An American Editor

November 20, 2019

On the Basics — Staying productive during the holidays

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 3:17 pm

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Owner, An American Editor

Related to the idea of my recent post ( about making the most of any pre-holiday downtime is the companion concern of balancing work and family demands to stay productive (and sane) 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 still produce the editorial 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 on both my desktop and laptop computer, notes on a paper calendar that lives on my desk and has a companion copy in the sunroom where I use my laptop, and a daily to-do list in Word 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 print in your workspace so you can get the satisfaction of checking things off as you finish them — and so your colleagues or family can see when you’ll be too busy to be interrupted or thrown off track with new requests, whether work-related or personal.

Take advantage of any slow time in November to do some December work early if you can. 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 see if you can move some of their projects into the new year. If you’re a freelancer, see if you can share the work with a colleague; you might earn a little less money, but you also might be a lot more calm, collected and relaxed. If family and friends expect more than you can handle, be equally tactful, but firm, in saying no. We have to set our own boundaries, in both our professional and personal lives. That isn’t always easy, but it’s essential on so many levels.

If you can’t get out of doing new work or projects 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, at least for me; most of us are more fresh and energetic in the morning than late in the evening after several hours of work and family time. If you work in-house, consider going to the office on a couple of Saturdays when there will be far fewer phone calls, e-mail messages and colleagial interruptions to juggle with getting that work done.

Make another list to track your holiday or family commitments — travel plans, meal plans, gift planning. Use the next few weeks to get a head start on those elements 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). I love to shop and much prefer going to the store over shopping online, but many people find it easier, faster and less distracting to do their holiday gift shopping online; again, do what works for you.

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 just tell them what to help with, 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 them know you want their help, and be vocal with appreciation when they provide it.

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, and don’t plan to give them. Hire someone to clean the house instead of doing it yourself. Take advantage of prepared foods for some of the holiday feasts, or do potlucks. 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. A smaller gathering, or one at your place instead of elsewhere (with guests staying at B&Bs or nearby hotels rather than your house!), could be just the ticket for a better-quality holiday. If you don’t have family to spend the holidays with, use this year to meet a few neighbors and start a new tradition of some sort with them, or with local colleagues. And there’s always the satisfaction of volunteering on Thanksgiving — doing good while feeling good.

Staying productive through 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!

Feel free to share your tips for balancing work and family expectations during the holiday season.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: