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Working Over Christmas? Fifteen Ways To Stay Productive

Pudding, relatives (and depending what part of the world you’re in), BBQs and plenty of beer. Holidays are distracting and awesome, but not so much if you still have a whole heap of work to get through. How do you stay on track with everything you planned to do over the break when you’ve got your nephew swinging from one leg, five cousins gossiping in the background and old friends or acquaintances constantly turning up on your doorstep?

1: Have a plan

“Getting things done is a process: it’s a way of thinking that involves planning, execution, iteration, and reflection.” – Lyndi Thompson, Demand Marketing at Tableau

You wouldn’t rock up to a client pitch without a strategy – in the same way, don’t start your holidays without a gameplan. For example, commit to spending two hours every day doing “work stuff” leaving the rest of your time free for other activities and family time.

I recommend focusing on 1-2 key projects or jobs that you can achieve over the break instead of trying to do a little bit of everything and ultimately not really finishing anything! Then take those projects and divide them into smaller, achievable tasks. We’ve put together a list of apps that can make your typical to-do list a bit more fun:

TeuxDeux; Described as a “simple, designy to-do app”, TeuxDeux (get it?) lets you visualise the entire week like a calendar, and add to-dos as you go. Check items off as you complete them and if you didn’t quite manage to get to everything, unfinished items will automatically be moved to the next day.

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Trello; Projects are easy to visualise with this online tool. Set up “cards” for individual tasks and boards for projects or jobs. Easily share and collaborate with others by inviting them to your board and even have discussions within a card itself (simply tag people with the “@” symbol). Get some more inspiration on the million ways people are using Trello here.

To Round; Want a list that’s more entertaining? Try this neat little app, which lets you prioritise your tasks by bubble size. The larger the bubble, the more important the task. You can treat your tasks like a game (and maybe even have some fun in the process!)

2: Pack right

“Just because you need to carry a laptop, doesn't mean you have to have a boring bag” – Pocket Lint

Maybe you like leaving it all until the last minute or you’re the type who tries to squeeze four bulging bags into the two piece baggage allowance every single time – whatever your packing style, don’t use the fact that you forgot your laptop as an excuse not to be productive over the holidays!

Step 1: Choose the right “remote working” bag. It’ll need to be sturdy, preferably with plenty of pockets (the kind that close or zip for better security) and be comfortable to carry around.

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And while your giant North Face backpack might be great for trekking one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it definitely isn’t the best option when you’re trying to work in the middle of a bustling cafe in Milan and keep knocking over teacups and saucers.

Where to look for a decent bag?

Lifestyle magazine Monocle has an entire section devoted to bags for travel and Fast Company wrote an entire article about the subject. We’re also loving some of recommendations in 23 Backpacks For Every Style And Budget.

Step 2: Consider what needs to go inside. For example, do you work better on your laptop or tablet? Will the kind of work you’re doing require a heavy duty keyboard, a separate mouse or graphics tablet?

If you spend all your time posting Instagram Stories and regularly have less than 2 percent battery life, you’ll definitely need a portable charger. If research or reading forms a large part of the work you’ll be doing, a Kindle, or eBook readers might be a good idea. When you're in unfamiliar territory like a new coffee shop, Wi-Fi isn't a given. Instead of being caught without internet, make sure you always carry a portable wireless hotspot.

Tip: Check out this post on Safety And Security When Working Remotely.

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3: Make your intentions public

There’s something about announcing intentions publicly that helps kick our butts into gear.  Maybe it’s the accountability factor or the fact that we don’t want to look like idiots when we don’t complete something. So make sure you tell your family, your partner or your friends that you’re planning to get a bit of work done during these holidays instead of shutting yourself away like a hermit!

4: Find an accountability buddy

Whether it’s your partner, a work colleague, or even your mum, having someone to keep you on track can be enormously helpful. But instead of having them nag you to finish that job you were supposed to complete three days ago, make the experience funner (yes I’m making up that word) for both of you.

For example, snapchat them progress reports on the regular, or set up virtual coffee dates where you can share what you’ve achieved and how you’re tracking (obviously schedule these to be short and a few days apart so they’re not time consuming). There are even more apps you can use to do this these days: Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, Google Hangouts or Viber to name just a few!

And offer something in return – can you help them in some way?

Before you commit, make sure your buddy is comfortable being brutally honest with you. Set expectations and determine what the consequences will be of not meeting your self-imposed deadlines.

