How to Stay Focused When Working During the Holidays

Tis the season to be jolly.

Unless you’re scheduled to work during the holiday season. In this case, you’ll need to ward off the holiday spirit at least until you complete your work tasks. 

But how do you focus on your job while everyone else enjoys Hanukkah latkes, Christmas carols, or prolonged Thanksgiving dinners?

Well, there are a few things you can do to make sure you finish all your work despite the feast going on in the background — and we’ve listed 12 of them.

Staying focused for holidays - cover

Tip #1: Start your workday earlier

If you work on a flexible schedule, you can start your day in such a way that you finish your work earlier.

So, instead of sleeping in and then feeling stressed about missing out on the festivities, try to get up early in the morning during the holiday season — for example, at 6:00 a.m. or 6:30 a.m.

Make it a routine to have a light breakfast, perform a couple of quick exercises to energize yourself, and try to start work no later than 7:00 a.m.

This way, if you have to work a fixed amount of 8 hours per day, you’ll always finish your workday by 3:00 p.m. You’ll likely complete all the work you’ve scheduled for the day with no rush and still have plenty of time to enjoy all the festivities you want.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

Interested in improving your focus under various conditions at work? Check out our other focus guides:

Tip #2: Take at least a few days off

Research shows that as much as 40% of US employees don’t take time off for holidays.

In case you belong to this group, that still doesn’t mean you can’t take a breather somewhere around the festive season. 

If you have a couple of vacation days left, take some time off before or after the holidays. 

You could use this time for early holiday shopping or spending quality time with your family and friends. 

If there’s time, maybe you can even squeeze in a couple of days at an isolated spa resort or a snowy mountain cabin.

This way, you’ll reduce stress, feel at least a little bit refreshed and recharged when you go back to the office, and thus be more likely to focus on work with maximum productivity.

Tip #3: While at work, focus on work

If you have to work harder during the holidays, make sure you actually finish some of your workload during this time. Don’t just dabble with online shopping, procrastinate by browsing Pinterest to find ideas for innovative Christmas tree ornaments, or new ways to decorate Sinterklaas cookies.

Instead, you could try:

  • Making a to-do list of your priorities, 
  • Estimating the time it will take you to finish each assignment, and
  • Blocking time in your calendar for these assignments.

For extra insight into your routine, you can also start tracking the time you spend working during the holidays to decide whether such a practice is productive for you at all. 

If you use Clockify to track your holiday shift, you’ll quickly be able to see what your workweek exactly looks like and whether you’re spending your time productively.

Clockify dashboard
Clockify Dashboard helps you see exactly where your time goes at all times

A quick glance at the Clockify Dashboard will give you a detailed insight into the total time you spend on each work task, so you’ll know when to adjust your work routine to produce maximum results.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

If you can’t seem to put your mind into work and keep delaying your tasks, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Yet, you can still beat this dreadful habit and overcome procrastination once and for all. Here’s how:

Tip #4: Keep distractions away

This tip can apply to people who have workplace distractions to tackle, but it especially applies to those who work from home. Remote work comes with its fair share of challenges to begin with, even when it’s not the holiday season. However, the problems seem to multiply during festive times.

So, in addition to figuring out how to prevent your cat from sleeping on your keyboard, you’ll also probably want to know how to block the sound of your family caroling, setting off firecrackers, or watching reruns of the Home Alone series.

The trick here is to isolate yourself from auditory distractions as much as you can.

If you have a separate room for work, you’re off to a great start. Closing your home office door is usually enough to muffle distracting sounds. Plus, it is likely to discourage your household members from interrupting you.

But if you live in a small apartment, you won’t have the luxury of physically isolating yourself from the rest of the family.

Either way, it’s highly recommended that you invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Just put them on and configure a white noise generator app, or play some productivity-enhancing music (or do both for the best effect). This should block most, if not all, noise. (Even when your mother and sister are standing right next to you, fighting about whose turn it is to make eggnog.)

