If you’re like me, you survived Thanksgiving but on Sunday you thought, “Oh bleep! Do I really have to go back to work tomorrow? I’m not sure I have the energy to make it through the end of the semester and the holidays.” If you were less than excited to go back to work this week, I have five tips to help you survive the end of the semester and the holiday season.
I’m a small business owner, so I’m basically the boss of me. I do teach a few classes at Maryville University as a side hustle, but students had last week off for Thanksgiving. November was jam packed with conferences and out of town workshops. I was exhausted and since I didn’t have to worry about classes, I decided to take the week off too. I just had two work things I wanted to do – send out an email to the folks we met at the conferences and catch up on grading, so I wouldn’t be too far behind this week. I was pretty excited about giving myself a break.
I told myself I didn’t have to do anything last week, but I sure ended up finding a lot of things to do. Some of those things I’d fallen behind on during the busyness like cleaning and laundry. But I also found new things. Like, I got a great deal on a carpet cleaner. Naturally, I got the vacuum out and tackled the dirtiest one. It was rewarding seeing the difference, so I thought, “Well, I’m off this week. I should do the rest of the carpets.” I left the vacuum and the carpet cleaner in the middle of the room, so I didn’t have to get them back out again. But mostly they made things cluttered and stressed me out. They were a constant reminder that I “should” be cleaning carpets, which also meant less doing nothing.
Other things I found to do were related to things I really do enjoy doing. I enjoy cooking, so for Thanksgiving I volunteered to do the turkey and gravy. Even more importantly, I love turkey leftovers, so I had big plans for making sandwiches, turkey pot pie, bone broth, and then soup with said broth. But while cooking one or two things is enjoyable for me, spending half the day in the kitchen is not. All the things took way longer than I expected, but I felt like I still had to make all the things.
I’m also a gardener and often look at YouTube videos about gardening. Well, there was one on composting leaves. Guess what! There’s a ton of leaves on my lawn right now. I haven’t composted before, so my Input decided to spend several hours learning enough about the process to be able to do it. Now I ended up deciding that it was something I could still do, but it wasn’t a priority now. I mean no one’s going to move those leaves besides me. Lol.
By the time I hit Sunday morning, I was getting stressed about all the things I hadn’t gotten to like the rugs AND all the nothing I hadn’t done. I tried to fit as much stuff in as I could, but eventually I told myself there was simply no way to get it all done. I put the vacuum and carpet cleaner away. I didn’t finish the pot pie. And I ran out of time to do nothing. As I was winding down to go to bed, all the work things I had to do started filling my mind. Even though I reminded myself that I’m the boss and I could set my schedule for the week, things kept popping into my head and I had a tough time falling asleep.
Now despite some self-induced stress, I did have a nice week. I took the dogs to the park every day. I did several puzzles. I watched quite a few documentaries and episodes of The Office. So, what does this have to do with you surviving the end of the semester and the holidays? I mean most of you probably don’t feel like you could just take a week off, especially if you have kids. But I’m going to break down my week and you’ll see how these tips apply to anyone, even if doing nothing isn’t an option.
Tip 1 | Be Realistic
I had a week off. My goal was to relax and unwind. I told myself I didn’t have to do anything. But literally doing nothing for a week is a bit boring, so having some activities whether it was cleaning to feel better about my environment or doing something enjoyable was reasonable. What I didn’t do was be realistic about how many of those things I could do in a week. My stomach thought about the delicious turkey and leftovers, so they went on my list before I thought about how LONG each of them would take. And they took way longer than I would have liked once I got started. This led to me feeling like I didn’t accomplish enough during a week where the goal was to do nothing! That’s problematic.
You’ve got a few weeks to until the semester and the holidays are over. Unlike me, I doubt your goal is to do nothing this entire time. But what ARE your goals? That might be to finish X, Y, or Z, but it could also be something big picture. Maybe your goal is to get to the new year without feeling exhausted. Or maybe it’s to focus on supporting your team or focusing on the joy of the holiday season. No matter what your goals are, you need to think about what you can reasonably fit into the next four weeks or so. It’s not going to be everything you’d like to get done.
