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Don't do it alone, and forget about work: our guide to a stress-free Christmas

London, England (The Guardian, London) 20 December 2016

christmas.jpglove Christmas – presents, mulled wine, family get-togethers – but even so, it’s a logistical nightmare. And every day it gets worse. There’s trees to decorate, last-minute presents to buy, chock-a-block shops to brave, office parties to endure, and extra work to finish – topped off with the nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones whose job winds down in the run-up to yuletide, it’s still one of the busiest times of the year. So, if you need a little extra help this winter, here’s our simple guide for how to strike a good work-life balance over the holidays.

1. Don’t try to do it alone

Christmas can feel like juggling a million things at once – family, work, and all the festive preparation. Tracey Eker, chief executive of Flexiworkforce, advises not trying to micromanage – and handing back control to other people in your life. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but sharing your work with others will make you feel lighter and so much more excited for Christmas to arrive.”

It’s important to involve your wider family in the festive preparations, agrees Jessica Chivers, author and managing director of The Talent Keeper Specialists. “Discuss as a family what you’re prioritising this Christmas and what each person can do to make it happen. Remember, everyone will have a better time if you’re not overstretched.” Another tip is to allow time for tasks to take up to 50% longer than you originally anticipate. “Put slack in your system by leaving gaps in your day rather than scheduling things back to back,” adds Chivers.

Above all, remember that the winter holidays are a time for family. “In all the busyness, we must never lose sight of that,” says Anton Dominique from the London School of Marketing. “We’ve all done it – had a sneaky peek at our work emails when we should be enjoying family time, but remember that spending time together is important.”

2. Only take on something you’d be happy to do tomorrow

Chivers advises only saying yes to something, a Christmas party for example, if you’d be happy to do tomorrow. “It’s easy to think something you’re not keen on doing now will be attractive nearer the time. But the truth is: it probably won’t.” It’s also important to listen when you begin to feel like you are taking on too much. “When that little voice inside your head asks ‘am I taking on too much?’ that’s a definite warning you probably are. Use that to guide what else you take on.”

3. Get organised

Wrap your marketing in tinsel, daub snowflakes over your website, partner with a charity and share the goodwill of the season – even if it is a bit tacky. ‘Avoid anything negative or dismissive,’ says de Cock, ‘and never make fun of Christmas. This is the one period in the year when the whole of society doesn’t want cynicism – people want a bit of make-believe.’

4. Do nothing

If it’s still all getting too much – the wrapping, cooking and festivities – Tim Grimes, a writer and counsellor in stress reduction, advises “spending a brief time in a quiet setting each day, doing nothing. By that I mean you spend a few minutes sitting or lying down, just relaxing. Taking a few of these mental breaks a day can make you more productive and it’s an easy way to improve work-life balance.”

Most importantly, make sure you switch off from work over Christmas. “Thanks to all the technology we have now, it is easy for the festive break to turn into another day at the office,” says Dominique. “Perhaps it’s even time to tell a little white lie and say the Wi-Fi is down. This will cut down on online surfing at home, and force everyone to use their time more effectively.”