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?


  • Donna

    I try to listen to Bobb Biehl's Focusing by Asking podcasts. One of them in particular talks about planning for the new year. http://www.bobbbiehl.com/quick-wisdom-podcasts.aspx

  • Ed you and IFA have impacted my life and business more than you know. Since I first came across you all I have connected with more wonderful and inspiring people. Thank you for all you do! Alison

    • Anonymous

      That is SO great to hear, Alison! It's awesome to have you as an active member of this community. Truly appreciate your comments and participation. You've made my day! 😉 Happy New Year!

  • Florante

    This year we had some real big blessings to celebrate both at work and with the family. I really had a busy schedule that would require some time off to recharge. I like the idea of looking back at the highlights of the year and planning for the coming 2012. My wife and I usually do the goal setting on the 30th of December, so that is something to be excited.

  • JC

    Are you kidding me? A week? It would take me a MONTH to do half those things lol! Ah well, it is a great list, and I will add it to my years-old To Do list (yes, I said YEARS) with the faint hope that at least maybe one thing will get done. Hey I *did* schedule lunch with a friend next week. I'm really good at that sort of thing - not so hot with the whole organizing/cleaning/updating/planning agenda, although I keep trying. I have started pitching old magazines - unfortunately i have to READ them first which is slowing me down considerably - and I am reading an actual book for the first time in months, with plans to read another one after that. I know - I'm a whirlwind of inactivity! Love all your tips and articles, but honestly, it's so overwhelming at times I am thisclose to giving up and getting a job as a WalMart greeter. Whatever was I thinking with this whole freelance writing career thing? If I could go back 30 years when I started I'd go to law school and have an assistant organize me. Thanks, and have happy holidays!

    • Anonymous

      Oh, absolutely! This is simply a list of ideas, not a "you need to do all these things" list. My suggestion would be to pick just one or two activities that would mean the most to you -- two things that if you could do over the next couple of weeks would make you feel better or more fulfilled. Better to do just ONE thing right than get overwhelmed trying to do five or six of them. Happy holidays to you as well!

  • Carrie

    Thanks for these tips, Ed. One of my projects is to organize my iPad home screen. I have all kinds of categories for the folders and feel more productive when each file has its place! I also like to separate out the web pages I have bookmarked that I want to focus on for a specific day. For now, I want to look at Facebook Timeline and some holiday crafts sites. I will also organize my photos so I can create a slideshow for the year's highlights. I was wondering if anyone has a good suggestion for organizing published writing clips or portfolios online?

  • While traveling to Washington, New York, and Vegas, I'll be catching up on an overflowing box of email, working on personal projects, and as you recommended, reading. I'm can't wait!

    • Anonymous

      Great way to use that idle time, Jessica! Especially airport wait times and windshield time (as long as you're not the driver, of course! 😉

  • Mike Sweeney

    Thanks Ed for this great reminder. During the holidays I'll be cleaning out my email inboxes and doing a hard drive cleaning -- deleting old files I haven't accessed in over a year, pictures that are blurry, and various downloads I never utilized. Have a great one!

    • Anonymous

      Oh, what a great idea, Mike! I need to do the same. I have a bunch of big video files I need to delete from my hard drive. They're taking up too much space and I no longer need them. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • E.J. Fielding

    Ed, I do exactly this every November through my deer hunting vacation.
    While my husband and his dad and brother are out stalking the wily
    white-tail, I'm back at camp with my notebook (a real notebook, there's
    no technology in the woods) plotting some kind of plan. This year I
    planned a Tai-Chi exercise program for myself and broke down goals for
    creating a blog and marketing strategy for an ebook I want to write.
    Last year I figured out where I went wrong with my clients, fired some
    of them and got new ones, so my income this year was much better. The
    year before... Well, you get the picture.

    Thank you, Ed and everyone at IFA/D, for the valuable information and
    the personal touch. One suggestion: Can you do International
    Freelancer's Day every week, please? Once a year just isn't enough!

    • Anonymous

      Nothing like a good old-fashioned notebook to get those ideas flowing! Love that.

      Re: doing IFD every week -- oh, boy, love your enthusiasm! But I'm already getting way to much gray hair doing it once a year. 😉

  • Ed-Thanks for these great tips about balancing life/work for the holidays and being able to start 2012 with a clear focus!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Jennifer! Glad you enjoyed the info.

