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How do you manage time when there seems to be less of it? With many businesses planning to close over the holidays, the pressure is on to get everything done — and doubly fast. But these added demands can make things worse. According to one survey by staffing company Accountemps, 44 percent of executives said productivity drops off the week before the holidays, as employees burn out under the shortened month’s swollen workload.
I know a bit about trying to fit a lot into a short period of time. As managing director of customer analytics at JPMorgan Chase & Co., I’m responsible for tracking and analyzing the relationships between Chase, our many products and our customers — of whom there are millions. I’ve learned there are tricks to tackling time management challenges, even when it comes to the holidays.
How do you meet all your deadlines before the holiday break?
Look at your goals for December in advance, and schedule the work with the holidays in mind. Having an urgent meeting on the 23rd to produce something due on the 31st probably isn’t a good idea. Don’t return on January 2nd to a world of stress you created. It means doing a bit more work upfront so that you have a buffer.
How do you fit in the holiday work party? And should you?
I do better when I’m passionate about what I’m working on and when I like the people I’m working with. It’s important to take time to acknowledge being thankful for our co-workers. But we should also be mindful that, for example, folks with family might have children’s concerts or other special events to attend over the holiday season. Have that discussion and get a feel for what works for everyone — it might be better, say, to have a potluck lunch instead of a happy hour at the end of the day. Handle important projects earlier in December and plan celebrations closer to the holiday break.
As everyone scrambles to hit deadlines before the break, there are more interruptions than ever. How do you stay focused?
I’m a list person. But if you’ve got a list of 10 things to do one day and you’re not ticking them off, that’s going to increase your stress level. So I pick the easiest tasks and do those early — then they’re not nagging at me all day. Let’s say the remaining tasks are more in-depth and involved — that means they require deep focus, so you’re less likely to get distracted. Schedule an hour break from that deep focus to deal with any walk-ins that may have come your way, or perhaps hold that potluck get together. The last thing on your list should be something you can do tomorrow if need be.
What if the stress you’re feeling about your workload is distracting you from getting the work done?
Having a little humanity goes a long way. We all have different stresses and different joys around the holidays, and we’re all going through similar things. So just stopping for a moment to have a conversation about it makes me feel like I’ve got support, like I’m not on an island. And if someone comes to see me with a work issue, and I can see they’re stressed, I’ll stop them and ask them how their Thanksgiving was. You have that moment, and then you get back to the work refreshed and, hopefully, with a clearer perspective.
Finally, you look at your to-do list and realize time has run out — you’ll never complete it all. What now?
Categorize your tasks. Look at those in “the patient’s going to die” column and ask yourself who feels the same way, and who can help. Then get the right help. There might also be instances where you can submit what you already have, with a view to updating and finishing it off in January. Sometimes it can just be “good enough” for the moment. Yes, there’s work to be done, but it’s not the end of the world.
Chris Hurlebaus is managing director of customer analytics at JPMorgan Chase & Co.