5: Don’t be afraid to say no

“Focus is about saying no” – Steve Jobs

With invites streaming in left right and centre, it can be supremely hard to say no. And turning down friends is especially hard – what if you fall out of favour or they they think you’re a loser for working overtime? (Well, frankly if they do think that, they probably weren’t great friends to begin with). So how do you say no without offending anyone and still keep your relationships intact? Here are some ideas:

  • Graciously thank whoever has extended the invitation but offer to catch up with them some other time. Don’t compensate by thinking you need to over-explain.
  • Suggest another activity that requires a bit less time – for example instead of spending the day shopping, go for dinner or a movie in the evening.
  • Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush or sugar coat what you’re trying to say.
  • Don’t take their reaction personally.
  • Know your priorities! You’ve worked hard to get where you are and prioritising your goals over distractions can be good practice both professionally and personally.

Remember to stand your ground and don’t keep changing your mind (no one will take you seriously if you do). Zen habits wisely suggests sometimes you need to “say no so you can yes”.

6: Find an awesome spot

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One of the great things about going on holiday is you can get out of the confines of the office and work from pretty much anywhere that takes your fancy. And soaking up the culture somewhere different is a great way of getting inspired before you have to bang out some numbers.

So while it might not be practical working at the base of the Eiffel Tower, you can get some great recommendations on where to go with some of these travel guides and apps:

Google Trips; this newly launched app from Google makes it easy to plan and organize your trips. It automatically maps out a half day or a full day with suggestions for things to see and do based on your location and if you don’t like what you see, you can tap the "magic wand" to get more nearby sights and recommendations.

Lonely Planet Guides; packed full of tips from on-the-ground experts, Lonely Planet offers heaps of unique tips on where to go and what to do, along with approximate costs, safe travel advice and even offline maps so you won’t get lost if you’re off the grid!

Wallpaper City Guide; for the more design orientated, these guides focus on architecture, art and design. You’ll find what's useful is the narrative for where to shop and or what you can do in 24 hrs, instead of just a list of places.

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Need a few quick Spanish words to get out of a tight spot? Or a sentence of Greek to be able to order your meal? Some of these apps can help: Phrasebook, Waygo, TripLingo

Need inspiration around Auckland? Check out my favourite sites:

7: Brainstorm with your family and friends

"Draw on the floor, on each other, on table tops." - Sunni Brown

I know what you’re thinking. They barely understand what you do (I know my parents certainly don’t!) so how on earth are they supposed to help generate ideas for that pitch or creative project you’re working on?

But if you’re stuck in a rut, or going around in circles, this can be a great way to liberate your creativity and get some fresh input from an entirely different perspective! (Additional benefits include bonding time and guaranteed good times provided everyone keeps an open mind!).

So what can you do?

Keep everyone informed; Make sure everyone involved in generating ideas knows the problem they’re trying to solve. Make a quick brief – enough to provide all the information and a little bit of context, but not so much that you have any sway over their ideas with your own ideas/preconceived notions or bias!

Get all the bad ideas out first; You family and friends might be hesitant at first, especially if they’ve never done anything like this before. Have patience, and encourage them to write down whatever comes to mind. Setting a time limit forces out bad ideas too, can be fun and a creative exercise for “warming up” the mind. It helps us be “unselfconscious” and hence more productive.

Visualise your ideas; For example, divide into pairs or teams and create moodboards or visual associations. Use post-it notes to group your ideas into themes. Get someone to doodle those ideas – according to visualiser, TED speaker and gamestormer Sunni Brown, “doodling can free up short- and long-term memory, improve our comprehension and our creative thinking”.

Build on each other’s ideas; An idea from one person might not be there yet, but it might spark another and another – keep building until you reach something awesome! You can do this with wordcharts, word associations and “what if” games.

8: Listen to some tunes

The environment you’re in has a lot to do with creativity – is it conducive for ideation? Warm and friendly? Cosy and comfortable? Too comfortable that it’s sending you to sleep? Aural sounds are important too.

For instance, Christmas Carols aren’t exactly the most conducive to productivity. And if the 100th radio rendition of Jingle Bells is about to send you running for cover, it’s time to find some better music to get you in the zone. So, where should you look for great music?

Spotify; The undeniable behemoth in the online music space, Spotify has an extensive library covering a variety of genres that will suit most people’s tastes. Lately I’ve been enjoying their Discover mode, which puts together a fresh 30 track playlist, (i.e. a solid 2+ hours) worth of music to groove to every week.

If you like doing your own thing however, you can browse playlists by genres or moods (from “Coffee + Chill” and “Sprawled on the Beach” to “Like a Baws” and “Creativity Boost” there is something for all occasions) or even hit “Radio” and tune into a genre station of your choice.

SoundCloud; Check out this other popular option if you’re more of a music purist, and think Spotify has become a tad too mainstream!

Apple Music; Apple Music combines subscription-based music streaming with global radio-like programming and a social feature that connects artists to fans. Sign up free for the first 3 months with your Apple ID.

Music for Makers; Get royalty-free music in your inbox every week.

Zenmix, Noisli or Coffitivity which let you chill into more ambient sounds.

