The holidays are a time for togetherness, and also for getting totally overwhelmed by how much you have to get done. With all the duties and random life interruptions that the holidays bring (gift-buying, unexpected visitors, some huge dude stuck in your chimney), how do you develop a new productivity plan that will help you make it through December in one piece?
Compiled below is productivity wisdom, advice, and tips from some of the sharpest and most organized minds on the web (and in the world). With these tips on tap, and the right tech to help you execute said tips, this just might be the year that you get your act together. Best of all, this advice will still be relevant long after the last of your holiday decorations gets packed up (you know, in, like, March).
Concentrate with Kitten GIFs
Everyone knows concentration is one of the keys to a productive lifestyle, and knowing is half the battle. Unfortunately, the other half is ignoring all the sweet, sweet temptations around you so you can buckle down and get something done. So what's the best way to tune out distractions, especially when you're desperate to get out of the office and into some holiday wassails (the songs or the drinks)?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen of Mint suggests increasing our focus by giving into one very specific temptation: cute stuff. You know — kitten videos, baby duck GIFs, photos of dogs wearing seasonal "ugly sweaters"? Christensen reports that "cuteness-triggered" emotions can actually help you focus on difficult tasks by "narrowing the breadth of attentional focus." The internet certainly never wants for cuteness, so this technique is worth a shot — especially when paired with more traditional concentration helpers like Freedom, the app that keeps you from getting on the internet when you're supposed to be working (so that you use a flexible, powerful tablet like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 primarily for work, and only spend part of your day indulging in videos of baby pandas on water slides).
Prioritize Actually Getting Something Done
If you can barely figure out how to get everything done on an average day, how are you going to figure out how to get everything done plus schedule in gift shopping plus hit up a few holiday parties plus find the time to recover from any excess eggnog you may have enjoyed at said parties? Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, advises that you "force yourself to prioritize so that you know that you will finish at least that one critical task during the period of the day when you have the most energy and the fewest distractions."
But how do you prevent prioritization from becoming yet another time-suck that leaves you obsessively reorganizing your to-do list for hours? Try a prioritizing strategy like the "triple constraint" model (figuring how much money, time, and planning each project will require), or figure out your most pressing project by working backwards from the deadlines for each, calculating how much time and energy each of them should consume. While this technique sounds ultra-business-y, it can be applied to any set of decisions — like whether you should prioritize gift-wrapping or card-mailing, or how much time you should spend preparing for your trip over the river and through the woods to grandmother's condo.
Don't Fear the Delegator
No person is an island — especially an insanely busy person who's trying to get an extra week's worth of work done before catching a red-eye home for Christmas dinner. But even when we're in the crunchiest of time crunches, the idea of delegating can be terrifying. What if the person I ask says no? What if they do a bad job and I get blamed?
Blogger Kent Fenwick recommends beating your fear of delegation by using an exercise called WTWTCH — What's the Worst That Can Happen? According to Fenwick, once we ask ourselves this, and realize that the worst answers are "Someone will say no" and "Someone will do it wrong," we can use these outcomes to get better at asking others for help. And even when a task we've delegated goes awry, we shouldn't flip out worrying about it — it's better to just consider the failure as important information that will help us delegate better next time. Questions like "Did you define the task enough? Did you define it too much? Did you give the person any resources or recommendations that might have been helpful?" turn a delegation fail into a learning opportunity, says Fenwick. "The more you delegate the better you will get at it and you will strengthen the habit of delegating." And the more you delegate, the sooner you can get finished with your holiday shopping, so really, it's a win-win.
You Can Chip Away at Your Writer's Block
Jerry Seinfeld — who might not technically be a productivity guru, but seems to have accomplished a thing or two — claimed during a Reddit AMA that "Writer's block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work." But that doesn't mean that if you feel genuine, agonizing writer's block, that you're a liar and your pants are not not on fire. It just means writer's block isn't a chronic, crippling condition — it's a solvable, short-term problem. Trying to wrap up projects from home while your kids expect you to be in the throes of holiday cheer may be super frustrating, but there's plenty of help available online — 75 Tools for Creative Thinking or Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies can provide you with a quick spark of inspiration, shaking loose ideas when you feel lost. Then you can get back to work on that script you're writing about four offbeat friends who hang around a coffee shop complaining.
Short Emails = Sweet Emails
When our ancient primitive ancestors were living in caves and communicating with each other via fax, they never could've imagined something as simple and streamlined as email. And yet, email communication is rarely as streamlined as it should be. We often waste a ton of time trying to figure out how to respond to each message — especially the seasonal deluge of holiday emails from people you're not in frequent contact with. This information overload can defeat email's entire purpose as an easy breezy method of communication. Designer Mike Davidson's solution? Limit every email to five sentences in length. This caps not just how much time you'll spend writing it, but allows you to get out urgent emails in a limited period of time and gets you out of your head about writing the perfect message. That way, you'll have to focus on clearly getting your message across, rather than filling up on fake pleasantries or pointless discussion. On his Five Sentences website, Davidson even provides a link you can include in your email footer, to explain to your email recipient why you've sent an email that might seem too short. And for the truly hardcore, there's a two-sentence option.
Celebrate Your Triumphs, However Small
Sometimes it's hard to get motivated when you can't really see how much headway you're making by doing small stuff — you can miss all the little things you're actually getting done, and get bogged down by feeling like you're not making any progress at all. Hello Design CEO Steve Lai recommends combating this by writing things down — "I find that writing things down in a list and crossing them off helps me prioritize so I don't lose focus. There's a nice feeling knowing you're getting stuff done, and that momentum helps me stay productive throughout the day." Use a listmaking app like Ita to visualize all the fruits of your labor, even the really, really tiny ones — it'll help keep your spirits up when you're deep into hour seven of looking for this year's incredibly annoying "must have" children's toy (it's a robot, but it's also a horse?).
The idea of "holiday productivity" might seem impossible — but it's made easier with tools like Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Hey, you might even end up accomplishing more than that one guy — you know, the one with all the presents who always waits until the last second to deliver them?
Gabrielle Moss has written mostly funny stuff (but also some serious stuff) for GQ.com, The Hairpin, Nerve, etc. You can follow her here.