Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration but often can be a source of stress, as we try to fit merry making into our already packed schedules. Eleven months of the year, we cultivate routines and habits that allow us to be more efficient. In fact, according to research, up to 40% of our daily actions are powered by habits—the unconscious actions and routines we’ve developed over time. The holidays are filled with activities that are not part of our daily routines. It is not surprising that statistics on holiday stress reveal that “up to 69% of people are stressed by the feeling of having a lack of time.” This season, you can check stress off of your to-do list with three simple tips.

Be more realistic with your schedule. One of the hazards of the holiday season is trying to do everything. Before you know it you’ve signed up to bake cookies, host 12 people for dinner, volunteer at a shelter and attend every holiday gathering in a 25-mile radius. One solution proposed by researchers from Kent University is to practice mindfulness. During mindfulness exercises, you learn to observe your current emotional state without being swept away by it. In this way, you are less likely to overestimate your future emotional state (no, you will not feel like baking 3 dozen cookies after working all day) and can be more realistic with your schedule.

Give it your all. This may sound counterintuitive, but you will get more done by focusing 100% on a single task. Multitasking is more stressful and less productive than single-tasking, because technically speaking, it’s not even possible. What feels like doing multiple tasks at a time is actually our brain frantically switching back and forth. If you want to get tasks done at a higher quality and in less time, it pays dividends to focus on one at a time. In a recent interview, author Srinivas Rao told us : “What matters more than the length of time you put into a thing is actually the intensity of focus. Because if you have an intensity of focus you can actually reduce the amount of time spent doing it to get the same or better results.”

Set communication expectations. Modern communication systems make it easy to collaborate in real time, respond to issues and share information but far too often, we have allowed communication to dominate our days leaving little time for actual work. Studies have found that 84% of people keep their email open all day long, with 70% of emails opened within 6 seconds of receipt. Even when we’re not receiving emails, we found that the average knowledge worker checks email every 6 minutes of the day. As we have discussed, you get more done when you can focus, so it’s time to set up realistic expectations about communication. When do people expect a response? Can you set times where you’ll check throughout the day so everyone is on the same page and not waiting around for you? Having open conversations allows you to take better control of your time, and create distraction-free work periods.

Taking control of your time this holiday season is the best present you can give yourself. Structuring your day so that you can focus will help you be productive and happier. You will also find that you are checking all the boxes, you want to check with time left over to indulge in the joys of the season.


  • Robby Macdonell

    CEO, RescueTime

    Robby has played key roles in design and user experience at startups for over a decade. A strong advocate for data-informed personal improvement, he loves connecting people with information that will positively impact their lives. He lives in Nashville, TN, but is a vegetarian so if you have any questions about Nashville hot chicken he’s the wrong guy to ask.