A therapist on how to find work-life balance during the very stressful holiday season

Holidays, yay! Deadlines during the holiday season? A lot less fun. In this hyperconnected work world, it’s unrealistic to assume that you’ll be able to fully disconnect during the holidays. Even if your boss tells you to take off as much time as you want to, chances are good that you might panic that you’ll return to an out of control inbox or find out that your competition snagged the client of your dreams.

Licensed Marriage and Family therapist Dana McNeil shared her top tips for trying to hold onto your sanity and manage work/life balance during the holidays.

  • Set realistic expectations for clients during holidays. McNeil recommends setting your auto response on email and outgoing voicemail messages to tell clients you have limited hours but will be checking messages and will respond within 24-48 hours. “Don’t overpromise to respond in the same amount of time as you typically would, as you may get stuck in airport traffic, family events, etc.”

 

  • Schedule time during each day. If you find it impossible to turn off your work self, decide that you’ll work in very limited increments. McNeil says, “ideally an hour or two in the morning and evening making sure you have let friends and family members know ahead of time that you will step away to go and respond to emails and return calls.” And the flip side is to let your family and friends know you’ll be unreachable during those times. “Set the expectation that you will be away for these sections of the day so family members have a heads up that they can schedule something else to do during that time. That way they aren’t frustrated that they are waiting around for you to return that quick call or email that was only supposed to take a few minutes and ends up being an hour.”

 

  • Keep Your promises. If you say you’re working for an hour, make it only an hour. “Make sure you are returning when you promised you would,” McNeil advised. “Sticking to the promise will keep you from getting sucked into the vortex of work and keep you on track to still get quality time in with friends and family.”

 

  • Pay attention to time zones: “Don’t forget to be mindful that if you are visiting out of town you might be on a different time zone than your clients are back home,” McNeil reminds us. “Schedule the times set aside to respond to messages for a time when your clients are available.” And use scheduling software like Boomerang for Gmail or Gmail’s new scheduling service so it at least looks like you’re keeping the same hours.

 

  • Delegate when needed: Use virtual assistants, answering services, and other sources of support to handle non-emergencies during times you would be striving to celebrate holiday cheer with friends and family or while traveling. But try to create a relationship with them in advance so you don’t panic about the potential quality of their work. McNeil says, “These support systems can be instructed to return calls and relay information for you to your clients saving you time and avoiding your chasing clients who are also likely busy experiencing holiday festivities.”

 

  • Pick a reasonable time to shut off your phone, put it in another room, and forget about it until tomorrow.It’s not unreasonable to tell your clients that you won’t be available during holiday dinner time. McNeil says to “Stick to a schedule during the holidays of putting your phone away so you aren’t tempted to just check one more time.”

 

  • Plan in advance. Schedule important meetings before you go or after you return. If there are some important project details that need tending, then address them before you leave. McNeil says to “Make it a priority to tend to them before you leave so they aren’t weighing on your mind. Triage your important clients, responsibilities, and projects so that you are as caught up as possible before you leave. This will help to create mental breathing space before you go.”

And in case you’re panicking about taking any time off, McNeil says “You are allowed, and should give yourself, permission to take a break. Your business will not fall apart if you are not tending to it 24 hours a day during the holidays. This is a temporary break and not a reflection of your lack of care and concern for your clients. You are entitled to allow yourself some down time. In fact, taking time during the holidays to recharge will likely bring you a renewed energy and vigor for the tasks you have slated for your business in the new year.”