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Do you need to relax AND stay productive?

I woke up flooded with ideas. I had to open a Google doc just to jot them down throughout the day as I was doing my regular work. My neck didn’t hurt, my back didn’t hurt, my eyes were actually NOT burning as if I had just looked into a solar eclipse.

I had taken a break. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I felt REJUVENATED. Sure, I was a little behind and had to work double-time to play catch-up, but for once, I felt full of energy.

I did a digital detox, and it felt good.

But taking the holidays to completely decompress isn’t an option for everyone, especially those of us working independently, freelancing, or launching big projects at the start of the year. As grinch-y as it might seem, I have to get some work done before the bell tolls in the last hour of 2014.

In a world where everyone is talking about digital detoxes and how important it is to take time off, it seems odd I would suggest that you power through the holidays like they’re some blip in your productivity.

That’s not what I mean. I still think it is SO important to take some downtime and connect with friends and family. And I think there’s a way to do both: spend some quality time with the people who have the same last name as you and check everything off your list.

But let’s face it. No one likes that person who never shuts their laptop or gets off their phone. Before you know it, you’ll be known as “Aunt Jodie, the one who always answers questions with a noncommital ‘uh-huh’ and follows WIFI around like it’s a bat signal for her city life.”


So these are my tips for getting your work done AND putting in the hours to get to know your nieces, sip some eggnog, sled down a hill, and give your full attention to Grandma when she asks about your dating situation.

1. Make a to-do list before you go.

It seems obvious, I know. But instead of letting all those pressing obligations pile up in a huge wad of stress, make a manageable list (only 1-2 items per day, if possible), and set yourself reachable goals. For example, don’t put “Finish taxes” on the same day you’re supposed to provide the honeyed ham, but DO put “add all receipts to accounting spreadsheet.”

2. Check off items on your list that don’t require a lot of brainpower.

Just like it works better to set yourself smaller, manageable tasks than big, hulking ones, it works better to schedule those tedious but less demanding items on your to-do list while your attention is divided and your mind is numbed by mulled wine. So instead of coming up with a new concept for your portfolio site, try something simpler, like cleaning up the editorial calendar or organizing invoices.

3. Reserve several consecutive days to do nothing.

I know, I seemed like such a stickler. But come on. The holidays are built-in time for refreshing. Even if you can’t take a week off, give yourself at least 2 consecutive days of doing nothing work-related. That will probably make family and friends less begrudging about your email habits on days when you are sneaking in work.

4. Buy Internet on the plane, or take a train with WIFI.

All I ever want to do on a plane is eat a bunch of plane snacks (in a baggy or not) and then fall into a deep sleep and wake up wondering where my contacts are. But I find that using the WIFI while traveling helps me get a TON of work done. Two reasons: you’re on a time limit, and you just paid the price of your cable bill for 1 hour of WIFI. You don’t want to waste it.

If you’re driving to your destination, try listening to podcasts or audiobooks you’ve been meaning to get to.

5. Wake up early and work before the shenanigans start.

Snow. Gray skies. A faint jingle in the distance. The smell of cinnamon wafting through the place. Coziness has a certain pull, and it takes a lot of willpower to overcome the call of a comfy blanket. To stay super efficient, let yourself sleep in like crazy on your days off. On the other days, use those early morning hours to get the first cup of hot coffee to yourself, and get some work done before the festivities begin. All the most successful women in tech are doing it.

6. Don’t bother working after eggnog.

Take it from me. No good work happens after you’ve cracked open the eggnog, the mulled wine, the Wassail, the cognac, the [insert beverage of choice here]. And if you’re not a drinker, I don’t recommend working after pie either. Your mind is now in hibernation.

7. Check your email while everyone is taking a nap.

I know. Sigh.

I’m not saying don’t take a nap, but maybe take a shorter one and answer emails while everyone else is snoozing. At least you’ll have 10 minutes to check your inbox in privacy, without invoking the wrath of the holiday police.

8. Get a sister or niece involved.

Sometimes you really feel like you just HAVE to finish something. Instead of hiding it, try involving someone in the family. Maybe your little niece or sister will be interested in that website you’re building. Why not let someone sit on your knee and ask you questions while you knock out that wireframe? Sure, it’ll put a ding in your efficiency, but maybe you’ll inspire a little one to do something big and powerful when she’s your age.

9. If you really have to do some work, do it at a coffee shop nearby.

And if you absolutely need some peace, thank your stars that Starbucks swept the universe and knock out your work at a table near the faux-fireplace at your local grind. Let the jazz standards wash over you, finish up your work, and head back to the festivities with a clear head and your full attention.