It’s that time of year again – December – when three months’ worth of work, meetings, social events, and tasks are crammed into one. Everyone is trying to “close out” the year and piling on to calendars. It doesn’t have to be that way – or it can at least be less stressful.

But to make it less stressful, we have to declutter our days by tackling these workplace obstacles:

  • False sense of urgency – Not everything is an emergency. In fact, few things at work are. One of my first bosses liked to say, “ Hey, we’re not fighting fires and saving lives here. It can wait until another day.” He was great at putting things in perspective and quelling the urgency that so many people liked to attach to everything they were involved in. When someone comes at you with something that needs to happen now (or when you think something needs to happen right away), ask why it is urgent, how it ties to key goals, and how this priority takes precedent. And don’t forget the Urgent-Important Matrix to identify all of those urgent and not important tasks. Those are the ones that need to be at the top of your decluttering list, especially right now.
  • Arbitrary deadlines – This one goes hand in hand with the false sense of urgency. Not only is something defined as urgent, but the deadline is tomorrow. Another thing I learned from a mentor was to question imposed deadlines. As I did so, I grew much more confident negotiating deadlines for projects and being more discerning about deadlines I had to set for my own work. Ask yourself if you really need eight deadlines of December 31st or why some of those deadlines can’t move to January or February. Of course, once you agree to a deadline, meet it.
  • Mystery meetings – We all know that meetings are the biggest time-suck in most organizations. And the worst are those meetings where you don’t know why you need to be there nor what the agenda or purpose of the meeting is. Be more selfish with your time. Decline meeting invites if it’s not clear that you are truly needed or if you have other priorities for that time. Pledge to eliminate mystery meetings from your calendar this month and beyond.
  • Other people’s crises – This is another obstacle tied closely to false sense of urgency and arbitrary deadlines. Often it’s other people’s crises or their procrastination that leads to the other two obstacles. I still remember a sign a coworker had on her desk years ago, “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” While it’s important to pitch in, lend a hand, and support our colleagues, we can’t allow ourselves to be regularly stressed by other people’s crises. Instead, say no, suggest ways to get it done without your help, or offer to pitch in after the New Year.
  • Hot potato assignments – Have you ever looked up from your desk and realized that that project that everyone is trying to avoid has somehow landed in your lap? If this happens, it’s time to reevaluate the timing, purpose, resources needed, and necessity of the work. If an assignment becomes a hot potato, there’s a good chance it’s not a priority, it’s too fraught, or it’s something that requires external expertise. Either way, you can figure that out in January. Learn to, “Just Say No.”

There are only a few weeks left in 2023, and you can use them to declutter your calendar and add time for self-reflection, vacation, and your own priorities. Take a look right now and remove the common obstacles that eat up your time and add to your stress. And have a merrier holiday season!

Which of these obstacles are cluttering your December calendar? And what will you do about it?
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