Managing your workflow in December

The month of December is a notoriously unproductive time of the work year. Clients, vendors, and co-workers are off on vacations, attending holiday parties, or perpetually snacking on cookies and flavored popcorn in the office kitchen. Getting someone to weigh in on a decision or to complete his portion of a project can be — or at least seem like — an impossible task.

To reduce your frustrations and keep the proverbial ball rolling, try these techniques for managing your workflow during this hectic month:

  • Communicate. Find out exactly when your clients, vendors, bosses, and co-workers will be available and in their respective offices. Mark this information on your calendar, and remember that many people mentally check out the day before they leave on vacation.
  • Manage expectations. Let everyone you’re responsible to know when you will be in the office. Additionally, regularly update people of your work progress so they can better manage their time. If you fall behind on a project, let people expecting work from you know as quickly as possible.
  • Set small deadlines. Now is not the time of year to take on the Next Big Thing. As much as you can manage, set small, achievable deadlines and save the larger projects for the spring.
  • Set realistic deadlines. Double or triple your expected work times. If it usually takes you three hours to write a weekly report, give yourself six hours — especially if other people are involved in reviewing your work.
  • Tackle your mindless work. Let’s be honest, your motivation tanks in December, too. Instead of goofing off and getting nothing done, actually finish the mindless responsibilities on your to-do list (filing, returning phone calls, filing out forms).

What tips and tricks do you employ in December to stay productive? Share your advice in the comments.

13 Comments for “Managing your workflow in December”

  1. posted by Kari on

    It’s the end of the term for me, so I am evaluating and grading final projects and work throughout the month. Although not by choice, it is always one of my most productive times in terms of sheer work accomplished (the other is May for he same reasons).

  2. posted by Marie on

    I write out a daily list on a sticky note to keep myself on task. These are small steps and tasks, not big projects. In fact, there is no task too small for this list. (Sometimes I code them in the margin, e.g. “E” for errand, “K” kitchen related, “*” for especially important, etc.) When I get distracted, I can refer back to the list and remind myself of the next “small bite” of work. I can knock out huge amounts of fun/drudgery done this way.

  3. posted by Gal @ Equally Happy on

    That second tip, “manage expectations” should be a priority on every month, not just December. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear “oh yah, we’re not going to make that date” on the last day of a project timeline.

    I’m very understanding when it comes to missing deadlines or falling behind due to unavoidable issues, but only if you tell me as soon as you realize you’re falling behind. Letting me know about it when it’s too late to do anything about it is a sure way to make my confidence in you plummet like a rock.

  4. posted by Zen friend on

    Sage and timely advice, Erin. Thanks!

  5. posted by Ms. D on

    Ha! I manage my December workload by doing everything myself, since, regardless of the fact that I have teammates, the work is still expected to get done and no one else is going to do it. I’m going on year 3 of no vacations, no holidays (even beyond the winter holidays…I’ve worked every holiday since Memorial Day 2009), and while I busted my rear at work Thursday, Friday, and all weekend, my coworkers were uploading vacation and holiday pictures to Facebook. Ah…back to work…I’ve got at least 3 more days of double-digit hour days just to get through this week, and more to come. No, you all have a happy holiday.

  6. posted by KR on

    @Ms. D – you may want to look up Crucial Confrontations – it’s about how to speak to others so they’ll do their end of things. It was an interesting book and they have a decent newsletter. Either way, I hope your work situation improves!

  7. posted by ecuadoriana on

    @Mrs.D- why in the world are you letting this continue? You MUST speak up (KR has a good suggestion with the Crucial Confrontations book!). Either you are enjoying the martyrdom of this (sincerely hope not!), you are too intimidated by your coworkers & so they use that to their advantage, or you have some bigger plans (own the company some day maybe?). I am really hoping that option 3 is where you are headed, because if not you are headed for a breakdown!

    So if you don’t do all the work then what will happen? Will you all get fired at the same time?

  8. posted by Shelley on

    This same thing happens in August here in Britain – no one is at work and nothing gets done. So between 6 weeks leave and 2 months wasted, it’s no wonder everything takes forever!

  9. posted by David Carlson on

    I retired from career work nearly ten years ago. I keep the same year-end schedule as always. Not only the various holidays happen on a December schedule. I manage my own investments. I try to make final mutual fund and stock transactions the first week in December. I do preliminary tax preparation before handing off to our accountant at the end of January.

    Often there are two or three days the last week of December when I am available, and can be productive. Retirement jobs include social networking. I do creative writing and daily personal journals. I do the same kind of year-end summaries and year-ahead projections as seen on TV. I make art. I work on painting or drawing.

    We travel. I never failed to take vacation or be the tourist while on business trips. It all contributed to career. The first week of January, we already had major plans booked on the calendar into October.

  10. posted by JP on

    @Ms. D – Keep in mind that no one says “I wish I would have worked more.” on their death bed… Unless your job is also your own business (and even that is questionable), you are working way too much and way too hard for someone else. In the end, work is not worth that much of your life.

  11. posted by Marjory Thrash on

    My husband and I do “timely procrastinations.” We are also in the last weeks before final exams. Rather than try to get everything done at the same time – decorate the house, do the shopping, pay the land taxes, do visiting, get the vehicles ready for road trips….we write down everything to do, but only do our work related stuff. Getting everything graded, everything cleaned up in our offices, having the exams ready to distribute – we do all of this. On final exam day, we’re grading exams, throwing the grades into the electronic gradebook, and finishing our responsibilities at work. Often, we finish DAYS before our fellow instructors. Once the grades are published, we can tackle the other tasks with a clean conscience. Shopping during a Tuesday morning is a breeze – the clerks are friendly, the racks are full, and the crowds are nonexistent.

  12. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    It is important that we manage our expectations but that we also make others do their part. People will allow you to do their work for them, if you will! Stand up and put a stop to it. I can say from experience, that if you (Mrs D or anybody else) continues to do all the work themselves, you will burnout. And then it will take a while to recover. Put a stop to it. Ask for help.

  13. posted by AG on

    @Ms. D — Here is something to remember: you are responsible to your team mates but you are NOT responsible for them. It is your duty to provide quality work to them and to do your fair share, but you are NOT responsible for their poor choices and the attendant consequences. You are also not responsible for enabling them by completing all of their tasks. They are adults — even when they don’t act like it.

    Mrs. D — You have to determine which is more important: (a) having “glory hog” rights by doing everyone else’s work to get the job done or (b) redistributing the workload such that each team member carries his weight and has a true stake in the deliverable.

    If you select (a) then you really can kiss all of your holidays and vacations goodbye. But own the fact that you enjoy being the “glory hog” or “doormat” for three years running. There is no need to seethe when you see your team members resting on their laurels. This is a natural by-product of the work environment you created.

    By solely authoring the deliverables, you are sheltering your team mates from the negative consequences of their failure to perform. You are robbing them of a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. You are letting the team members ride on your “sweat equity” for the low, low price of having bragging rights on the final product. And most importantly, you are running yourself into an early grave by denying your body the rest it needs.

    Congrats, you get the trophy as “most competent” but it is in fact a boobie prize. There is no one around you to help you celebrate the victory. And you are probably too tired to even have a victory party!

    If you select (b), then you change the team dynamics, make the team members more accountable for the final product, and free up your schedule to recharge, rest and recuperate.

    You should also reallocate your time by spending less time doing everyone else’s work and spending more time “helping, monitoring, & training” them. In other words, less doing and more developing!

    You should have a meeting with your team members ASAP discuss the changes that must take place.

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