Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Maintaining Sanity, Focus and Productivity During the Holidays

Writing is hard enough. On any given day I wrestle with hundreds of distractions – some real, like my children’s needs or my other professional commitments, some self-imposed, like checking email or needing snacks. But when the holidays roll around, maintaining any level of productivity is a challenge of epic proportions.  Between the shopping, wrapping and sending (both personal and corporate), card-making and sending (again, personal and professional), household decorating, cooking, attending holiday events at school, work, and with friends, and the very real and important desire to spend as much time as possible with my family, there’s barely a moment left for writing.

But I can’t afford to stop altogether – that would mean both a loss in income and a loss of ‘muscle.’ Writing is a discipline, like working out, and in order to do it well I have to stay in shape. So I need to be extra creative at this time of year to juggle the extra load and still stay somewhat sane.

Here are some of the ways I maintain focus and momentum with my writing during the holiday season:

  • Organize and consolidate the gift-giving. – I try every year to come up with a unique and personal gift that will work for most of the people on my list. Last year it was a custom cookbook with all our favorite family recipes. In previous years, we’ve made bulb-planting kits, jeweled book ‘thongs’ (i.e. strappy bookmarks), and made countless yummies with recipes attached. We’ve purchased dozens of copies of one favorite book, or found unusual gifts that are also charitable contributions. This not only limits the amount of time I spend shopping (I still get individualized gifts for my immediate family and a few special friends), but it also makes the holiday budget much more manageable.
  • Enlist the family’s support and assistance. – I send out over 500 holiday cards, when you factor in both personal and the corporate ones. To simplify this, I print our holiday message inside, thus greatly minimizing how many I need to hand-write in. (Again, I do put personal messages in a few, but not all.) I also print mailing labels, as opposed to hand addressing (I know – but I’m lucky to be getting out holiday cards at all, let alone hand addressing them!) Then I recruit the kids and my husband and anyone else who’s around and game to help for stuffing, labeling, sealing, stamping, mailing etc. I also lean heavily on my family for help decorating the house, tree, etc.
  • Stay flexible about my writing time, and space. – While I greatly prefer to write in my home office, in the morning or early afternoon, with the door closed and a cup of tea at my side, the reality is that I have learned to write at the kitchen table with chaos going on all around me. I have also learned to write at odd hours, and in other places. For instance, I am writing this post in a waiting room while my daughter is at an appointment…
  • Keep lists. – I save my holiday gift and card lists on my computer, so I can call them up each year and adjust them accordingly, rather than having to create them again from scratch. I also record the holiday bonuses we give to mail carriers, garbage collectors and other service providers, so I am consistent and don’t forget anyone.
  • Remember my priorities. In the end, I know I will not look back and wish I had spent more time working, but I may well look back and wish I had spent more time with my family. December is actually my favorite time of year in our little town, as everything is so beautiful, and everyone is in high spirits… and I love our family’s annual holiday traditions.  Whenever I feel myself getting stressed about my own agenda being short-changed, I make a point to check in with my true north – my family and loved ones come first. And they deserve to have my full attention, not a stressed-out, irritable or distracted version of me – at the holidays, and all year long.

How do you maintain your sanity, focus and productivity during the holidays?


6 Responses to “Maintaining Sanity, Focus and Productivity During the Holidays”
  1. Suzie says:

    Hi Emma,

    Your suggestions are wonderful! The one thing that helps me maintain my sanity, focus and productivity during the holidays is music. I pick one holiday CD a day and play it during my commute. It balances me, allows me to breathe and re-group. I am partial to a couple of your mom’s, but the Christmas Cats “Meowy Christmas” is the one that keeps me laughing!

  2. Beth says:

    I have no great wisdom to add — but I want to thank you for the metaphor of “muscle”. I’ve been neglecting my writing “workouts” while I dealt with all that November threw at me, and I’m sure that my writing muscle will prove to be a bit flabby when I get back to it. This post reminds me that it would be good to get back to writing, even in small ways, despite the continued busyness of life around me.

    I have to admit that reading your ways of coping with all the extras of the holiday season made me realize that I have so much less to do than you, that writing and doing the things I need to do should certainly be workable. I’ve already decided to send a January greeting instead of trying to do holiday cards this year, my gift-giving list is short, so those things need not hold me back. Appointments cut in to my preferred writing time — but you’re right, I just need to learn to be creative and accepting of other small parcels of time. (That phrase, “small parcels of time” that jumped readily to mind made me realize all over again that time is a gift.)

    Your final paragraph is the most important of all, and I loved the image of the “true north” that you used. Thank you. I will remember to check in with my own “true north” more.

    And, like Suzie, music greatly enhances the season for me, as well as easing my stress. However, unlike Suzie, who chooses a different CD each day, I tend to leave the same CD in the car’s player until I realize that the song is playing in my head with the full orchestral accompaniment even when I’m not listening to the CD, and, if it’s a choral CD, the song is playing in my head in four part harmony. Then I know it’s time to change the CD! … I’ve been listening to Christmas CDs for over a month now, and yes, they have greatly eased and soothed my stressful times.

  3. Beth says:

    P.S. I just wanted to add — I have lived with limited energy for years, and long ago I adopted as my mantra, “Do what you can and let go of the rest”. Sometimes the letting go isn’t easy, but it helps so very much.

  4. Aileen Beato says:

    HI again Emma, Thanks for this post.

    This coming holiday, the only thing that makes me keep my sanity is the thought that, after all the christmas rush sales, the ever changing weather in our country, I will be making all my loved ones happy. That I will be seeing again the kids of nieces and nephews on with their happy faces while opening their gifts at Christmastime. Their smile just makes me so happy and made me think and want that I’m a child again.

    Well for the productivity, I guess PLANNING and TIME MANAGEMENT are always the best defense. But this year, I was unable to plan my holiday’s tasks because of my recent surgery. But then, I still manage to keep my time table and presto! Just this November 27, 2010, I was able to finished all my Christmas’ gifts shopping with my Best Friend. ‘Am still able to beat the time and avoided the Christmas rush! Yey!

  5. Beth says:

    Emma — please check out my latest blog post What would we do without books to give wisdom and solace when it’s needed (as well as so many other things)?

    Productivity is still a little way away, but as I say in the blog post, your recent posts are helping me get closer to being back to my writing. So that’s another thing that can help our focus during busy or distressing times — the support and the ideas we get from the words of colleagues, other writers, friends along the way.

  6. Priscilla Rogers says:

    I have found that if I organize my Christmas related chores, and some are definitely just that, I do not need to rush around at the last minute. When my children were small, I did include everyone in planning, shopping and preparing greeting cards. Now, my plans include only my mother since my children do not live close by and have their own families and traditions. We plan our shopping trips, do them as planned, and find that the things that need to be done that last week before Christmas are done with less stress. Cards are hand-written, but they are in the mail early. Gifts are wrapped early, and the last week, we plan and take care of food prep. How I miss my children and grandchildren, but this is another stage of life that does not include them in all the preparations! We do communicate by phone during these busy days. Emma, I appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. I will certainly implement some of them as we face another Christmas. Now, back to the writing since the busiest season is about over. Thanks again for your input. It is always appreciated.

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