Staying Focused On The Right "Its" During The Holiday Season

Already feeling stressed about the holidays and you still have turkey in your refrigerator? You're not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, up to 69% of us have greater levels of stress during this holiday season. The top stressors found in one study were a lack of time, a lack of money, and the stress to give and receive gifts. It seems that I more frequently hear people say, "I just want to get through the holidays." How sad. Regardless of your religion or spiritual beliefs, this upcoming holiday season offers the strongest opportunity to relax, reflect, and recharge.... if used correctly.

To help minimize your dread of the upcoming weeks and to make sure your important things get done, try some of these strategies based on my book, Getting to It:


It's so easy to plunge headlong into this time of year and lose focus. Work becomes a blur, time at home is spent preparing for or going to an event, and there are little or no opportunities for personal "down time." Before you get any more stressed, STOP for a few moments and start making plans for how to take more conscious control of how your time will be spent in the coming weeks. While stopped for a nanosecond, ask yourself questions like:

  • What is my amount of discretionary time today? How can I best use it and not just shuffle it away doing low level tasks or "busy work" that can wait?
  • What activities or events have the greatest potential to "stress me out" this holiday season? What actions can I begin taking now to reduce the negative stress associated with these events?

Use Your Filters

In Getting to It, Todd Musig and I discuss the need to use filters to solve the conundrum of infinite possibilities and finite time. They help us identify our most important things and limit our involvement with the "something elses." The filters you use to determine how best to spend your time might include:

  • The feelings you want to have after the holidays are over
  • The maximum amount of money you want to spend on gifts
  • The people you most want to spend time with over the holidays
  • Prioritizing or limiting the number of holiday events you actually attend.

You most likely aren't using many filters at this point during the holiday season, and are simply going with the flow. You and I  both know where that raging river takes us. At work you will want to apply some filters as well. Here they could include:

  • Identifying the tasks or projects that most need completion before the holidays are upon you. What most needs to be done to ensure that 2015 starts off well?
  • Determining the assignments you want completely finished before the holiday break so you don't find your ability to be "in the moment" diminished by recurring thoughts of something you didn't finish at work.
  • Who are the coworkers, vendors, or others who you need to work most closely with right now? Schedule them sooner than later. Even if it requires you to work some longer days now (see my blog on a lack of balance), the ability to more fully relax during the break will worth the sacrifice now.

Don't work on these filters in isolation either. Talk with your work team or boss and determine answers to questions like these so everyone is on the same page-especially since everyone tends to be a little less focused right now.

Above all else, ask yourself, ‘What do I want to experience this holiday season?’

Above all else, ask yourself, "What do I want to experience this holiday season?" The chances are good that your response isn't, "I want to be totally stressed out, financially drained, exhausted, and way behind for 2015." Okay, how can you change your actions to insure that this holiday season gives you more of what you most want.

Create Your "It" Plan

Having identified the what for the holidays, it's time to create the how. Be more intentional about planning each day toward your desired results. If you see a spare 30 minutes in your schedule, think of ways you could use that time to prepare for an upcoming holiday event. You might not be able to prepare food, but you could create a list of what you will prepare and all the necessary ingredients. At work, identify what you need from others if you want to complete certain tasks before the holiday break, and set up meetings or ask them for the information now. Think proactive and not reactive.

A Note About Gifts And Giving

The most precious gift we can give others is our time, so why not make it part of our gift to them?

Research consistently shows that what we most remember and value are experiences, not material items. Instead of trying to find the perfect gift this holiday, why not try being part of the gift itself? One of my favorite gifts each year from two of our friends is a meal they will prepare for my family and I after the holidays. I can't tell you how much I enjoy the time with them after the hustle of the season has passed. You don't have to be that elaborate. Look ahead at movies coming out, pre-purchase tickets to that theater, and plan an afternoon together. Show up at their house one morning with their favorite breakfast items. Even if you don't actually get to eat with them, the gesture will be remembered long after the last Krispy Kreme Doughnut is consumed (just a small hint to my friends).

For a coworker, consider taking them to a unique restaurant in the area for lunch one day. It doesn't have to be an expensive one-the key is the experience of going together. If it isn't possible or appropriate to do something together, make a small contribution to a charity or cause they are passionate about. The gift of saying, "I thought about you" carries much more value than the financial amount of the gift. To learn more about expressing thanks and gratitude in the workplace, check out my blog on the subject.

A Gift To Ourselves

As I said earlier, it's just so easy to allow the holiday season to consume us. If we will take the time to stop, use some filters, and then plan proactively, we might just find that the holidays give us a gift we desperately need: A greater sense of peace, contentment, and gratitude for the all that life offers us.

What do I NOT want to miss this holiday season?