Secrets to Holiday Productivity

Most writers I know have a rough time during the holidays. This rough time comes from a classic conflict, one we can write in traditional academic format like Person vs. Nature or Person vs. Person.

The conflict is this: Off Time vs. Holiday Cheer

If you’re like most writers I know, you promise yourself you’ll get some extra writing done during the slow hours of the holiday break. (If this is you, did you follow some of our tips last month to prepare to keep writing through the holidays?) But also, if you’re like most writers I know, those hours fill with festive family responsibilities until you’re actually writing less between Thanksgiving and the New Year. 

One solution is to just take the holidays off. Rest, relax, recuperate. Start anew in January fully rested and ready to go. There’s nothing wrong with that solution, but it’s not for everybody. 

If you’d rather promise yourself extra writing time and keep that promise, here are some hints for making it happen. 

Secret #1: Write in the Morning

During the holidays, things happen fast. The regular family is home more, and other family and friends all try to put hands on your time far more often than during the rest of the year. This can squeeze the writing time out of your schedule faster than most writers imagine. Worse, the days are full of surprise invitations and suddenly urgent errands, meaning writing time you do manage to schedule often has to give way to the realities of the day. 

The solution: write in the morning, before everybody else gets out of bed. There won’t be anybody clamoring for your assistance or attention, and you’ll be done before the day’s emergencies have a chance develop. This productivity hack applies all year long, but can be especially important during this busy time. 

For example, if your family normally rises at 8am, set your alarm for 7. Sneak downstairs with your laptop and sip some coffee while you get your writing done. 

Secret #2: Practice Time-Blocking

Time gets weird during the holidays. Kids aren’t in school. Guests are around. Parties and pageants and dinners put the evening schedule out of whack. You can start the day with all kinds of good intentions, writing-related or not, only to go to bed with none of them accomplished. It’s a problem.

The solution: time-blocking. Time-blocking is a productivity and scheduling technique used by a lot of professionals, and has been getting rave reviews for about a decade now. The idea is to build a schedule around certain activities, setting aside certain blocks of time for certain activities, then defending those blocks from incursions by other demands. 

For example, you could set 8-10 am for house-related tasks, noon to two for afternoon family time, and the two hours from 10 to noon for your writing. 

Secret #3: Go Off Site

Even if you have an office with a closing door, holiday time seems to make many people feel they have permission to barge in and ask for your help, attention, or participation. It puts you in a tough position, where you want to show your family love — especially during this time of year — but still want to honor your writing. Which you’re doing, in part, so you can be a better partner and parent. 

The solution: get out of there. Go write in a coffee shop, or the local library, or your a pub where nobody you know spends time. Go to a house with a friend who you trust to leave you alone. Find the best off site solution for your writing life, and make it part of your daily schedule. 

For example, if you have friends out of town for the holiday season, make a deal. Offer to housesit. Water their plants, feed their fish, and take in their mail once a day, then sit down for an hour of keyboard time in an empty building. 

Secret #4: Take Some Time Off

This advice is the opposite of the main point of this article, but it’s important to view it as an option. The holidays are an extremely busy time for almost everybody, and emotionally fraught for more than a few of us. It’s hard to weather even before working in the emotional effort of writing, or feeling guilty for not having written. 

Add to this how important it is to occasionally take some time off from writing. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now how much better you write after a hiatus. 

You could, for example, just choose not to write for the holidays. Let your plot bake, your mind rest, and your focus go to other things. Then return in January ready to rock and roll. Many writers are glad they did when they do this on purpose. If you go in with the intention of writing, but fail to make it happen, that new start is laden with guilt. 

Secret #5: Watch the Booze

For many of us, the holiday season means going to more parties and dinners than at any other time of the year. At many of those dinners and parties, alcohol figures in as a central feature. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s little wrong with overindulging, even. 

Unless you’ve promised yourself you’ll write the next morning. If you did that, then a hangover, or even a later-than-planned-for night can ruin your writing progress and leave you behind. That stress can lead some of us to drink a little more at the next party, continuing a cycle of drinking a bit too much and writing a bit too little. 

The better plan is to set a limit for yourself before showing up at a holiday fete, then sticking to that plan even in the face of temptation. Remember: you before your first drink is always smarter than you after imbibing. 

Secret #6: “Sleep In”

Sticking to a writing schedule at home is hard enough, but when you’re traveling it’s far more difficult. You’re away from your writing area, and whoever is hosting you will feel the pressure to keep you entertained. Even if you stay at a hotel, you might feel guilty for staying there instead of with the loved ones you traveled all that way to see. 

The solution: “sleep in.” Tell people ahead of time that you plan to sleep in the following morning, then stay in your room with your laptop for an extra hour. Most hosts secretly like that extra time to themselves, even though they love you, and you get to keep your writing on track. Everybody wins. 

For example, if you normally wake up at 8 in the morning, roll over and grab your laptop instead of getting dressed and going out into the house. Write for an hour, then come out at 9. Do this every day, and folks will simply expect that 9 is when you’ll be getting up. 

Secret #7: Set a Realistic Goal

Before the holidays take over your whole life, set a realistic goal about what you want to accomplish between Thanksgiving and the new year…but emphasize realistic. You know from experience how much you can write during normal months, and you have a good idea of how badly the holiday season messes up your schedule, emotional energy, and the demands on that time. 

Factoring all that in, set a word count or other benchmark as your writing goal for the holidays. Armed with a fully updated calendar for the season, set weekly and even daily sub-goals to help you stay on track. With those set and in mind, you can keep yourself on the incremental progress you will need to complete them on time. 

For example, if you normally write 5,000 words a week but know you’ll double the demands on your time for the holidays, you might set a goal of 2,500 words a week: about 15,000 words over the course of the season. Looking at your calendar, you also realize that you’re booked at your parents’ house for the week of Christmas but have little going on during the week after…so you say you’ll only write 1,200 words during Christmas week but that you’ll put in 3,800 between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. 

It’s Up to You Now

Now you have a choice between three situations. You can just take the holidays off from writing. You can use this advice to get writing in. You can promise yourself you’ll write, but get carried away by the season’s demands. It’s up to you which, but keep two things in mind:

  1. The first two options are way better than the final on
  2. Once you decide on an option, keep that promise to yourself and see it through

Have you made your choice? Good. Happy holidays!