The holidays are a particularly difficult time to maintain a work/life balance.
Personal to-do lists include buying the perfect gifts, planning for family get-togethers and attending parties with friends. Pair those responsibilities with the workplace duties of end-of-year projects, quickly approaching deadlines and the rush of constant streaming news, and it is easy to see why some people end up wishing they’d wake up to find it is suddenly January 2.
1. Delegate. Journalists rarely have the luxury of a large staff, but whenever possible, delegate responsibilities. At home, do the same by asking your teenager to wrap the presents this year or asking your friends to be in charge of planning the holiday fete.
2. Make lists. If you aren’t a list-maker the other 11 months of the year, this is the one month to give it a try. Lists of work and home to-dos are the only way to make sure that something important doesn’t fall through the cracks.
3. Speak up in news meetings. If you are stuck with an assignment that is more drudgery than intrigue, it’s more likely to derail your productivity this season. So volunteer new story ideas or speak up when an interesting-to-you lead is floated.
4. Schedule downtime. There is probably no way to avoid burning the candle at both ends during the holiday season. For personal and professional sanity, be sure to schedule some time for relaxing, whether that takes the form of exercise, meditation or a date night.
5. Use technology wisely. Keep your to-do list on your phone’s note-keeping app. Add every party, interview and meeting into your Outlook calendar with an hour-in-advance reminder to make sure you that you aren’t caught by surprise by your commitments. Use the technology to your advantage, but don’t let it rule your life. Put the phone away for your Christmas dinner and that New Year’s Eve kiss.
6. Go where the people are. People are out and about this time of year–shopping at local stores, visiting restaurants and volunteering at local charities. Don’t make the mistake of being chained to your desk, because all of these people will have story ideas and are potential sources. Maybe you’ll witness someone paying the layaway bill for a needy family, a spike in customers for the local food bank or a local opinion leader shopping at a newly-opened store. All of these are potential stories, but you’ve got to be out and about to find them.
7. Move on. Given the high-stress environment of the holidays, setbacks and mistakes are bound to happen; but don’t let one obstacle derail your work for the rest of the year. Learn from mistakes and move on to the next project.
8. Get creative. Laser focus on the to-do list is important, but it can also stifle creativity. Whether playing a musical instrument, browsing adorable Christmas cards or writing a creative piece, be sure that you are exercising your right brain.
9. Pay attention to the details. The frantic pace and long to-do list often results in rushing from one project to another.That’s when mistakes happen, and those can harm credibility. Slow down, re-read your stories and ask self-critical questions before submitting your work.
10. Time for human-interest stories. The holidays are probably not the time for a 5,000-word expose. People just don’t have the bandwidth or time to process an in-depth story on their way to the mall, church or grandmother’s house. Don’t fight it. Instead, look for human-interest stories (which may still reveal important trends) that are better-suited to the readers.
11. Focus on goals. It is easy to stay in the weeds during the holiday season.Although it’s important to cross items off your to-do list, it can easily lead to burnout. Relate your projects and meetings to overall career goals to stay productive and dynamic.
As a journalist, it is easy to wish away the rest of 2014, but the end of the year should be a time to finish strong, not fizzle out. Follow these steps to stay productive and happy throughout the holiday season.