How to stay on top of your work and personal obligations during the holidays

The time is nearing, and deadlines are looming, and the holidays are right around the corner. I know it is hard to find the time to get work done without having your thoughts focused on baking cookies, decorating, and buying gifts. Here are some tips to help you get everything you need completed.

Make a list. This is very important. Once you actually see your list you may be able to cross out some things that can be delayed until after the holidays. Now that you made your list, prioritize it and then recruit members of your family, friends, and co-workers to help with different tasks. If you are hosting a holiday party, suggest a potluck instead of you cooking all of the food, this will be very helpful!

Examine your time. I find the best time for me to get work done is late in the evening or early in the morning; I like to work when it is quiet. Think of other times when it is quiet, maybe lunchtime or after 5 pm in the office? For me, I’ve found working on airplanes hugely productive. I can block out the sounds with my iPod and clearly focus on a few tasks while flying to my next destination. If you are more productive with your job in the evening, try to go into work a little later and get some personal things done in the morning.

Capitalize on your relationships. For me, making cookies for the family is fun, but different varieties are completely overwhelming. I coordinate with my friends for a cookie swap and get all different types. Then I can turn these cookies into gifts for family and co-workers. This can help keep the cost of holiday co-worker gift giving down to a minimum.

These all may not work for you, but give it a try. The best advice we can give you is to not stress! It is important to get your professional work completed and spend time with friends and family…that is all you really need to do.

Combating Workday Blues

Suffering from a case of the Mondays? (Or Tuesdays or Wednesdays?) We’ve all experienced the misery of being bummed out and stuck at work. It’s difficult to focus, you’re irritable, and the more you check the clock, the slower that minute hand seems to be moving. It sucks. Luckily, there are a few simple ways that you can cheer yourself up and power through the rest of the day.

Smile. Even if you don’t want to. The simple act of smiling activates the release of neuropeptides in your brain that work toward fighting off stress. Smiling also releases dopamine, endorphins and serotonin into the blood. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Need help finding something to smile about? Bite down sideways on a pen (like this and hold it in your mouth for 10-15 minutes.

Make a schedule and stick to it. Keeping yourself organized and occupied throughout the day will keep you from ruminating about other things and the time will fly by. Don’t forget to schedule things that are fun and relaxing. This will give you something to look forward to throughout the day.

Get some sun. Studies have shown that sunlight has widespread mood-elevating effects and psychiatrists recommend that people suffering from depression and seasonal affective disorder get 30 minutes of sun a day. Not able to get outside? Try a light lamp! Light lamps simulate natural spectrum daylight which has been shown to improve mood, energy, and concentration. Blue light therapy in particular, simulates the color of a clear sky, which triggers the light/dark receptors in our eyes and the release of chemicals that make us feel active and energetic. The best reviews I’ve seen so far are for the Philips goLITE BLU Plus HF3332.

Be mindful. Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that involves focusing on the present moment and is great for stress management. A way to get started is to increase awareness by focusing on your breathing, posture, and body language. It also involves focusing on the present task and not getting distracted by your surroundings. See last week’s blog “Mindfulness at Work” for more information about how you can incorporate mindfulness into your job.

There are lots of techniques you can try to boost your mood at work. The trick is finding out which one works best for you. However, if you find that your workday blues are turning into work-week and work-month blues, I would recommend exploring the root cause and asking yourself if your current job is right for you. 

Mindfulness at Work

During my senior year of undergrad, I took an elective called Social Intelligence. It was, hands down, the most interesting class I took during those entire four years and it was where I was first introduced to the concept of mindfulness. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, mindfulness refers to the practice of focusing on the present and “living in the moment.” It is an amazing tool for stress relief and overall wellness and can be applied to any setting, including the workplace!

We have all experienced the stress of being overwhelmed by the amount or level of difficulty of the work we have to do. Our natural reaction is to ruminate and try to process the situation either internally or with others. People often end up spending more time thinking and talking about how much work they have to do than it would take to actually do it! Practicing mindfulness can help you to channel your focus and block out unnecessary distractions so you can be more productive. It can also help build teamwork, enhance creativity and communication, and resolve conflict.

Here are a few easy ways that you can practice mindfulness at your job:

Just Breathe. Find a quiet place where you work or close your office door if you have one. Sit upright, close your eyes, and slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. Take deep breaths. Feel your chest expand and contract with each breath. Allow whatever thoughts come into your mind to just come and go. If you find yourself stuck on some particular thought, come back to focusing on just your breath. Try this for about five minutes.

Make Smooth Transitions. During the workday, we are constantly moving and changing activities. We move from emails, to meetings, to writing reports and creating spreadsheets, all with extreme speed. Give yourself some time to transition between modes, even if it’s just for a minute. During this time, acknowledge that you are making a transition and remind yourself to remain present so you don’t bring thoughts of the previous mode with you into the next.

Observe and React with Serenity. When dramas arise in the workplace, try to observe what’s happening without being drawn into it. If by chance you do become involved in the drama, stay calm and present in the moment. Don’t draw on old opinions or anger and don’t allow visions of what the future outcome could be determine your actions.

Falter and Learn. Acknowledge that we are all human and we all fail every day. Look at each experience as an opportunity for growth.

Look Out the Window. Too many of us are trapped in windowless offices, surrounded by artificial lighting and muted colors. If you can, take a brief walk outside at least once a day to connect yourself with something natural.

Use a Mindful Clock. The Mindful Clock is a simple little app that gives you a “meditation” chime that you can set to remind you to relax throughout the day.  Try setting it to chime on the hour to remind you to enjoy 5 minutes of breathing. You can find the Mindful Clock here.

These exercises only take a few minutes a day and can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. For more information about mindfulness, there is a wealth of knowledge on the web, as well as several great books by one of the original pioneers of mindfulness in the U.S., John Kabat-Zinn.