  • Anonymous

    Ed, you've hit the nail on the head once again! It's hard to take time off without feeling that pull to work on my business. I guess it's just part of who I am. This lis is just what I need to do at the end of this year.

    • Anonymous

      You know, the way I look at it, it's not really work if you WANT to do it and it brings you joy and fulfillment. I love to review the year and think about the next one. Love the feeling of just letting my imagination take flight without any limitations.

  • Some great ideas here, many of which I have taken advantage of over holiday breaks and other lulls. This year, after I get back from visiting family, I'll spend the long NYE weekend doing two things: cleaning and completely reorganizing my desk (just upgraded to two monitors!), and archiving my old files. I have an automated back-up but it syncs with what is on my computer, it doesn't just store old stuff off my computer. So I've decided burning some old files onto DVDs and putting them in the safe will clean out my hard drive and make it easier for me to find what I need, faster.

    If there's time, I also love the idea of making some room for dreaming and planning next year. Thanks Ed!

    • Anonymous

      Great to hear from you, Ally! I need to do the same with my hard drive. Too cluttered!

  • Ray

    Hi Ed, I echo comments below.  I really enjoy your frank, no nonsense approach and it gives me comfort to know i am on the right track when i can relate to a lot of what you say, which is important when your flying solo. It helps stop self doubt creeping in.  Thanks for all the good advise and inspiration during the year. Happy Christmas to you and yours. Here's to a bright 2012!

    • Anonymous

      Oh, wow -- thanks, Ray! Glad it resonates with you. Appreciate your kind words. Best to you in 2012!

  • Cathy Jones

    Among my marketing planning & cleaning my office next week will be the annual website/résumé/portfolio review and update and some volunteer hours on marketing/communications materials for my church. And of course, it's time to organize all those pages in the tax folder so the accountant has everything he needs to get us all of the deductions/credits we're eligible for. Happy holidays!

    • Anonymous

      Great suggestion on preparing your tax documents/files, Cathy! I tend to procrastinate in that department and find myself scrambling come March. 😉

  • Mona

    Ed, I have really enjoyed reading your material since I attended International Freelancers Day. Thanks for the great work you are doing, I can really connect to it. I am closing today and reopening January 2nd to enjoy the holidays and make my 2012 plan. I love the idea of writing my story, that is a much more personal and fun way to put my thoughts on paper, doing an actual action plan just seems like more work. Have a wonderful Holiday season and a great ski trip with your family!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Mona! Glad you've enjoyed the info this year. All the best to you as well!

  • Laura Roberts

    I'm hoping to "work" on getting my novel finished! Since my paid gigs will be on vacation, now's a great opportunity to work on my creative endeavors.

    • Anonymous

      Great to hear, Laura! Now is the time to work on a project like that. You'll be glad you did. Good luck!

  • Tim Dixon

    Hi Ed, great post. There are quite a few items here I'll be doing myself. I think your point about work during holidays should be voluntary is well taken. I'd go one further and say if it's something fun you've been putting off because you're too busy, now's a good time to do it. For example, there's a stack of framed prints I've been meaning to put up in my office, something interesting or inspiring to look at while taking a "think break" - and I think that's going to get done finally!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, and thanks for all the great information and advice this year.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Tim! GREAT point! I know I've been putting off some of those fun little projects because I couldn't justify spending the time on them during the year. Not anymore! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  • Brad Scott

    Glad to see that I shouldn't feel guilty about working over the holidays. I can get a lot accomplished when I do not have all the interruptions, and I am more productive when I do not have the pressure.

    • Anonymous

      I won't tell anyone, Brad! Go ahead and do your thing. 😉

  • Another great and very helpful post! Thanks Ed! I'm going back to the UK (I live in Spain) for Christmas to see my family. I'm taking two weeks off but I've already started working on a couple of the tips you've mentioned above - above all a strategic marketing campaign which I plan to launch in the first few months of the new year. Thanks for all your tips this year Ed, I think I can speak for most people who read/listen/participate in these episodes that we really appreciate that you and your colleagues work so hard to help us all out too! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • Anonymous

      Wow, thanks so much, Nicola! So happy to hear that the tips and info have made a difference in your business. That really makes my day! Enjoy your Christmas -- and hope you have a prosperous 2012!

      BTW, Spain is one of my favorite countries! My wife and I spent some time there about 10 years ago. Loved it! I have family there, and most of my grandparents came from Spain to Puerto Rico. It was very cool to retrace some of my history while we were there.