The Holidays Are Coming…How Do You Balance Work With the Season?

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Career Advice


I’m sure you either grew really, really excited or you groaned once you read the title of this piece.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to the holidays with the fervor of Buddy the Elf. It wasn’t only the result of my holding the title of December baby – I loved the season in its entirety. Starting with Thanksgiving, getting together with family, tree lightings, mall Santas, Manhattan all lit up, TV specials…I wanted to do it all.

I had some difficulty adjusting during my freshman year of college, as I missed some of the early traditions that my mom and I had made a point of making traditions in years past. But I was usually home and done with final exams right around my birthday (which is nine days before Christmas) and we continued with our late-season traditions.

You would think that living at home would leave me with more time for holiday traditions as well as the ability to attend events that I couldn’t have attended while I lived away.

However, over the past four years of postgrad holiday seasons, I’ve found myself mistaken in several circumstances. My work schedule has interfered with the traditions I’ve so grown to love. I learned that while I don’t have to lose my enthusiasm for the holiday season — unlike the photo above — I cannot answer the phone at work like Buddy the Elf.

I’ve become known for all night wrap-a-thons (following a full day of work) to make certain that everyone on my list receives a wrapped, thoughtful gift. But I’ve been admittedly exhausted by the end of it all, and I’ve had to learn to balance the holiday rush with a full-time job.  Here are a few of my trade secrets:


Make your gift list ahead of time.
You won’t have an entire week to get it together the way that you did during your college years. You’ll be at work. If you haven’t made your list already (and checked it twice) do it now.

Get your dates straight.
Keep track of the office holiday party, your community bash, the Yankee Swap that you have with your friends every year, and any and all family celebrations with a calendar or your phone (whatever you prefer). And get those dates down way ahead of time. Between going to work every day and attending social events at night – even during the week – you’re bound to forget where you need to be. That’s why the calendar will remember for you.

Set an appointment with your family, if necessary – and keep it.
My parents and I decorate our Christmas tree together every year. I always let my mom know when I’ll be available – and I don’t make any other plans. We do it on a Saturday or a Sunday, so that it doesn’t interfere with work, but any other plans for the day have to be set for as early as possible.

Utilize online shopping.
If the stores where you wish to buy your gifts for family, friends and co-workers are closed following a late night at the office, jump right on Amazon when you get home! And while I’d definitely recommend researching the vendor you purchase from before clicking “finalize order,” Etsy offers numerous custom-made gifts at reasonable prices.

Make the most of the weekend.
Find yourself with a free weekend in early December or even just one weekend day free? Get that shopping done. See if anyone is available to exchange gifts early. Bake your cookies. And, of course, wrap, wrap, wrap!


Or, take the opposite route and get work done ahead of schedule. Big project due two days before the big family gathering? Get as much done as you can now. I know, I know, the weekends are supposed to be about getting away from work – but that thinking can go by the wayside during the holiday season, when you’ll be missing lots of work late in December anyway.

Be flexible.
While some may find this a sad reality (I know I do), the town tree lighting that you have grown to love so dearly may fall on the same night as the office holiday party, or your December monthly team meeting that happens to be held at night. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to skip the tree lighting and fulfill your work obligation.

However, don’t totally despair. Maybe, with a little internet research, you can find another local tree lighting that falls on another night. This year, for the first time, I have to work on the day after Thanksgiving, and my mom and I have a tradition of shopping bright and early on Black Friday. While I was sad initially, my mom came in clutch with a great solution she called “Black Saturday.”

Yes, balancing your work schedule with the holiday season seems difficult. But even those of us with the largest extended families manage to get it done. Don’t forget – rest is important, too.

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