Four Tips for a Productive and Restful Winter Break

You Can Be Productive and Relaxed

The last few weeks of December are when a lot of us try to squeeze the last bit of productivity out of the year. But this time is also when we need extra rest, what with shorter days, colder weather, and numerous social and family get-togethers.

If there's a big project with a January deadline looming large in your life, don't fret! With some smart planning and a dose of self-accountability, you can balance productivity and pajama time, making the most of both. 

Just as working comes in more and less productive varieties, so does relaxing. Not all fun is equal, and some ways of enjoying down-time leave you more energized and rested than others.

So here are four tips for getting the most out of both your working time and your fun time during the last leg of the year.

Tip 1: Work with Yourself—Not Against Yourself

You might have work to do over the break. It’s a bummer, but it’s pretty common.

Make a plan for when you’ll be likely to get good work done on your project, and keep your commitment to yourself.

You don’t want to miss out on the fun to be had, and you certainly don’t want to be working on your school assignment late on Sunday night before returning to school on Monday.

Plan work sessions for when you know you’ll get a lot done. Think about when you’ll have some peace and quiet. Ask these questions:

  • Do you work better in the mornings?
  • Is it motivating to get work out of the way so you can enjoy the rest of the day?
  • Are you a night owl, hitting your stride after everyone else has gone to sleep?
  • Where is your best concentration spot?
  • Does anyone else in the house have projects to work on?
  • Can you declare a work zone somewhere in the house and provide each other with moral support?

Tip 2: Stop “Multitasking”

While you work, don’t do anything else. Don’t even keep your phone or tablet near you. That way, you won’t have to spend energy resisting temptation: temptation will just leave you alone.

One hour spent plugging away at your project is much more effective than three hours spent “working on it” while interrupting yourself to check social media or read a new post on your favorite gaming forum.   

So hide your phone. Close your Instagram feed. Turn off your Twitter alerts. Studies show that all those forms of “multitasking” are really just “no tasking”—we can’t focus enough to get the main task done.

It’s a bummer to have skipped fun and done work instead, only to find that you haven’t made any progress on your project because you were too distracted!  

But there’s another problem with your phone: using any constantly-updating program doesn’t allow you to relax! Unlike a movie or a video game that lets you get lost in a timeless head space, your phone is constantly bugging you with new information.

Each little ding, dong, or ring steals your focus away from the moment you were just in. And even when there aren’t updates, our brains are constantly looking for them because we’ve trained ourselves to be interrupted every few minutes (or seconds!) with new info.

It’s easy to get addicted to updates!

The expectation of new input keeps your mind restless. So just do one thing at a time. If you’re working, work. If you’re watching a movie, get absorbed in it and notice every subtle detail. And if you’re dying to spend time catching up on social media, really focus on that and give it all your attention.

You’ll get more work done and relax more deeply if you give each activity your full focus.

Tip 3: Finish Something

When you’re ready to take a break from working, do that 100% as well. Put away your notes, close all the windows you were working in, and shut your computer!

It’s time to fully immerse yourself in an activity that you’ll enjoy and that will make your brain happy.

Our brains actually crave completion. They thrive on the thrill of accomplishing tasks. If you’re working on a tough project or something long-term that you won’t finish in one sitting, your brain could use a little pick-me-up. Give it the satisfaction of doing something from start to finish.

If you pick a productive task that you can finish in one sitting, you’ll be giving your brain a healthy dose of accomplishment that will actually re-energize you.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Do a small to medium crafting project
  • Complete a jigsaw puzzle
  • Color a page of a coloring book
  • Reorganize your closet
  • Bake or cook something delicious
  • Clean out your backpack or your desk
  • Look out the window and write a poem about what you see
  • Play a board game through until someone wins

Tip 4: Lose Yourself

Set aside time for amusement, and while you’re enjoying your time, don’t think about the work you have to do later. Throw yourself into the fun!

If you let work stay in your brain, you won’t be able to enjoy yourself because you’ll be distracted, and you might even feel guilty.

It’s OK to have fun! In fact, it’s necessary! Immersing yourself in a fun activity will leave you feeling re-energized. That means you'll be more focused and productive when you return to your work.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Go for a hike with your friends
  • Have a goofy hat photo shoot
  • Play with your pet for an hour straight 
  • Skype with friends or family you rarely get to see—bonus points if it's someone who makes you laugh!
  • Go see a movie you’ve been looking forward to
  • Grab a cozy blanket, find a quiet spot, and read your favorite book or graphic novel

This time to relax and really enjoy your break is crucial!

You work hard. You need to give your brain time to unwind so that it will be ready for the next challenge you throw at it.

What's your favorite way to unwind? What makes you feel refreshed and restored? Tell me about it in the comments below.