Work Smarter, Not Harder, During the Holidays

The old saying Don’t work harder, work smarter might seem like common sense, but it isn’t common practice—especially during the hectic holiday season. In addition to the year-end push for revenue goals and project completion at work, everyone’s personal time is impacted with school vacations and holiday celebrations that can result in added pressure and frenzied activity. Many people approach this season with the mindset If I put in maximum time and effort 24/7, I should be able to get it all done.

I’d like to suggest something a little different. Although it’s very tempting to tell yourself “Don’t just sit there, do something,” please consider this: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” I know it sounds counterintuitive, but let me explain how this mindset can make things easier both at work and at home.

Someone once taught me the phrase Plan your work and then work your plan. When you jump into a project without proper planning, you often make decisions without all the necessary information—which can create extra work for both you and your team. But when you take the time to think, strategize, and prioritize, you’ll actually save time, have better focus, and avoid pitfalls along the way.

At work, it’s critical to take the time to create a project plan before taking action. This will allow you to be proactive at making continuous progress toward the end goal instead of being reactive when issues come up along the way and slow you down. Without a clear plan, you have no real focus. And without focus, you might be working hard—but not smart.

At home, it’s important to get the whole family involved in creating a plan for the holidays. There’s nothing sadder than ruining your own holiday spirit because you feel like you have to do it all. You might be surprised at how much everyone would pitch in on holiday preparations if you simply asked for help. So sit down as a group and decide who is going to be involved in which project. Doing projects together—whether it’s cooking, shopping, or entertaining—adds to the positive holiday spirit. And you’ll spend more time together as a family. What’s more important than that?

I encourage you to sit down and take a few minutes right now to plan your work and personal activities for the coming month. I guarantee it will be time well spent—and you’ll enjoy the benefits of working smarter, not harder.

Keep Your To-Do List in Perspective

This is the time of year when a lot of people get stressed. You know—running around, making sure they have every present bought and everything done for holiday and new years parties and all that. The holidays can turn into a burden rather than a blessing. This is supposed to be the season of joy and love, not of trouble and hassle. Stress is a major problem this time of year because people have so many “to do” lists. They forget why they’re doing it and get too much into the doing. Too often this time of year we’re human doings rather than human beings. I just want you to check yourself, as I need to check myself as I run around and try to get things done at the end of the year, that I’m a human being, not a human doing.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t get things done and crossed off your list—just don’t make “list accomplishment” the goal of this holiday season.

Make LOVE the goal of the season. Reach out to everyone you talk to and wish them the greatest holiday—the greatest Christmas—the greatest New Year. Just tell them you care about them. Maybe you couldn’t find right present for someone. Perhaps you should sit down and write that person a note about how much you care about them and let them know you’ll send them something after the holidays. Sometimes during this time of year, I like to go through my phone directory and call people I haven’t talked to in a while, and just tell them I care about them. That, to me, is a joyful thing to do this time of year. So what can you do to make this a joyous time, rather than a hassled time?

Have a wonderful Christmas day. Life is a very special occasion if you keep your “to do” list in perspective.

Managing Through the Holidays

The holiday season presents some different challenges for leaders.  Here is some advice I’ve found can help you to get the most out of this special time.

Get in the holiday spirit.  It’s important for leaders to get into the holiday spirit.  It’s a wonderful time of the year when people want to feel good and connected to each other.  It is a time to capitalize on team building and allow workers to get to know each other better. Yet often managers end up acting like Scrooge by being too busy or demanding of themselves and of their people.  Bosses can really ruin the holidays by being grumpy, under stress and too demanding.  Try to be a little more lenient, supportive and willing to “go with the flow” in appreciating the time you have and the people you have to work with.

Focus on what has to be done. It’s important during the holidays to be clear with everybody on their key goals.  What are the significant things that really have to get done during the holiday season to keep business running as usual?  It’s good to write down these goals so that people are better able to work harder earlier in the season if they are going to be less focused later on.  This is especially true if, for your business, the holiday season is one of the busiest time of the year.

