How to Advance Your Career During the Holidays (While Still Enjoying Yourself)

December is truly the forgotten month. You’re fresh off a Thanksgiving feast and most likely a shopping hangover. By the time December 20th rolls around, you are well into your holiday festivities and getting ready to celebrate the New Year. Before you know it, January is here.

Busy working on his career during the holidays

With the chaos of the holidays, December can be easy to write off.

A recent survey from Accountemps found that you can fall into 1 of 3 productivity camps during the holidays:

  1. You are more focused because there is less time to complete the same amount of work.
  2. You allow the surrounding noise to distract you, making you less focused.
  3. You are a robot with no emotions and are unaffected.

Based on the study, over one-third of respondents reported that their teams are less productive during the holidays. Yet at the same time, about 20% reported that their teams are actually more productive.

So what’s the difference between those who are more productive versus those who aren’t?

In my experience, it boils down to intentionality – being purposeful with how you want to spend your time. The holidays can be an incredible time to make strides in your career and build relationships with key people – if you are intentional about it.

Let’s face it though: we want to enjoy ourselves. Staying focused at work when everyone else is on vacation or talking about their holiday plans isn’t easy.

But the more intentional we are with our time during the holidays, both at work and outside of work, the more productive that time will be. After all, productivity is about getting the most done in the least amount of time.

There’s a difference however between being productive and being productive at the right things. If we can get our work done and enjoy ourselves at the company party, that’s true life productivity.

Staying productive is not going to be easy, though. Let me give you some tips on how to take your career to the next level during the holidays:

Be Present

There is an unlimited amount of distractions that pull us away from work. During the holidays it gets exponentially worse. One of the best ways to maximize your time is to focus on being present on whatever you are doing at that time.

When you are at work, be at work. When you are in a conversation, don’t check your phone. When you are driving, focus on the cars around you and not your cell phone.  

These seem like silly recommendations but are you actually doing it? Are you eating lunch with a co-worker but checking your Facebook at the same time? Are you working on a sales pitch but listening to your co-worker’s latest complaints?

The results are powerful:

  • When you are more focused, you become less stressed.
  • When you become less stressed, your creativity increases.
  • When your creativity increases, the quality of your work improves.
  • And when the quality of your work improves, you start to advance your career.

Being present isn’t always easy so here are a few tools to help you out this holiday season:

OffTime: Get off social media and be present when it matters.

Pomodoro Technique: This is by far my favorite productivity hack. This technique allows you to block off 25 minutes at a time and dig into just one project. By focusing 100% on a single task, you optimize the results of that time spent.

Deep Work by Cal Newport: Learn how to do “deep work” – the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

Build Deeper Relationships

Over this past year, you have spent 1,960 hours with your co-workers. That’s almost 3 STRAIGHT months!

Whether you agree or not, that’s a good thing! The human experience is meant to be shared. That’s why social media has exploded – we love sharing our experiences with each other. It’s no surprise then that 61% of employees cited people as the most important contributor to improving their work environment.

So while you are spending countless hours with your co-workers, how well do you really know each other?  

Most likely you are going to have several opportunities this month to grab lunch, hang out informally, or swing by the holiday work party. Take time to learn about your co-worker’s life and interests outside of the office. Set your intentions to build positive relationships, and I think you’ll be surprised with the results.

If you can’t figure out what to say or how to start up a conversation, try out The Book of Questions. It has over 300 questions that can spark some deep engaging conversations. It also has some that are probably inappropriate for the office (but maybe after a few drinks could be fun).

Don’t Stop Applying Yourself

This is where a lot of people get tripped up. They stop doing the same habits that got them to where they are and they lose a ton of momentum during the holidays.

Don’t stop putting effort into your career.

It doesn’t take much either. Just as you won’t stop brushing your teeth over the holidays, don’t stop applying yourself at work (or at home).

It’s okay to eat some cake, but that shouldn’t stop you from your workout routine. Even just a 15-minute workout can keep you on track. Keeping your habits tricks your brain into thinking everything is “status quo” so when you get back into the office, you won’t have that “holiday hangover” like most of your co-workers will.

On another note, if you are currently in between jobs or looking to make a change in your career, don’t take the holidays off.

Most people think that companies stop hiring during the holidays but that myth has been debunked. In fact, a lot of recruiters are actually under pressure to hit deadlines before the end of the year.

If you don’t know where to start in your quest to improve your habits or better yourself, check out the Personal Development 101 Guide. It will give you the first steps you need to improve yourself.


Take Some Time to Reflect

December is a time to spend with friends and family. But it can also be a time to give yourself the gift of positive reflection.  

Think back to your big wins this year, the growth you’ve had, and where you can improve for 2017. Think about setting goals for 2017 so that when the New Year comes, you’re not scrambling to figure them out.

Stefan Sagmeister has an incredible TED talk about The Power of Time Off. He describes how powerful taking time off can be for critical thinking. While you don’t necessarily have to take a year off like Stefan, you can incorporate his ideas into your daily life. It can massively help you reconnect with your work and your purpose in life.

Build a Career Plan For Next Year

This last recommendation usually takes longer than the others but it’s one of the most powerful actions you can take to advance your career during the holidays.

We are all self-made men and women. Each of us is responsible for our own success (or lack thereof) at work and in our careers. It’s up to you to create your own vision; no one can do it for you.

Typically during the end of the year, we have more time to be strategic with our decisions. We can step away from the day-to-day grind and spend quality time reflecting on our career.

Am I satisfied with the direction my career is going?

Do I know what goals I want to achieve next year?

The best way to figure out the answers to these questions is by building a career plan.

A career plan is similar to a development plan you’d fill out for your manager every year: it’s what you want to improve on in the next year. It focuses on how you want to grow, where you want to grow, and what you are committed to doing to get there.

It’s too easy to get caught up in your work or in your personal life. Things come up, and then you get distracted. If you don’t have a system for getting you back on track, it will be December again before you know it. So get a system, implement it, and make some big changes this next year.

Here are a few resources to help you get started:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People – One of my all-time favorite books. This book will help you get clear on the habits you will need in order to follow your career (and life) plan.

Revisit the 5 Year Plan – We have all heard of the 5-year plan, but many of us don’t have one. This article helps shed some light on what that looks like and how important it is.

Question: Do you take time during the holidays to advance your career? Or do you just wait until the new year hits?

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