Don’t be like me! Don’t overfill your days and weeks to the point that you feel like you can’t accomplish everything. When I was thinking about my day, I’d start off the morning thinking I’d get some of these tasks done so I could have the afternoon to chill. But when I hit 2PM and wasn’t anywhere near being done, I just got resentful about what I’d done and stressed about how much longer it was going to take. Cleaning one rug was a realistic goal. Cleaning all the rugs was not. If I’d been more realistic about what I added to my plate, I could have enjoyed the doing without the stress. People tend to underestimate how long things take, so add in about 25% more time to your initial estimation. Remember, adding too much to your plate doesn’t mean you’ll get more done. It just leads to stress and feeling overwhelmed.
Tip 2 | Prioritize
Prioritizing might seem like being realistic, but there’s a difference. Being realistic is about knowing how much time and energy you have and how much time and energy things will take. Prioritizing is about deciding what are the most important things you need to do with that time and energy. I did a good job prioritizing sending out emails to folks from the conventions and catching up on grading. I eventually did a good job deciding that composting leaves wasn’t a priority. But I didn’t do such a great job prioritizing other things. Just because I made the turkey, didn’t mean I had to make the pot pie, broth, and soup with said broth right now. The priority should have been making the broth and freezing it and the extra meat to make things later.
Whatever you’d ideally like to get done in the next few weeks, you’re simply not going to be able to do everything. You’re going to have things already on your to-do list, and just like me with the carpet cleaner, you’re going to think of more things that would be great to get done. But doing all the things is not realistic, so you need to prioritize them. Think about the most important things you need to get done before the beginning of the new year. A helpful way to frame this is by asking, “What will give me the greatest return on my investment.”
Once you’ve identified the things that seem the most important, you need to realistically assess how much time and energy you can devote to them including adding in that extra 25%. Then you can start filling in your schedule. And this needs to include things that aren’t necessarily projects or tasks. For example, do you spend a lot of time at the end of the semester dealing with students in crisis? If so, then you need to leave space in your calendar for them. Sure, you may not know when those students will show up, but you can both block out time that will give you the flexibility to move other projects too if you get interrupted.
Being realistic and prioritizing go hand in hand. You only have so much time and energy. And remember, if you’re low on energy right now you’re going to be less productive doing anything. That needs to be factored into this equation. But prioritizing will help you shift your focus from your entire to-do list to the things that are the most important to accomplish. And that’s going to be driven by what your goals are. If your goals are tending to your team and your students during one of the most stressful times of the semester, that means you can’t expect to be able to do a bunch of projects too. Let go of this idea that to be good at your job you need to be able to get everything done. That’s not even possible for most of us. Instead, prioritize and put everything else on the back burner.
Tip 3 | Set and Keep Boundaries
I’ve talked about boundaries before. While they may seem like rules, it’s really about protecting and honoring yourself so you can be at your best. And those boundaries aren’t just directed towards other people. This also applies to creating limits for ourselves, like say when our talents start to get in our way. When I volunteered to cook the turkey and gravy, that was absolutely a scaled back offering. In the past, I’d do that, plus homemade rolls, pumpkin bread, and maybe homemade stuffing. Like I said, I enjoy cooking so when I’d offered those things before I hadn’t accounted for me spending all day in the kitchen which never make me happy. So, this year, I decided to limit what I was preparing so I could be at my best on Thanksgiving, instead of exhausted or resentful. Now unfortunately, I didn’t do this with myself for post-Thanksgiving cooking. Lesson learned for next year. I’ll just add that I didn’t really need to set boundaries with other people during the week, but that might apply to you.
As you’re thinking about your realistic and prioritized to-do list, what do you think will get in your way of accomplishing it? Is it one of your team members who always seems to have issues? Is it a certain student who always seems to be in crisis? Is it you? Does one of your talents keep showing up as a weakness in certain situations? Even though you’ve got this updated to-do list, are you at risk of volunteering for more things? Whether it’s someone else or yourself, what boundaries do you need to set to protect yourself so you can get through the list you have? If it’s for yourself, how can you remind yourself to avoid those pitfalls? Is there someone you can partner with to help you? If it’s for someone else, the first thing you’ll need to do is challenge any stories you have about why you keep allowing certain behaviors to continue. Then you’ll need to communicate what you want to see in the future and any consequences if they don’t do those things.
