15 tips for a decent work life balance over the holiday season
by Noémie Bouin
Are you tired hearing your mum complain you care too much about your job?
Are you tired your family tells you, you shouldn’t read work email while you’re at home, decorating your Christmas tree?
If so, then you’ll be interested in these tips that have changed my Christmas. Starting out with having to sneak out for work, and ending with an excellent work-life balance between family and working time.
Holiday being by definition “An extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in travelling” (Oxford Dictionary) you can clearly wonder why you should include a work-life balance into your lifestyle. That sounds totally irrational. But in today’s world of endless communication and technology, up to 59% of U.S. employees – and 54% of U.K. employees, check their work e-mails during holidays. (research by GFI)
Especially in a world where 95% of countries have mandatory paid holidays – the only exceptions being Liberia, the Marshal Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Sri Lanka, Tonga and the US where no federal law is regulating this – financial factors are clearly not relevant reasons to work during this time. However, you could follow up with the traditional “why not?” and indeed; wouldn’t you work over the holiday season?
Most people would assume work is a negative thing and that it’s the necessary effort to survive in this hard world, but as my boyfriend and his brother (discussing work over dinner) would say “We are not talking about our work. We are talking about our passion”. Maybe you feel fulfilled because of your work and maybe you might even be passionate about your job. I mean how great would the world be if all of us got to spend our time on our passions during a holiday, and have that work-life balance we desire?
But, your family, friends and the people around you might not have this perspective on your work-life balance and expect you to disconnect from your job, enjoy relaxation and relieve stress, particularly during traditional holidays such as Christmas. So, how do you balance your work and your life over this holiday season, and achieve that work-life balance with a peak productivity state in all areas of life?
As the very concept of work-life balance starts with the concept of work, we’ll open by tips to make sure your work is kept at socially and mentally acceptable levels:
- Work ahead to have the work-life balance you desire
This is the best work-life balance advice I’ve ever received and the best I can give you. Working ahead of your holiday doesn’t start the last day. It’s better if you think about it at least 10-15 days in advance and like any project, you need to set priorities and plan tasks. This might add up a little bit of pressure for the last two weeks in office prior to your holiday but it’ll free your mind for the duration of your time off and will reduce stress when you come back.
Lastly, if you have kids, working ahead and not leaving things to the last minute might be something you keep telling them, and if it’s good for your kids, why not for your work-life balance?
- Delegate to your colleagues
In addition to working ahead and setting expectations, delegating tasks to your colleagues can be a good way to help reduce your holiday workload & get that work-life balance stimulated, and might even be seen as a sign of your trust in them. Delegating work while you’re away is slightly more complicated than delegating tasks when you’re in the same building. Of course, guidelines and deadlines need to be very clear but you also need to clearly empower your teammates, giving them ways to solve issues without you. Think of using “ifs” when you’re giving guidelines such as “If A, do…, if B do …, if C do …, and so on.”
If you give them no right to contact you at all and empower them totally, make sure you’ll be able to entirely trust them and to deal with any consequence of their action. Be an entrepreneur and a leader in these situations. A leader who trusts others a 100% and a leader that takes responsibility for their mistakes, is a leader that will end up gaining support from people. That is part of the equation in achieving that elusive work-life balance everyone talks about.
- Plan your work
As much as working in advance is necessary, planning your work in detail over holidays is very important for your work-life balance. Set priorities and plan specific tasks and things you want to work on, and when. To do so, make sure you talk about it with your relatives so they can also give you their expectations on when you can and cannot work.
Make an agreement with them and tell them when you’ll work so they don’t hold a grudge against you for not caring about family time! This is a good way for them to also realize that you value your work-life balance, that way you won’t get all those questions on how much you’re working or neglecting them.
- Put limits if you want to achieve a proper work-life balance
Most of us assume people have our kind of logic. But, working in a multicultural team for the past six months really taught me that what is “normal” for you might not be normal for others. Calling on December 25th might not be acceptable for you because it’s Christmas, but apparently, it’s totally fine for your Taiwanese colleague who doesn’t celebrate it.
Setting limits and giving clear instructions on how and when to contact you before you leave is very important. It will help people to get organized, especially if they stay at work while you’re away. This also includes setting an auto-responder to your emails with clear dates and if needed, an alternative way of contacting you.
Last but not least, avoid the urge of responding to that email you received on the 25th December at 6pm because you think Pudding and Sherry are eventually putting your family to sleep-mode; setting limits to achieve a work-life balance in your life only works if you respect your own!
- Take advantage of time-saving & work-life balance applications
In the vast ocean of applications, plug-ins and extensions that technology offers us, many are real time-savers. You probably use them in your daily work but have you thought of using them over the holiday season?
For many marketers and community managers, the holiday season is crucial for the customer relationship; you have to post something on Christmas day, New Years, and so on, and sometimes these posts can’t afford a one-day delay. So instead of losing your Christmas day time with your family, take advantage of all the built-in or add-on scheduling to prepare your posts in advance and schedule them for the desired day and time. Facebook has a built-in schedule post, even some Instagram services started offering it.
For emails there are free and easy-to-use extensions such as boomerang (http://www.boomeranggmail.com/)
Finally, taking advantage of those time-savers & work-life balance apps means you have to start trusting them. Once you schedule something, don’t worry about it anymore; it’s done.
