How To Stay Focused At Work During The Holidays

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The aphorism about perfect being the enemy of the good feels realer than ever around holiday time.

You obviously can't throw your hands up and chill your waay through the end of the year. (Especially if you work in customer service or retail, and your schedule may be ramping up.)

But if you focus just on the essential tasks that need to be done before Jan. 1, communicate with your managers (more than usual) so they aren't left in the dark, and do your best to minimize distractions, you may end things on a high note.

Ahead, human resources experts at the Society for Human Resource Management reveal their biggest pet peeves and employee faux pas around the holidays, so you know what to avoid.

1. There Are So Many Distractions

Holidays distractions are often the fun kind: parties, friends in town, catching sales, marathon watching seasonal movies, blasting Christmas music. But the bad kind — constantly shopping online at work, scheduling personal activities, taking long personal calls, or devoting a bit too much time conversing with colleagues about holiday activities — can eventually derail workdays.

"Some of this is to be expected, but it should not significantly interfere with normal work activities," notes Valerie Keels, another SHRM HR Disciplines special expertise panelist.

Instead of just going with the holiday flow, finds ways to keep yourself on task. Start by putting your phone airplane mode for portions of the day to avoid the temptation of responding to every buzz and chime. When you're not at work, add things to your online shopping carts that you might want to hit 'Buy' on later, but don't spend your day browsing. When it comes to colleagues, do be of good cheer and feel free to share holiday plans, but try to set deadlines for yourself so that you know how long you can make lunch stories last, and when you have to get back to the grind.

2. You Might Be Tempted, But Don't Play Around With PTO

Lisa-Marie Gustafson, an SHRM HR Disciplines special expertise panelist, says one of the biggest issues she sees every year is employee misuse of sick leave around the holiday season. Some take off time to go Christmas shopping, others leave early to attend holiday events— and all their excuses are transparent.

"If your company has a PTO bucket then it’s not a big issue. But if you separate out your sick and vacation benefits, it can become an issue," Gustafson says. "Vacations are generally known prior to an employee’s absence. It’s hard to plan around sick leave absences as most employees will not give you the FYI, I’m going to be sick this Friday afternoon to attend my son’s school party heads up."

You may think your manager will forgive you for just the one absence, but if you leave them high and dry with little warning, they may remember it. If you have remaining days, think about how to request them in a way that doesn't throw a wrench in others' plans.

If you urgently need to take days because of an emergency or simply because of bad planning, explain the situation calmly and come prepared with a few solutions. Talk to your manager about the best way to take the days you need, maybe agreeing to take a few shifts or work extended days after the holidays if they ask.

3. Getting Overwhelmed By All The Stuff You Have To Do

Your manager might be staggering time off, but with other teammates leaving for large swaths of time, you might be getting overwhelmed. Instead of dragging your feet or punting things into 2018, talk to your manager to find out what must be done, and what can wait.

"My team sits down in late September to plot what needs to be accomplished before the end of the year, and stagger planned time off," she explains. "During these discussions, we also flag any burning issues or projects and prioritize completion. That way, urgent assignments are accomplished before the Thanksgiving holiday if possible, and other team members can pitch in to help during the holiday season crunch."

Additionally, she says, if you work at a company that offers flex time, see if you can request extended lunch hours, or planned work-from-home time to build in more flexibility during the last four to six weeks of the year.

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