How to Be Happier by Working Through the Holidays

After an incredibly busy year, I'm looking forward to taking a much-needed break over the next couple of weeks.

Then again, what I'll be doing won't look like much of a break to some people.

Because after the eggnog is gone and the relatives have left the house, I'll soon be yearning for something to do.

I'm not talking about real work. I'm talking about doing some of the tasks and activities I've been putting off. For instance, reflecting on what I've accomplished this year, planning for 2012, cleaning out my office, catching up on my reading. That sort of thing.

I used to feel guilty about this year-end ritual. After all, I'd promised myself to take a whole week off. So going into the office every other day felt like cheating.

For a long time I even wondered if I had a problem.

But then I discovered that some of the most successful people I know take time during the holidays to "work" on this sort of thing. Not because they feel obligated to do so, but because... well, it just makes them happy!

There's actually research to support this. A recent study published in Psychological Science suggests that people who stay busy are more likely to be happy than those who remain idle - especially if the "busyness" is voluntary.

Not only that, but the study also found that people generally prefer to keep busy, even if they think they're supposed to prefer "taking it easy."

OK... so that explains my guilt. 😉

Now, I'm not saying you should do client work if it can wait. I'm also not suggesting you should ignore your family. I'm going to be spending quite a bit of time with my wife and kids this holiday season doing fun stuff (we even have a ski trip planned!)

What I'm suggesting is that you also consider doing some of things that:

a) you've been putting off, and
b) make you feel happy and fulfilled.

Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

#1: Clean your office.

Throw away old files, purge old magazines and newsletters, reorganize desk drawers and clean up your email inbox. There's nothing like an organized office to improve creativity and create a sense of order in your life.

#2: Catch up on your reading.

If you love to read as much as I do, you probably struggle with too many books and not enough time to read them. If your workload is a bit light right now, use the extra time to catch up on your reading.

#3: Re-evaluate your technology.

How's your computer holding up? Do some of your software applications need updating? Now is a great time to install and learn new software or migrate to a new system. Plus, depending on your tax situation, there could be tax advantages to buying new technology before the end of the year (of course, consult with your tax professional first).

#4: Set your goals for the coming year.

This is a great time to start thinking about what you want to accomplish next year - both personally and professionally. Why wait until January to figure it out?

#5: Strategic planning.

Don't stop there. After setting your goals, draft a realistic but aggressive action plan. Break down your goals into milestones or key action items. (By the way, I used to break things down to the monthly and weekly level but have since found that general milestones or guideposts work best for me. I just can't seem to plan a whole year of my life down to the week!)

#6: Write Your 2012 "Story."

If the last two suggestions seem too mechanical for you, try what my friend Dianna Huff does: write your "story" for 2012, an idea she got from reading the book The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Zander. Dianna actually sits down and writes a detailed story what her entire life will look like next year - the events that will take place, the amazing things that will happen, everything! "This year everything in my story came true except two things," says Dianna. "It's been amazing!"

#7: Plan your marketing for next year.

Assemble a well-thought-out plan to promote your services next year. The plan should include the different marketing strategies you plan to use, when you'll get started, what your first action steps will be and how you'll measure success.

#8: Meet friends and colleagues for lunch.

This is a wonderful time to reconnect with people you haven't talked to in awhile. Call your friends and colleagues. Meet them for lunch or coffee. Share ideas and plans for next year.

#9: Volunteer your time.

The difficult economy has had a dramatic impact on charitable and religious organizations. Donations are way down while the needs of many have increased sharply. So, if you find yourself with idle time, and feel moved by the spirit of the season, why not volunteer your time? Sure, a cash donation is always welcome, but your time and talents are just as (if not more) important.

#10: Spend undivided time with your family.

This holiday season, make it a point to spend more time with your kids, spouse and loved ones. Watch a movie together. Work on some puzzles. Turn off the TV and have a few sit-down dinners as a family. Show them how much you love and care for them. As Randy Pausch reminded us, life is a gift. Cherish every moment. (In fact, try to carve out an hour over the next few weeks to watch Randy's "Last Lecture" on YouTube. It will be time well spent.)

On a personal level, I want to thank you for being a friend of International Freelancers Academy this past year. In just 13 months, this Academy and its accompanying online conference, International Freelancers Day, have grown beyond my wildest expectations - all thanks to you!

If you celebrate any of the upcoming holidays, I wish you and your family a safe, happy and blessed holiday season. I look forward to sharing more practical ideas and insights with you over the next few months... and to helping you make 2012 your best year ever!

But Before You Go...

I'd love to hear from you. Are you taking some time off over the next couple of weeks? What are your plans? Any other ideas to add to my list above?