Tip: A good pair of headphones can make a lot of difference. I find that when I need to buckle down and concentrate, noise-cancelling headphones can be a godsend. And if you’re somewhere scenic, you can still enjoy local vibes and culture while getting some serious work done. My personal favourite brands include Sennheiser, Bose or Bang & Olufsen but check out this awesome list that Gear Patrol has put together with top-notch recommendations and more specific models.

9: Set creative restrictions

Some of the best ideas come when you’ve set yourself limitations or restrictions that you wouldn’t normally have. For example:

  • Head somewhere remote without your charger and aim to get as much done as you can before your battery runs out.
  • Set yourself mini-self challenges, e.g. 12 new ideas per day (even if some of them are completely useless!).
  • No cake until you complete the first draft of the proposal you finish the forecasting job you're in the middle of (yikes, better get to work quickly!)
  • Set arbitrary, shorter deadlines; this will allow you to rely more on gut feeling without giving you time to second-guess yourself.
  • Set a timer; If a project seems too daunting to even know where to start, try setting a timer for 30 minutes or so and forcing yourself to simply dig in wherever you can.

10: Whatever you do, stay away from email.

The key to staying productive over the holidays involves one cardinal rule: whatever you do, stay away from your email. However tempting those 536 unread messages might be (seriously, 536? What can be that urgent that it can’t wait?!)...don’t do it. Just...don’t. Venturing into your email inbox when you’re away from work is a deep dark hole from which you will be unlikely to emerge. So what should you do?

  • Mute email notifications – both for your browser and mobile.
  • Set a creative out of office. People tend to blatantly ignore your standard one so you need something more arresting, which will deter them from bothering you while on your break. Hubspot has put together some creative examples.
  • Turn off instant messaging apps like Skype, Google Hangouts or Yammer. 

11: And probably social media too...

While on holiday you might be tempted to check your Instagram feed periodically and see what your friends are up to, or spend a few moments trawling through Facebook, but this can be counter productive. Looking at all your friends posting pictures of themselves having fun at the beach or in the snow will only put you in a funk. Here are some things you can do:

  • Make use of Facebook’s auto-reply feature that helps keep your business response rate looking good, even if you can’t actually reply til you get back from holiday.
  • Sign out of your personal accounts and only use social media for business activity.
  • Give your phone to someone else entirely or keep it out of sight. I often find if I just leave my phone in my bag I’m likely to forget about it and concentrate a bit better, rather than having it on my desk right in front of me where I can see notifications pop up and I’m more inclined to answer them immediately.
  • Make use of Airplane mode!
  • Use apps like Freedom or Cold Turkey to reduce distractions by taking away the temptation altogether!

12. Automate where possible

“The first thing you should do is figure out what you absolutely have to do, and what others can handle.”TheBalance

While you’re away on holiday, business as usual doesn’t need to come to a standstill. Make sure to schedule in tasks that can be automated with the appropriate software – such as managing your online marketing campaigns with social media management software like Hootsuite or Buffer blog and website content management through a dedicated CMS (we use Hubspot here at WorkflowMax which fortunately takes care of our social stuff too!). This will save you heaps of admin time and free you up to focus on the bigger things you need to!

13: Keep an open, curious mind

While it can be tempting to ‘Netflix and chill’ all holiday long, keeping your mind active and engaged is key to being productive. And you don’t need to be working for this to happen!

I find reading always helps me get inspired or even listening to some podcasts (get some awesome, specially curated recommends in our post The Best Productivity Podcasts for 2016!)

14. Spend your time learning a new skill for your job.

Even if you don’t have “work” per say, you can spend a part of your holiday being productive, for instance, learning a new skill that will help in your day-to-day job or help where you might want to take it in the future.

  • Video editing and coding are hot skills in demand. TED put together a neat list of 10 Places Anyone Can Learn To Code. You can also check out Skillshare, The Open University or Code Academy for courses to try.
  • Or you could learn a new language. Check out Duolingo, the easiest tool I’ve used to help bring my languages up to scratch. (I’ve recently reignited my passion for Spanish, which I gave up last year as it was interfering with my French, but after watching heaps of Narcos on TV I’m keen to get back on it!)
  • Spruce up your public speaking; No matter where you go there will be a local Toastmasters. While some of them have wait lists, at most you can simply email them and turn up – even if you can’t do a course, you’ll be able to sit in, learn from more experienced speakers and maybe even get picked to do a Table Topic!

15: Be realistic with yourself

It might sound a little cliche but holidays are still a time for replenishing your creative juices and spending time with loved ones. Structured downtime and self-pampering can be conducive to productivity so make sure to schedule regular breaks into your work schedule over the holidays (that way you’ll have a dedicated chunk of time and won’t be tempted to overrun or just have a break whenever you feel like it), check in with yourself on the regular, let yourself indulge and have a good balance of work and play.

 

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