At the Holidays, It's Okay to Be Off Balance

'Tis the season to be jolly... and stressed, and overwhelmed, and annoyed and tired. Every year visions of the holiday season dance through my head. In them, I complete my important professional projects and shut down for family travel leaving behind no loose ends. I organize my email inbox, take some time to think and plan for the year ahead and begin to sketch out my professional and personal goals for the coming year. I accomplish all of my holiday shopping and celebratory preparations without a single last-minute dodge into a crowded store. The whole time, I maintain my exercise and sleep schedule so I'm not sick or wiped out as vacation begins. When we leave for the airport, the house is spotless, with no piles of laundry, dishes or papers littering the house. Sounds about as realistic as the big guy coming down the chimney, right?

This time of year is rife with dissatisfaction around work-life balance, and even as an executive coach who specializes in work-life balance, I am not immune.

This year, though, I'm doing something different and advising my clients to, as well. I've pledged not to make myself crazy about the inevitable imbalance of the holiday season. Instead, I'm changing how I do things during these last two weeks of the year, and how I think about this time.

If you care to join me in embracing the imbalance this year, try the following advice. For each category, you'll find a new way of thinking and a new way of acting.

1. Accept that you won't get it all done

For most of us, everything we want to do takes longer than we expect. We plan for the best-case scenario, forgetting that real life includes detours, delays and distractions. Working harder and harder to do more and more in the next two weeks will leave you dissatisfied and depleted. The drive to get it all done sets you up for failure as there will always be more to do - professionally and personally.

New thought: I will focus on what is most important, most meaningful and/or most impactful now, knowing that I cannot do everything.

New action: Take ten minutes now to document three goals that you want to complete by the end of the year. No matter how long your To Do List, pick three tasks that if completed by the end of the year will make you feel better than you feel now. Schedule time to do those in the next few days. When they're finished, select another, and continue this process as you cross items off your list. Whatever you complete beyond three, think of as a bonus and celebrate. Instead of focusing on what you haven't done, acknowledge what you have done and take a next step.

2. It's okay to miss a workout

I advise my clients and audiences that self-care needs to be central and sacred as it fuels your ability to maintain high levels of stress, productivity, engagement and happiness. But at times, even our commitment to something good and positive can lead to negative consequences. A client with a regular and nurturing yoga practice usually enjoys her three-times weekly 6 a.m. yoga class, but last week found herself wanting to skip it to catch up on the sleep she had been missing from working late to complete end-of-year reports. This led her to experience guilt, struggle and a distracted and counter-productive yoga class.

New thought: Self-care is more than going to the gym or exercise class. In times of heightened stress, I need to evaluate more holistically what is good for me.

New action: As the year winds down, examine your routine and decide what gives you the most energy to carry you through the end of the year. Don't assume what you normally do is right for the holiday season. The benefit of completing a project, getting more sleep or cooking a nourishing meal now may be exactly what you need even if something else is on your calendar. You can go back to your routine in the New Year.

3. The New Year is an arbitrary deadline

There is something pleasing for most of us when we turn the page on a new calendar with a clean slate -- tasks completed, desk clean, new goals and new outlook. This is why so many people make New Year's resolutions. But for most, the desire for completion and closure is a self-made deadline. If it is a motivating and compelling milestone, use it to its fullest. But, if it is increasing pressure that you put on yourself and possibly others around you, it is likely causing more harm than good.

New thought: As I end this year, I will continue working on my professional and personal priorities to the best of my ability. I will also take my holiday break and enjoy it to my fullest knowing I can and will pick up where I left off.

New action: Review all that you want to complete before the end of the year. Determine your actual hard deadlines, your nice-to-haves and your unrealistic expectations. You may need help in doing this, as we often set our own standards and expectations much higher than others do for us. In doing this exercise for myself, I realized that:

  • I do not have to complete all of my holiday shopping before I leave on vacation, as I won't be seeing some family until mid-January;
  • I can send out New Year's cards after I return instead of Christmas and Hannukah cards before I leave (and I can even skip a year); and
  • Completion of three projects during the week of January 5th as opposed to the week of December 22nd will have no impact on the parties involved.

As you move through these final two weeks of 2014, give yourself space to think differently and experiment with new behaviors and choices. Although work and life may be messier and feel more unbalanced than you prefer, you may find yourself feeling jollier. Remember, you'll have time post-holidays to clean up, recalibrate your balance and make new plans.

Wishing you a productive, peaceful and playful end of the year! And please, if you try my suggestions, please let me know how they work out for you.


Philadelphia-based leadership/executive coach Julie Cohen, PCC, is the author of Your Work, Your Life...Your Way: 7 Keys to Work-Life Balance. Cohen provides organizations with training programs and executive coaching to enhance work life balance satisfaction, professional effectiveness and leadership development. Learn more about Cohen at Follow her at or @jccoach on Twitter.