As an added bonus, having the headphones on should serve as a visual reminder for your family members to refrain from interrupting you — and you should be able to focus on your work with no problem.

Tip #5: Take short breaks

Although you’ll easily block the sound of holiday activities going on in your household, eventually, you’ll need to deal with the urge to join in the family gathering. 

You can try to manage this need by taking occasional breaks. If you really want to join in and sing your favorite carol, help your son proofread his letter to Santa, or play dreidel — then take a short break to do it. Just make sure to take the headphones back on and focus your attention back on your tasks afterward.

If you fear that you won’t find the willpower to resume work when the time comes, try creating a special work-break schedule.

One solution you can implement for this purpose is the Pomodoro time management technique. This method requires you to: 

  • Operate in 25-minute work intervals (Pomodoros),
  • Take 5-minute breaks in-between the 25-minute work intervals, and
  • Take a well-deserved 20-minute break after 4 Pomodoros. 

By sticking to this work-break schedule, you’ll find time in your day both for work tasks and festivity-filled breaks.

Tip #6: Structure, organize, and filter your work

Not only does saying “yes” to all requests while at work during the holidays set you up for failure, but it also wreaks havoc on your work-life balance

Instead, be selective with what you take on. List all your work and decide what your most urgent tasks and goals are. 

Then, make sure you start each workday with your most demanding challenge. This way, you’ll be more efficient with your tasks, and clear your daily schedule for holiday activities.

At the end of each workday, try to checkmark all the tasks you’ve completed that day. You’ll feel a boost of confidence and a dopamine rush once you see how much you’ve managed to finish.

Before going to bed, take 15 minutes to write another list of tasks you plan to finish tomorrow. It will help you organize your work in a well-structured manner and provide a great perspective on your future workload. You may even find that you’re progressing faster than you thought you would, which could take even more burden off your shoulders. 

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

To-do lists are popular for a reason — they help you stay on top of everything you need to do and give you a sense of accomplishment once you start crossing off items. To help you save time while creating your to-do list, we’ve created 22 free templates:

Tip #7: Eliminate some tasks from your schedule

If you want to stay focused at work during the holidays, you’ll also need to eliminate tasks that are neither important nor urgent enough to deserve your focus at the moment.

This can be an outline for a project due months from now or a random email you’re only looking to answer out of politeness.

By working on these tasks, you’ll just be wasting away those precious minutes you could be spending on finalizing that project due tomorrow.

So, allocate extra time to tasks that need to be done as soon as possible — and leave the rest for after the holidays.

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

You already know that all tasks are not equal — some are more burning than others. Yet, to tackle the most urgent ones first, you’ll need to master the art of (re-)prioritization. Here’s how:

Tip #8: Try not to work the whole day

Just because you’re working during the holidays (or maybe have to work overtime), it doesn’t mean you have to spend 24/7 worrying about your tasks. Instead, work when you should, but join in on the festive activities when you clock out.

For example, plan a family gathering for Thanksgiving, a festive-themed game night, or a midnight movie marathon of your favorite Christmas movies over the weekend. You can even schedule these holiday activities in a planner next to your work activities to make sure you carry them out.

In the end, knowing that you’ll be able to unwind after work hours will make it easier to focus on a task at hand in the morning.

💡Clockify Pro Tip

If you’re looking for a way to track your overtime hours while working during the holidays, check out a tool that’ll help you automatically calculate your overtime earnings:

Tip #9: Avoid multitasking

Multitasking may seem like a great solution to help you finish more tasks in less time, but you’re more likely to waste this time than maximize it. 

What most people call multitasking is actually switching between tasks in such rapid succession that you rarely have the time or energy to focus on an activity. As a result, you can’t finish any of the tasks with the expected quality.

So, no, it’s probably not a good idea to answer client emails and browse Black Friday deals while attending a meeting.

Instead, you can try to carry out these activities in well-defined time blocks by: 

  • Using a time blocking planner to allocate specific time slot to each of your tasks, 
  • Focusing on each scheduled task during the allocated time, and
  • Moving on to the next task in your planner.

