Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, NAIWE Board of Experts-Networking
Related to the idea of making the most of any pre-holiday downtime is the companion concern of balancing work and family demands from mid-November through the end of the year. No matter what you celebrate, the holiday season imposes emotional and practical demands that make a lot of people just wish for it to be done and dusted … yesterday. But you can enjoy the holidays and still produce the writing and editing work that must be done.
The first step is to check that you know exactly what is due when. Make sure you have some kind of list of current and upcoming deadlines, whether it’s handwritten, in Word, in Excel, in Google Docs (don’t let anyone tell you how to keep track of assignments and deadlines; do and use whatever works for you). I have a combination of a tabbed Word document with assignment specifics, notes on my paper calendar and a daily to-do list to help me stay focused on what I need to do when (and when I’ve billed and been paid!).
Consider posting your deadlines in your workspace so you can see them easily and get the satisfaction of checking things off as you finish them — and so your family can see when you’ll be too busy to be interrupted or thrown off track.
Take advantage of any slow time to do some work early. If it’s already starting to feel overwhelming, see if some projects can be pushed into January.
Learn to say no. If clients suddenly want you to churn out a ton of new work before the end of the year and you feel overburdened, find tactful ways to push their projects into the new year. If family and friends expect more than you can handle, be equally tactful, but firm, in saying no. It can be hard to do, but saying no is essential to our mental health and ability to manage stress.
If you can’t get out of doing new work, or projects already in hand that can’t be moved to 2020, try getting up an hour earlier for a couple days a week to keep yourself on schedule. That’s often easier than staying up later than usual; most of us are more fresh and energetic in the morning than late in the evening after several hours of work and family time. You also might be able to set aside a couple hours on Saturdays and Sundays to keep the work flowing but still enjoy family time.
Make another list to track your holiday or family commitments — travel plans, meal plans, gift planning. Take whatever spare moments you have to get a head start on those activities whenever you can. In fact, doing some early holiday shopping and cooking can be a good break from a heavy work schedule (as long as it doesn’t interfere with those deadlines). Unless you’re like me and love to shop in person out in the real world, do some of your holiday gift-finding and giving online.
If these tasks feel as overwhelming as an overload of work demands, speak up! Kids and partners or spouses, siblings, even parents, can and should pitch in, but if you don’t ask for help, or even tell them what to, that won’t happen. Some of them may have been waiting for years to be more involved in holiday activities, but for whatever reason, haven’t felt as if they could take a more-active role.
Let go of perfection. Remain meticulous in your work, of course, but don’t push yourself into high gear for meals, decorating, gifts, parties and outings that could be downsized and still be fun. Most of us don’t need more stuff; let relatives and friends know that you don’t want fancy or expensive presents this year. Hire someone to clean the house. Take advantage of prepared foods for some of the holiday feasts; you really don’t have to cook everything from scratch (or do all the cooking yourself). Skip the lengthy annual letter and just do a card with a couple of photos — and send it electronically instead of by regular mail. Consider not traveling out of town and state for the big dates.
Balancing work and family throughout the holidays requires focus and discipline, but also a healthy dose of flexibility. Try not to get so locked into a 9-to-5 (or whatever hours you usually work) schedule that you miss out on holiday-related fun stuff. It’s good for our mental and physical health to play. To relax. To have a life other than work.
Whatever you celebrate, enjoy — and however much work you have to finish, best of luck.