Be flexible with employees. Be more flexible in terms of the hours your people work, depending on their needs.  Is there a way they can have a couple of hours off so they can get some of their shopping done and make the time up later?  A lot of people have family and friends fly in and would love to have flexible work hours to accommodate them.  How could the company help employees save time?  For example, at our company, we have people fill out a form that allows them to mail their packages from our company.

Avoid negative news. Don’t use the holiday season to give employees negative news.  It is not a time of the year to catch people doing things wrong, nor it is a time to accent the negative.  Instead, do your best to redirect employees without being punitive.  Save more substantive performance issues for after the new year.  And don’t turn what should be good news into bad news by poor timing.  For example, if you are planning to give employees extra days off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, tell them far enough in advance so that they can make plans for that time.  Otherwise, they might end up at home watching television and griping about you.

Be sensitive to different religions. Be sensitive to those who don’t celebrate Christmas.  You might set aside some time when people could share information about their religious or cultural celebrations.  For example, one of our Jewish employees had people who wanted to find out more about the meaning of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights celebration, meet him for lunch.

Be creative about celebrating the season. Your celebration doesn’t have to be lavish for it to be effective.  You might want to do an activity rather than hosting a party where everyone just sits around and drinks.  It might even allow for more bonding to do something like caroling that allows for a shared experience away from the office.  Another fun group activity that we’ve done is to take the time for our work group to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together, giving each employee a role to read.  Activities such as these can help you avoid getting into the position where you have to worry about serving alcohol to people and having them drive home.

Whenever possible, include families in holiday activities.  We had an artist come to our company one year during the holidays to teach everybody how to paint landscapes.  There were four sessions and everyone could bring their spouses, kids, and parents.  The artist dressed everybody up in French berets and artist aprons.  At the end of the activity she touched up the pictures and then we had them framed.  It was really a lot of fun.

Have fun with celebrations. Think of fun ways to celebrate the season.  I love those parties where everyone buys a three-to-five dollar gift, numbers the gift, and then people pick numbers and open the gifts one at a time.  The person opening the gift has the option of keeping what they open or trading it for one of the already opened gifts. That can turn into a pretty lively time! You can also have people exchange funny cards that they have either bought or made.  You could even set somebody up to be a “Secret Santa,” leaving anonymous gifts for random employees.

Make the spirit last all year long. A few years ago, after the holiday season had ended, several of our employees at The Ken Blanchard Companies asked, “Why does the spirit have to end at the end of the year?”  From that question sprang an employee-run program called “Blanchard for Others” which sponsors local charities and hosts all kinds of fundraising events through the year. Each year they raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity.  We now have the holiday spirit year round.

So get in the holiday spirit this year!  Go with the flow, lighten up, and enjoy this special time with your employees and with your families.

Make Love Your Goal for the Holidays

You know, at this time of year you can really get yourself hassled. You know, running around, making sure you have every present bought and everything done and all that. And life can be a burden rather than a joy. This is supposed to be the season of joy and love, not of burden and hassle and all those kinds of things. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to get things done and cross things off your list, but don’t make “list accomplishment” the goal of this holiday season. Make LOVE the goal of this holiday. If you couldn’t find the right present for someone – maybe you should sit down and write that person a note about how much you care about them and that you’ll send them something after the holidays. Stress is a major problem this time of year because people have so many “to do” lists. They forget why they’re doing it and get too much into the doing. Too often this time of year we’re human doings rather than human beings. I just wanted to check for you, as well as myself as I run around and try to get things done at the end of the year, that I’m a human being, not a human doing.  So reach out to anybody you talk to and wish them the greatest holiday, the greatest the greatest New Year, and just tell them you care about them. Maybe that’s what you ought to do. What I like to do this time of year, too, is to go through my phone list and call people I haven’t talked to in a while, and just tell them I care about them. What can you do to make this a joyous time, rather than a hassled time?  Remember, life is a very special occasion if you keep things in perspective.