Is your office quiet that last week between Christmas and New Year’s? Chances are good it is; one survey found that 1/3 of U.S. workers planned to take the entire week as vacation, with nearly 70% expecting to take at least part of it.
But while the rest of your office might be relaxing by a fire or sliding across an ice rink, the HR department is usually still hard at work, wrapping up year-end needs. And in a counterintuitive fashion, that might mean that it’s even harder to focus on what you need to do. Here are some tips for identifying the important tasks to take on and advice for staying focused while others are out to help you prepare for a smooth start to the New Year.
Identify What Needs to Be Done
That quiet week can be a gift in itself, provided you use it responsibly. If you anticipate it will be hard to dive right in when you come back to the office, do your planning before you leave your desk for the Dec. 24 festivities by taking 10 minutes to create a list of the tasks you hope to accomplish before everyone else heads back to the office on Jan. 2 (or 6!). Here are some thought starters:
- Wrap up year-end reviews. Many offices have turned to more frequent feedback in lieu of annual reviews, but if your office still conducts them, you might be dealing with an onslaught of paperwork. Now is the time to sift through the reports thoughtfully, making notes on items where you might need to follow up, and highlighting areas where training and professional development might be in order as you notice patterns among the reviews.
- Write thank you notes. Definitely acknowledge the secret Santa present, as well as the elves who put together the holiday party, if appropriate. But the end of the year is also a great time to consider all the employees who help make your job easier—or who challenge you to improve. Think of your team members and department heads, but also acknowledge the other people who maybe don’t get thanked as often—from the administrative professionals who ensure your communications go out in a timely fashion to the new employees who helped you rethink your interviewing or onboarding processes.
- Clean out your desk and files. Out with the old and in with the new! It’s easy to make a New Year’s resolution to stop hoarding papers or emails, but much harder to put it into practice—particularly when you hit the ground running Jan. 6, already feeling behind. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the ideal time to get a jump start on the task; your future self will thank you when you put in one to two hours a day tackling this chore that always gets put on the back burner.
- Set goals. Everyone is in a reflective mood, and, as mentioned above, it’s easy to get a little too ambitious with your goal setting in late December. So consider staggering your goals—instead of picking four behaviors at once, choose one per quarter. Feeling successful at one thing will make it more likely you’ll tackle something else, and it’s much easier to manage one new habit or goal than try to foster four at once.
Stay on Task When You’re the Only One in the Office
With a calendar largely devoid of calls, meetings and deadlines, it might be hard to know how to allocate your time—and that makes it surprisingly easy to squander. Here are some ways to help stay on task.
- Take your to-do list and make it into a schedule. One long to-do list is easy to ignore until the last day when you realize you haven’t done all the tasks you’d hoped to. Avoid that by consulting your list and estimating how much time you believe each task will take—be realistic, too. Then divide them up over the days you have. Most work is best accomplished in chunks, so instead of trying to power through 20 thank you notes in one day, allocate four to each day. Do the same with other large tasks so that your time in the office have a predictable flow where you are knocking out small goals each day.
- Set a timer. Once you’ve divided tasks among the days, make yourself sick to a schedule. It’s all too easy to be lured into living vicariously through other people’s holidays on social media, or watching YouTube videos. Once you have picked a task…say, deleting old emails…set a timer for 30 minutes and commit to not being sidetracked until the time is up.
- Find an accountability partner. “Misery” loves company, they say, and even though being in the office catching up on work hardly qualifies as “misery,” you know what we mean. The good news is that when fewer people are in the office, it offers a chance to get to know someone with whom your path might not typically cross. Seek out another hard-working coworker and touch base to see if they want to goal set together; for example, vow to knock out x number of tasks or spend x number of minutes on a larger project. Then meet for coffee or lunch to celebrate your success.
- Take some time for you. Yes, you’re setting a good example by being in the office and yes, you’re feeling accomplished through taking care of tasks you’ve been putting off. The only way to celebrate a win like that? With a little reward. Take satisfaction in how much you got done—and then take an hour or so to do something just for you.