St. Nicholas may get his job done in a single night, but the rest of us aren’t as lucky when it comes to our work and the holidays. For small IT businesses – especially professionals who are who self-employed and work from home – this time of year can be daunting. For instance, if you have clients scrambling to get in on the holiday e-commerce action, this is probably going to be your busiest time of year.
How do you stay productive in this environment while finding time for family and holiday fun? We talked to some small business experts and gathered some advice. They suggest you manage the holidays like a project, set expectations with family, give your schedule some cushion, limit interruptions, and outsource nonessential work. Read on for more details.
1. Manage the Holidays as You Would a Large Project
According to Dr. Melissa Gratias (@melissagratias), owner of MelissaGratias.com and a productivity psychologist who specializes in helping people be more effective at work, IT professionals are often exceptional project managers – so why not apply those same skills to the holidays?
Dr. Gratias says, "Manage the holidays with the same rigor and methodology that you would manage any other large-scale, multiple-constituency project." She notes that may mean making task lists, inserting dates, assigning accountabilities, tracking progress, and delegating work.
If you approach it like any other project, the holidays don’t have to be any more difficult than usual. Use your analytical strengths and management acumen to get the job done so you can sit back, relax, and sip some eggnog.
2. Set Expectations with Work and Family
For Marc Prosser, cofounder of Fit Small Business (@FitSmallBiz), getting through the holidays is about clearly communicating with both family and clients. He suggests "Set[ting] aside a few hours every day and let[ting] your spouse and family know you’ll be working during that time."
On the other hand, be upfront with your clients about when they can contact you. Prosser says, "It’s about setting expectations on both sides so you won’t feel obligated to take a work call when the turkey’s coming out or racing to meet a deadline when you should be wrapping presents."
3. Lie a Little about Your Holiday Schedule
Sometimes a little white lie doesn’t hurt, especially if it spares you some unnecessary stress. Janet Attard (@JanetAttard), owner of BusinessKnowHow.com, explains, "If you want Christmas Eve off and don’t want to be bothered with procrastinators handing in ‘rush’ projects at 3 p.m. on December 23, tell them your office is closing at 5 p.m. on December 22.”
If you need a little more catch-up time to get everything done, go on vacation earlier. Attard suggests, "Use the first day or two of ‘vacation’ to clean up those pesky assignments you haven’t completed." You can even use the time to create business or marketing plans for the coming year so you can actually enjoy the holidays.
4. Work with No Interruptions
Working from home can be especially challenging if you have kids on break to care for, holiday guests to entertain, or presents to shop for. But stay focused!
Lauren Edvalson (@laurenedvalson), CEO of Edvalson Marketing, says, "You would be surprised at how much you can get done with zero interruptions." She works from home and has a system for maintaining productivity: work for a solid four-hour block with no distractions. "When I do that, it feels like I am getting eight hours’ worth of work done," she says.
But take note: four hours of no interruptions means no social email checking, no social media scrolling, and no holiday planning. Remember, you have the rest of the day to take care of all that.
5. Outsource the Nonessentials
It may seem like everybody needs your attention around this time, but you're still one person. Give yourself a break and figure out where you’re not needed so someone else can do that work.
Jennifer Martin, founder of Zest Business Consulting (@ZestBizCoach), advises that most of what business owners do doesn’t actually affect their cash flow or customer experience. She recommends "Mak[ing] sure that you are doing the most valuable work, not the work that can be handled by someone earning a lot less."
Though outsourcing is an investment upfront, it frees you to do the work only you can do before the in-laws show up.
With these five tips in mind, you’ll be saving time in, well… no time! With all those extra hours, you might want to get started on your holiday wish list. Start here with some apps to help your IT business boost revenue.