- Work on stuff you don’t have time to work on regularly
Holiday time is special so you also need to make your work special. There are tons of things we wished to work on during the year; a long-term planning, creative thinking, our career development, and so on. All these things are time-consuming and we tend to postpone them. Take advantage of this opportunity to be in a different environment to work on these things. This will break your ordinary work routine and help you feel better. Also, being surrounded by people you might not see regularly, can help you discuss ideas and be more creative, provided they’re cool with talking about work with you!
- Choose the right environment to achieve that work-life balance you want
That’s it, you’re there; you planned, you delegated, you worked ahead; it’s now time to enjoy work. However, working outside of the office can be very disturbing or very refreshing depending on the environment you choose. Pick a place that you feel comfortable in, relatively quiet so you can focus, indulge yourself in a cup of your favorite tea or coffee, eat a couple of your grandma’s cookies and start working.
It has to feel different, you’re not in the office and you need to make the experience pleasant. However, avoid your bed at all cost, that’ll make your mind associate it with work and not rest anymore. Which is a big no if you want to have a productive work-life balance.
- Be satisfied with “good enough” during the holidays (80-20 rule).
And now that you’re done with your work, be happy with it. Most passionate people are perfectionists; and if you’re passionate about your job, there’s a good chance you’re a perfectionist at work. But being a perfectionist usually makes you put in a lot of extra efforts in a task, which causes additional stress. Even if it’s a trait you might not want to work on in the rest of the year, you might want to give “good enough” a try when you’re on holiday. After all, if you’re working over the holiday, you have no obligation to be perfect. Finally, as the 80-20 rule suggests – 80% of your results will be produced by 20% of your efforts – holiday time seems to be a good moment to be happy with those 80%!
Once you’ve done your part of the work, make sure you get the most out of your work-life balance. That way everyone around you can enjoy it as much as you do. That is essential for creating a good work-life-balance based on the Why Not 3-Principles.
- Don’t feel guilty
Going on a holiday and taking time off is not something bad; it’s a good thing. The majority of scientific research shows that taking time for yourself helps boost your body, your mind and your productivity. You need to own these holidays, without feeling guilty to achieve that work-life balance with peak productivity. Two things can help you get rid of that guilty thought:
- Will the world stop working, if it’s not done now? One friend used to say that if you really wanted it to be done before you left, you would have done it. If it’s not that important, it can wait.
- Will the world stop working, If it’s not done by you? Something that we tend to forget is that we’re not alone and we’re not irreplaceable. Companies keep working with employees being on vacation and on sick leave all the time, why would your holiday have a bad impact on yours?
Meditating these two points help you reduce the stake of your holiday and clear your mind of your guilt.
- Reduce notifications
Trying to respect all the work-life balance limits you set is quite hard when you’re constantly being bombarded by notifications (especially on your smartphone). Several solutions can help you cut down these notifications:
- Disable notifications: In the settings, disable the notifications from all professional apps you might be using such as your professional email, or any information system app you have. This will help you have notifications only when you open the app.
- Disable data and/or wifi for some applications: Same as notifications, you can disable data and/or wifi for all the professional apps you do not wish to consult on your phone. This is a good trick, especially if you tend to open apps by reflex.
- Disable data and wifi for your phone: Your free time can also be a data-free time, so that you can really connect with the people you love. In Settings, simply disable mobile data and wifi. This is a good alternative to plane mode, as it leaves room for texts and calls (from your loved ones, which obviously includes the pizza guy!)
- Get people to help you in achieving that work-life balance
The magic of Christmas resides in family, relatives and being surrounded by people. These people might be the ones stressing you out, because they think you’re a workaholic, but these people love you, and they would probably do anything to help you! Of course, you might not ask your aunty to help you work on a five-year-plan for your department’s growth but she’ll be happy to give you a reminder or take your phone away if you slip from the agreed work-life balance trackers you set at the beginning of the holiday.
- Change your environment
Changing environment is an excellent way to get your mind out of ordinary problems. Travelling is an excellent way to focus on the present time. Additionally, depending on where you go, wifi and data might not always be available, giving you an excellent excuse not to see your boss’s email (because we always answer them right away?)
- Dive into other time-consuming work-life balance activities.
Whether you want to watch the whole six seasons of Games of Thrones, read the whole Lord of the Ring trilogy or learn pottery; Christmas break is a good time to do these things. They’ll help your mind focus on something non-work-related and fill your schedule so you don’t have the temptation of filling it with work. Also plan activities with your family, friends or relative to make the most of your free time with them. They’ll appreciate that and you’ll feel way more fulfilled than if you would have done some work. This in return will feed your soul, so that you can lower your stress-threshold.
- Avoid typical holiday stress
Getting together with family and relatives, traveling, cooking, buying and preparing presents can be extremely stressful and I often hear colleagues complain they come back more tired after Christmas holidays. To avoid this feeling when you come back, make sure you keep away from stress by planning things carefully and sticking to what’s most important for your work-life balance: being together! Forget about that grumpy cousin you want to impress with your cooking, stick to the tried and true, and buy your presents in advance to dodge last minute rush. This will help you reduce negative times and make the most of your holiday
- Smell some lemons
Aromatherapy, cure by scents, is getting more and more attention from the public. Science has shown the positive effects on our body and mood. A research by the Ohio State University has shown that lemon scent had a positive effect on your mood. So take advantage of all those Christmas cookies and teas with a lemony scent and indulge in a gourmet mood boost!
Whatever your ways, whatever your work-life balance over the Christmas holiday, the only thing I wish you is to live this time by the words of Edna Ferber who once said: “Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.”
by Noémie Bouin
edited by Lova Kremer