By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes

The pumpkin spice lattes are back, cozy sweaters are pulled on and the gift shopping list has been compiled.

The Holiday season is here!

Although this is one of my favorite times of the year, it is also one of the hardest to keep work afloat and make sure you don’t turn into a walking sugar cane.

Although cheer and gratitude are high during the holidays, productivity (and profit margins) can take a major slump. I am not alone in this thought, considering that 62% of companies report a dip in productivity during the holiday months.

Instead of letting the holidays distract you from your career moving forward, use it as an opportunity to get ahead. Here are four ways to do it: 

1. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.

Successful people aren’t successful because they are like everyone else, they are successful because they do what others are afraid to do. When everyone else is going to one party after another or spending their Saturdays watching holiday movies and wrapping gifts, commit this some of your free time to work on the project you know you have always wanted to do. Maybe this means building a foundation for your side hustle, or writing an outline for that book always said you’d write. 

Set aside one hour a day, or seven hours a week, to focus on what will get you the furthest ahead in your work (or your heart). This ends up being roughly 28 hours a month (part-time gig hours) to build your dream. By breaking it down into smaller chunks of time, it feels more doable and overwhelm will decrease.

You might be reading this and think I am telling you to become a workaholic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, it’s going to be tough to walk away from watching Elf for the 20th time, but how much better will you feel after you spend that two hours doing something that excites you and builds your career up for the new year?  

Work on creating a life you love, because that is the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season.

2. Use networking as a tool to build your community and stay sober.

Stop partying, and start building connections.

It can be easy to let seasonal cocktails flow at each holiday party you attend, but this tends to leave you with a hangover at work the next day, and perhaps regretful words you recall saying as you when you walk back into the office.  

Alcohol releases major amounts of dopamine and serotonin that create feelings of euphoria, which can be great! However, it leaves your body depleted of valuable hormones the next day, translating into sadness and nostalgia. On top of this sadness, alcohol is a diuretic, which leaves you even worse off by literally dehydrating your body and actually shrinking the brain dura (the membrane that encases your brain) leaving you with reduced attention memory and coordination skills. Simply put, the holiday happy hour cocktails if left unchecked, will set you back, not forward.

When you drink alcohol you spark an excess level of cortisol to be released into your system which leads to poor stress responses. This impacts your ability to think fast and make tough decisions. In order to handle this, your body needs adequate and consistent cortisol levels, which happens when you slow down on the mojitos.

 When you head to your next networking event or holiday party, consider sticking to carbonated water or non-alcoholic drinks. A lot of people rely on alcohol to warm themselves up in social situations, but you could look at the event as an opportunity to connect with more intention and depth.  

I also must note that one fifth of patients with social anxiety also suffer from a combined alcohol use disorder, so know that if you feel a particular challenge with this, you are not alone and it’s important to seek out help.  

Tackle the event as an opportunity to connect with new people. If you are going to show up, get away from the wall-flower vibe and introduce yourself to someone new at work!

3. Commit to being healthy- and don’t do it alone.

Keep the feeding frenzy to a minimum. Just like drinks at a party, holiday treats are going to be everywhere. And instead of baking home goods packed with chocolate and powdered sugar, get a group of coworkers and friends together to join a healthy living group that launches during the holidays.  

Consider that a cigarette craving lasts 10 to 20 minutes; sugar and junk foods are not much different. Prepare yourself, and stock up on healthy snacks at your desk. Bring in orange or cantaloupe slices which will help curb that sweet craving and give a boost of vitamin C to help repair tissue and keep you healthy. You will be happy to have this boost when the holiday flu season hits.  

4. Set your goals now.

January 1st will come before you know it, and it will leave you with only a few minutes to set your resolutions and goals. You will be ahead of the majority by simply setting a goal or resolution since only 3% of the population set goals, 80% of which fail within the first 30 days.  

If you want to be part of the 8% of people that reach their goals, start planning early, and set smart, realistic goals for yourself. Spend the time up front to establish your goals and then lay out a detailed plan of how to get there. Create something that is measurable, and has a clear purpose for why you want to accomplish it. Be sure to mark on a calendar check in dates to see how you are doing. One thing I have come to appreciate are the planners and journals that help you manage goals.  

This way, instead of waiting for the new year to hit to start planning you will be steps ahead of everyone else once the holidays come to a close.

The holiday season is not only a time to celebrate the people in your life and the year that is coming to an end but it is also a great opportunity to set yourself up for success and get ahead before the New Year even starts.

Happy Holidays! 

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  • I'm a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast) and author, here to help you step into a career you're excited about and aligned with. This may look like coaching you 1:1, hosting you in one of my courses, or meeting you at one of workshops or keynote speaking engagements! I also own CAKE Media, a house of ghostwriters, copywriters, publicists and SEO whizzes that help companies and influencers expand their voice online. Before being an entrepreneur, I was an award-winning counterterrorism professional who helped the Pentagon in Washington, DC with preparing civilians to prepare for the frontlines of the war on terror.