One of my favorite Christmas songs is Johnny Mathis’ “We Need a Little Christmas.” Apparently, it’s from a 1966 musical with Angela Landsbury (of Murder She Wrote fame). In the musical, Landsbury sings the song after she has lost her entire fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. I associate the song with my dad running around the house this time of year belting out the song at my siblings and me when we were arguing with each other.
The message of the song is if you’re feeling down and out, create that jolly, cheery, holiday feeling and things will quickly start looking up. I like it.
For business owners, the holidays can be a double-edged sword. Seasonal businesses and small retailers make most of their revenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas. B2B businesses often struggle to sign new clients or make sales quotas in December because their clients are distracted by holiday parties and wish list checking. So, I wanted to discuss some focus and productivity tips for getting through the holidays.
But before I get to the focus and productivity. Let’s talk distractions. The holidays seem to bring out the best and worst in people everywhere. We can be very grateful and indulge in the spirit of giving more this time of year. But there is a flip side. How much of our lives are spent toiling away at jobs that are generally unfulfilling in order to make money to buy stuff we don’t really need to impress people we don’t really like? And we spend a lot of that money this time of year.
We work super hard all year long in our daily lives—from exercise to mental and spiritual well-being to doing better in our jobs—and many throw it all out starting in mid-November. We spend a lot of time indulging, overdoing everything, hurrying up to wait, spending money on stuff we won’t remember we bought or received in a year, and then we start anew in January just to get back to where we were last fall. And we do it every year, over and over again, and in this cycle, we put ourselves in a rut where we are always trying to get back to zero and never really working to advance ourselves.
It’s a problem. We are toxic, chronic over-doers. We are addicted to doing what everyone else does, and there is absolutely no innovation in keeping up with the Jones’. If we want to be successful in business, we have to start with our own lives. We have to hold ourselves to higher standards before we can hold others to higher standards, and in holding ourselves to higher standards, we can actually grow, think clearly, be creative, and be innovative.
Basically, as long as we play by others’ rules, we can’t possibly play by our own, and if we aren’t playing by our own rules, then we don’t have the freedom to express creativity and innovation. Being a good business person, being a leader, becoming great…these things come through focus, determination, an uncanny ability to resist distraction and making the choice to innovate regardless of what the Jones’ are doing.
No great leader or business person ever became great by doing what everyone else is doing.
If resisting distraction doesn’t come naturally to you, join the club. It’s part of being human. And for anyone who is good at it, they’ll tell you that focus and productivity is something to practice to get better at and that no one in the rat race ever gets really good at it. It’s a constant action of redirecting your mind back to what is most important.
So as we embark on the most distracting time of the year, here are some great ways to stay focused:
1. Take a few days off.
This is almost always going to be on one of my lists, because everyone simply works too much. No other culture in the world works as much as we do, and interestingly, no other culture in the world is as diseased or stressed out as we are. Instead of insisting we know best while we shove McDonald’s down our throats and drive from one mindless meeting to the next, how about considering that focus comes from a methodical work ethic, not a mindless hamster wheel work ethic?
If you look at travel websites, you’ll notice that one of the least expensive times of the year to fly is early in December. Because instead of relaxing and taking time off, demand moves toward the multitasking of half-assed productivity combined with the reckless consumer practices of constant deal-hunting at the same time.
If you take a step back and look for just a moment, you’ll see how insane it is. Instead of succumbing to this destined-to-fail mentality, take a couple days off. Take advantage of cheap flights to Paris, to some islands, to somewhere you’ve never been before. Yes, you might miss that pre-Christmas parade, or some good retail deals…but you’ll likely come back with a clear perspective and a solid focus to sustain you through the rest of the season’s madness.
2. Stop thinking that multitasking is efficient.
It’s just not. In fact, it’s probably the least effective way to do anything. Don’t overcommit yourself. Don’t take on last-minute projects. Hold your boundaries and don’t say yes to things that you know are going to stress you out. When you have too much to do, you’re going to get overwhelmed. No great leader or business person got to where they are by being overwhelmed and unfocused. No way. The best know that the way to do anything is to give 100% of your attention to whatever you are doing right now, and when that’s finished, move on to the next item on the list.
And ideally, the next scheduled item is NOT doing anything for an hour so that you can adequately rest and reset the mind so it’s ready to go again. Doing too much is a laughable act to a great leader or business person. You hire people to do stuff that overwhelms you. You do the stuff that only you can do. How much in your life can you delegate? I’ll bet a lot more than you think. Being overwhelmed is the key to NOT being great.
Try this: When you make your to-do list (ideally, for tomorrow, as the last thing you do before you close down shop for the evening), do a brain dump. Then choose your top 3 priorities, 2 bonus items (which you might get done), and delegate everything else or push it to the day after tomorrow if it’s really something only you can do.
3. Start working on year-end projects now.
If you know that you’re going to have to work on your 2018 budget, your year-end tax info, your quarterly sales report…whatever, do it now. Start on things sooner. Don’t wait until the last minute. Be in charge of you, and don’t waste time. Work on the mindless administrative stuff you have to get done when you’re tired, and double-check your work when you feel clearer (you know, after taking that weekend away for yourself). Having a very methodical approach to your work includes knowing what’s happening now, what’s coming up, and working through all of it with a clear mind. That doesn’t happen well when we procrastinate.
4. Leave your work at the office. Practice focus and productivity in your personal life too.
Unless you are a priest, a rabbi, or a minister (insert your own joke), your work and personal life must be kept separate. And it’s not so much a moral thing as it is an efficiency thing. When you are dealing with your personal life at work and working while you should be focused on your family and friends, you’re likely not getting the whole “focused and efficient” aspect of things. Being a workaholic isn’t good for you or for your loved ones and it’s definitely not good for your focus and productivity.
If you need help with this, find a great productivity coach. I’ve been working with Marcey Rader and she is simply incredible. During one intensive session with her, she showed me things that will save me hours each week. I heard similar stories from the clients I interviewed for the case studies I wrote for Marcey. Organization and automation is where it’s at!
You can’t possibly be efficient and productive when you are working while you’re at a holiday party or at your kids’ recital. It makes you look like a jackass, and it is obvious that you can’t be giving anything your all. One. Thing. At. A. Time.
5. Keep yourself on top of your physical game.
Don’t use the season as an excuse to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do, or to throw you off your health regimen. Don’t throw away months of vitality for a couple of weekends of holiday partying. It will only decrease your morale and put you in a negative state of mind when you realize what you’ve done.
There is no indulgence in a party or a social engagement that is worth giving up your health. Your focus and productivity, your relationships, your work, your health and everything that you work for is worth upholding. And there’s nothing worse than knowing that you’ve thrown away a lot of effort to indulge in something you likely won’t remember in a few weeks.
6. Spend time with your mind daily.
Meditate, journal, contemplate, blog, start that book you’ve been wanting to write. Do something that makes you focus on your thought process. Something where you can sit with your thoughts long enough to watch them all fizzle out. It is a fantastic mind exercise. Bring yourself to zero every day so that you have a shot at adding to your repertoire of skills and excellence every day too. The more you do this, the less you have to worry about anything.
With this arsenal of focus and productivity ideas backing you up, you are ready to face the holiday season without letting distractions throw you off your focus and productivity game. So, go ahead and “Haul out the holly…” You know when to focus on work and when to focus on enjoying the season.
Are you saying no to a lot more than you can say yes to? Need to delegate some content creation? Don’t even know where to begin? Give me a call…I’m sure I can help.
Photo credit: chesterf / 123RF Stock Photo