Those boundaries might be tough to implement, especially if you’re not used to doing them. The point isn’t to add to your stress now and except yourself to magically become excellent at setting boundaries. The goal is to just do your best. If this is the beginning of your boundary journey, then start small. If you’ve already started, think about what you could add. Even if you don’t get these boundaries to stick 100% of the time now, you’re identifying where they need to go and what they need to be which is going to set you up to solidify them in the new year.
Tip 4 | Self-Care
I talk about self-care a ton, so you probably guessed this was going to make it into this list. The reason I gave myself the week off was because I needed some down time to reset and relax. I wanted to give myself permission to do nothing, not because I literally wanted to do nothing but because it meant I didn’t have to think or worry about work. Just giving myself permission was part of my self-care. Beyond that, I did some organizing and cleaning because it made me feel better about my space. Other activities included walking my dog twice a day, including making sure one of them was at a park which I don’t always have time to do. I got my eyes checked and ordered new glasses because I’d started to notice changes in my vision. I did puzzles, some gardening when the weather wasn’t too cold, and did some shopping to finish off my Christmas list (and quite frankly because I find a trip to Costco relaxing). I watched some YouTube videos about gardening. Finally, I found a new history podcast that I enjoyed and got through a few episodes.
Your self-care may or may not look anything like my list. And that’s because we’re not the same people. The reason self-care is so important is because it gives YOU what YOU need to be your best self, including being well. Quite frankly, following any of these five tips would be great self-care options if they help you be less stressed and feel better about yourself and your life. But just like me the first step is giving yourself permission to do so. You have a lot of limiting stories/beliefs that get in your way of taking care of yourself. We all do. When you tell yourself it’s not only okay to do but also crucial to your success, you can start to shift those narratives. Think about what you need to be less stressed, better rested, and to feel more confident. Then choose a few things you can integrate into your day to help you get there. Like I’ve talked about in the past, you can do self-care in five minutes or less. That being said, feel free to give yourself permission to take more time than that. You’ll find you actually get more done when you take care of yourself than when you push through all the work.
Tip 5 | Invest in Growth
I didn’t spend much time thinking about work, but I did listen to podcast episodes, documentaries, and watched some YouTube videos. I have Connectedness and Ideation in my Top 10. So even though I’m watching or listening or reading things that don’t seem to be connected to work, that’s often where I get my best ideas. In fact, if I hadn’t gone down some unexpected rabbit holes for myself, I wouldn’t have been able to create the Supervisor Strengths Institute in its current form. Life wants to create more life. That impulse is shut down when we’re caught in the stress response. That’s why my self-care list included things that helped me learn or grow.
You don’t always know what you don’t know. If something is frustrating or stressing you out, there’s room for growth. We tend to think of stressors as being external, but that’s not always true. Most of the things that stress you out are because you don’t know how to navigate them effectively. Think of the students or team members you work with. How many times were you able to help them better understand something – aka grow – which then allowed them to better navigate a situation or just upgrade their life skills? The same thing can happen to you. You feel stuck and hope that working harder or doubling down on what you’re already doing will get you out of it. But really what you need to do is learn new information and develop new skills.
I’m sure you’re very good at parts of your job. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have it. But there are so many things you don’t know about yourself or the world that might be getting in your way of achieving your goals. I know that was the case for me when I left campus to start Strengths University. The more I knew about things like energy management, my subconscious, habits, etc., the better able I was to reach my goals. Just like self-care, this is going to look different for each person. You don’t have to over think it. Just give yourself a bit of space (#selfcare) to find a short video or podcast episode that resonates with you. Even if it doesn’t seem like it will directly solve all your problems, it might have a bit of wisdom or a perspective that will allow you to think about things differently.
And with the holidays coming up, you can’t go wrong with getting folks something to help them grow. Now just to clarify, this isn’t about figuring out what’s wrong with people and giving them a book or course to help them fix it. Folks generally don’t care for that type of thing. But think about their interests and where they want to go. And if you or your team members have identified that you’d like to grow as supervisors, you know that Strengths University is here to help.