The span of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is a special time of year. For many, it’s where your end-of-the-year exhaustion meets end-of-the-year desperation; where your search for free time has to accommodate participation at holiday social events; and where your own personal goals face the pending reality of what you can actually accomplish in the remaining few weeks. To add insult to injury, it’s also daylight savings time which means the days are shorter and the weather is cooler. These special times call for special coping strategies –
- Plan Ahead For Crunch Times
I know of someone who when they make their strategic plan, they leave the first 2 weeks in December blank so that they can catch up on anything that has not been completed during the year. When the calendar turns to December, they have a built in a cushion of time that helps relieve their stress during an already stressful time of year.
- Try The Treat System
Lots of people swear by the treat system during the end-of-the-year crunch time! Since each day can be packed full of pressure to meet other people’s demands, staying committed to completing the most important thing to you without getting off track deserves a reward. If you fulfill your time first thing in the morning by doing what’s important to you, then you get a reward at the end of the day. The only rule is that the reward has to be something truly pleasurable!
- Find A Crunch Time Buddy
The buddy system is a great way to get through the difficult times of the term. Asking someone to be your accountability partner during crunch time will help to keep you connected to the right people. It’s really simple: 1) ask a peer if they will be your partner for two weeks, 2) set up a time to talk for 5-10 minutes each day, and 3) agree to quickly report in during the call by stating what your key priorities are for the day and identifying any potential places you may get stuck for a little advanced problem solving. Two weeks is a minimal commitment and the call can serve as a built-in daily ritual to confirm and clarify your priorities for that day.
- Get Comfortable With End-Of-The-Year Conflicts
The end of the year is guaranteed to have people asking for your money & your time (those last minute tax deductions!). Instead of getting angry and lamenting their consumerist attitudes, understand that at this late date, the only thing you control is your response. Get clear ahead of time about how and when you want to handle these requests and then do it in an efficient and professional manner so it doesn’t disturb your inner peace.
- Try Annoyance Tracking
Most of the things that you find annoying at the end of the year can be alleviated with a little advanced planning. If you’re shocked to find yourself with time-intensive service commitments that all piled up at the end of the year, then make yourself a note to consult your calendar before saying “yes” to anything next year. This doesn’t necessarily solve all of your problems in the moment, but the changes that will come out of your annoyance tracking will reduce your stress in the long run.
- Take Strategic Short-Cuts
Many people respond to the stress of the end of the year by taking shortcuts. Unfortunately, the shortcuts we frequently take often interfere with our personal needs. So instead of unconsciously choosing to skip sleep or give up a meal, try consciously assessing what activities in your day can be eliminated or reduced with minimal consequences. For example, when I skimp on sleep the consequence is physical exhaustion and an old haggardly look. That’s not good for me at all. However, if I stop checking Facebook, don’t answer every phone call that comes my way, sign off all listservs, close my office door (and don’t answer when someone knocks) or re-schedule low priority meetings, the consequences are minimal and I open up time and space in my day for the things that really matter.
- Move Your Butt
Even if you don’t normally exercise, stressful times require movement! If you can combine movement and relaxation (yoga, running, whatever) that’s great! If all you can manage is to take the stairs instead of the elevator up to your office, that’s fine too! If that seems like too much, how about just playing some music and dancing right where you are?! (I do this all the time myself.) Whatever you can do to get your body in motion is worth the time and effort and you’ll appreciate the benefits later on.
- Rethink Your Regular Coping Strategies
Smoking, heavy drinking, overeating, procrastinating, withdrawing and/or glazing out in front of the TV are all too common coping strategies. However, drinking a bottle of wine while binge-watching TV probably isn’t going to leave you feeling truly relaxed and rejuvenated (although it can be a nice distraction). Instead, take a look at your regular stress-relieving behaviors and consider trying some healthier alternatives towards the end-of-the-year crunch time. For example, calling a good friend, taking a hot bath, pausing for a cup of tea, playing with your kids, getting a massage, journaling, reading for pleasure, or listening to music are all great options!
- Hold Your Personal Time (and Space) Sacred
The key to aligning your time with your priorities is to take 30 minutes to plan your week. But during the crunch times it’s even more important to keep that habit going! Your schedule changes, demands on your time increase but the truth is that we still only have a finite amount of time. Oftentimes it can feel like we have more tasks to do than time to do them in. Our human tendency is to focus on the seemingly urgent while neglecting the truly important. Unless we take the time before the week begins to make sure our priorities are appropriately placed in our schedule, they are very likely to get pushed out entirely or we are likely to end up working far more hours than we need to.
- Keep The End In Mind
If all you can do during the next few weeks is to ask yourself: what MUST get done between now and the end of the year and let that answer drive your daily behavior, you will be in good shape. Keep your tasks manageable, ask for help when you need it, and be willing to let some things go by developing the habit of consistently asking: does this matter? During the end-of-year “crunch”, there are many small details that can be released from your life. Stay focused on the most important priorities each day and give yourself permission to let the small stuff go.
I’m not suggesting that you should try all of these strategies at once! Instead, pick 1 or 2 from this list and experiment with them. If they work, great! If not, try a different strategy. The idea is to recognize that the end of the year has its own special energy and unique time challenges that can best be managed by recognizing them and adjusting your approach in whatever ways make the most sense for you!