Here’s what your time blocking schedule could look like: 

Time block 1 [30 minutes, 9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.]: answer emails

Time block 2 [30 minutes, 9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.]: attend a meeting

Time block 3 [5 minutes, 10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m.]: a short break for browsing Black Friday deals

By breaking these tasks into separate time slots instead of tackling them together, you ensure you have the energy to focus on each with undivided attention and effort. 

Plus, by scheduling an official time block for a fun activity, you’ll be more likely to resist the urge to suddenly pause your work to do online shopping. 

Tip #10: Be clear with your loved ones

Working while your loved ones are planning Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Lunar New Year get-togethers means you’re bound to get caught in at least some of the holiday planning. 

But to make sure you still get quality work done, you’ll need to explain that you won’t be able to help your loved ones as much as you would like. Be clear on the times of day you won’t be able to answer their calls and requests — and instruct them how to reach you if there’s an absolute emergency.

Also, be clear on what absolute emergencies mean — i.e., something you’re absolutely necessary to help them with.

Ruined mooncakes with no way of securing another box unless you bake them yourself? That’s an emergency they can contact you for.

An aunt you barely know having a row with your sister and refusing to join you for Christmas? They should leave you to focus on your tasks.

Tip #11: Treat yourself

Even though you might not be able to move away from your desk as soon as the festivities begin — which will only become worse once the smell of Christmas cookies reaches your workstation — you can still find ways to motivate yourself and keep your spirits high.

For starters, think about the little things that usually help you push through long stretches of work — and turn them into rewards. 

Order that item from your wishlist or watch an episode of your favorite TV show after you call it a day — whatever motivates you to get the job done. 

Also, you could try squeezing in some background activities you find enjoyable. Listen to your favorite playlist while you’re busy with low-value tasks, such as updating spreadsheets or managing your calendar, or treat yourself to a delicious cup of coffee. 

Even though you might not be feeling it, you’ll see how easier it is to move through working for holidays if you pair a tedious task with small acts you look forward to.  

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

Even though it may not always seem doable, the art of keeping your motivation high can actually be mastered. Read more about how to do it here:

Tip #12: Try to eat healthy

Not giving in to all the holiday treats is challenging. However, keeping your appetite in check and going for a healthy snack instead of whatever’s within reach can help you retain your productivity levels for longer. 

In fact, if your first choice is high-calorie food with high quantities of sugar, quickly after you finish your meal you’ll notice a sudden energy boost due to a blood sugar spike. But, sooner than you know it, your blood glucose plummets, the immediate burst turns into an energy slump, and you see your focus drift away.

If you’re the one responsible for the holiday food, think of making adjustments to a dish or two and cooking lighter versions of the usual holiday treats. 

If modified versions are not an option, try to resist the urge of giving way to holiday goodies, at least until you’re done with your most demanding work tasks. 

💡 Clockify Pro Tip

If you’re still not near clocking out, and you’d like to make the most of your workday, going for a healthy snack instead of a holiday treat will help you keep your focus levels high for longer. Here are some ideas of what you can eat for optimum productivity:

Keep your focus in check during the holidays with the right tool

Staying focused on work during the holidays sounds impossible — but the right hacks can do wonders for your concentration. 

If you pair the above-mentioned tips with a simple-to-use time tracker that gives you insight into where your time goes and helps you organize your workday better — you’ll be ready to kick off your holiday season sooner than you know it. 

Clockify is a free automated time tracker that comes with a handful of options and many different plans designed to help you reach maximum focus and productivity. From the Pomodoro extension to remind you to take a break to the Forecasting option that’ll help you estimate exactly how long your projects will take — each feature is built to help you channel your attention to what needs to be done so you’ll actually find some time for holiday cheers.

Marija  Kojic

Marija Kojic is a productivity writer who's always researching about various productivity techniques and time management tips in order to find the best ones to write about. She can often be found testing and writing about apps meant to enhance the workflow of freelancers, remote workers, and regular employees. Appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.


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