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January is the New December

It’s not just you. The “work slowdown” around the holidays does seem to start earlier each year! Denying its existence, or thinking your team will be the exception and “buckle down through it all” doesn’t set you up for success.

But here’s some good news! There are things you can do NOW to lead your projects and programs through pre- and post-holiday work slowdowns.

This time of year, most organizations deal with end-of-year fatigue, distractions due to holiday planning and office parties, and sparse staffing due the race to use up PTO. Nonprofit leaders, you’ve got an added layer with year-end giving appeals, key stakeholders traveling—and more!

Over the years, I’ve learned to make some simple planning adjustments so my teams can end the current year strong and start the new year with momentum. Try these:

1) Don’t set December 31st deadlines. If your project has a hard deliverable by the end of the year, set it for the second week of December. This way, if you end up needing a buffer, you’ll still have time the week before Christmas. Yes, it’ll be a little crunchy pushing it through early, but then you’ll be set to ride the holiday wave coming your way.

2) Plan for 50% capacity between December 16th and January 16th. You probably have good experience and intuition to know what your team can accomplish in a standard week or month. But for this time span…cut it in half.

It may sound dramatic, but doing so will give your team the gift of time to get work done in a realistic time frame. And you know what? They’ll more likely hit their deadlines and finish the year well!

If you have team members in the southern hemisphere, remember, this is their summertime! Many of them tack summer vacation on to the holidays, so they won’t return to work until the second or third week of January. Which brings me to…

3) “January is the new December” In addition to the pre-holiday slowdown, there’s a sluggish ramp up in January as well. Most people think they'll dive right into work after the holidays. But in reality, they come back to an overflowing inbox, endless update requests, and an overwhelming to-do list. Their momentum is killed right off the bat.

To avoid unnecessary mad scrambles, include January in your “end of year” planning, and be realistic about what you plan that early in the new year.

Plot it out and clarify those plans. When is it really needed? First week of January? Second week? End of the month?

Likewise, if you have a contract with a service provider, be sure to extend it through January. This way you won’t come back to a “break in service” along with everything else!

Bonus tip: If you can, block out your first day back at work to deter people from scheduling meetings with you. Even a half day to just focus on ramping back up will provide you with volumes of sanity!

It's All in the Planning

Happy endings and smooth beginnings are all in the planning. Prepare well now, so you and your team can glide into the new year with momentum—just as you’d imagined.

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