2018 on a high note.