7 ways to manage stress at work over Christmas

Written by Caoilainn Scouler - November 26, 2019

We all know that the run up to Christmas can get super busy for project managers, designers and developers. Agency life is always hectic and there is no time more manic than the end of the year! A lot of projects come in after the summer ends and tight deadlines need to be met before everyone leaves the office.

I believe that it is really important to be aware of your mental health during these busy times. Managing stress is crucial in order for us to be able to enjoy our jobs but ensure that our work life doesn’t negatively affect our personal lives.

With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my best tips to reduce stress during the inevitably frenzied holiday period.

1. Be selective with meetings

Managing your time during busy periods is essential. Many project managers, designers and developers are spread across multiple projects. We find ourselves spinning many plates at once. There are also other factors that demand our time, such as other projects that we need to help out with, new project discussions, business admin and general day to day tasks.

Meetings can be one of the most efficient ways to get things done. Often, hours of messaging back and forth via email or Basecamp can be resolved within half an hour during an in-person meeting or video call. However, we need to be selective about what meetings we attend. When you are facing an array of deadlines, sacrificing a few hours of your day to meetings that are unrelated to your projects can have a significant impact on your day.

Your time is valuable, so use it wisely. Know when you can comfortably contribute to other tasks or when you need to take a step back. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Stop being the ‘yes’ person

While I am a strong believer in being a team player and helping your colleagues, I also believe that we need to strike a balance between being helpful and always being a ‘yes’ person. It is important to have an awareness of how helping others will impact your own projects. After all, unsuccessful projects won’t just have an impact on you; they have a wider effect on the business and it is our job to recognise this.

Before you say ‘yes’, carefully consider what you have on your plate and whether stepping in to help someone with their request will be too demanding. You should feel confident enough to explain that you are at capacity and that someone else will need to step in.

Of course, there will always be edge cases or emergency situations, but you should never consistently feel that being helpful is becoming a burden. If you agree to help only when you have sufficient time to do so, you will also be more of an asset to the team!

3. Plan as early as possible

As a project manager, you should know at the beginning of quarter four exactly what the roadmap is for the coming three months. These are the months when a lot of new projects tend to arise, and clients may be pushing to use budgets up before the end of the year. Without careful and resourceful planning, you could easily end up with some missed deadlines and an over-capacity team.

I undertook careful planning for the months of October, November and December with my colleagues at Wholegrain Digital. We planned our team resourcing for the entirety of quarter four, ensuring that our design and development time was used as efficiently as possible, and that work was spread evenly across the team.

4. Find out your client’s schedules

As a project manager, you will never have full control over your client’s schedule, but you can take measures to reduce surprises. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you know when each of your clients are finishing up for Christmas?
  • Do any of your clients have any significant holidays planned in the coming months?

If you do not know the answer, it might be time to pick up the phone and ask. Unannounced departures can have a major impact on projects and can cause a lot of stress for both you and your team. You need to mitigate this risk by finding out your client’s availability and ensuring that the necessary deadlines can still be met.

5. Actively try to reduce stress during your working day

We should all be aware that there are a multitude of ways to reduce your stress outside of working hours. Less screen time, regular exercise and practising yoga are just a few examples. But this won’t make much of a difference to your mindset if you are highly stressed every time you open your laptop. De-stressing outside of work is important. But de-stressing during your working day is crucial to avoid burnout.

One of my favourite ways to reduce stress during the working day is to take regular breaks – outdoors if possible. Five minutes of fresh air can be all you need to refocus. You should also take some time out every once in a while to speak with your colleagues. Human interaction and conversations that are non-work related can be a really good way to give your mind a break from your to-do list.

You should also try to avoid self-imposed stress. I am often guilty of convincing myself that things need to be completed in a certain way, or that a certain level of progress has to be made before I log off for the day. In reality, as long as you are hitting your project’s main milestones, it isn’t going to matter if some of the work was completed in the morning or in the afternoon. Try to be conscious of these thought-patterns and ask yourself whether the work you are doing could wait until the next day or next week. Very often, it can!

6. When tasks pile up, work as efficiently as you can

We often find ourselves jumping between various projects and discussions. We all know the feeling when we sit down to complete a piece of work, and within only a few minutes you are prompted to pick up a ringing phone or answer a slack message.

Give yourself time to focus completely on important tasks. For me, what I often find helpful is dedicating short bursts of time (20 minutes) to complete a single task. No distractions, no checking emails, just total focus on the task at hand. I find it is a really efficient way to get through your growing to-do list. After checking something off, make sure to take a breather before you tackle the next task.

7. Don’t internalise your stresses and worries

Everyone is different and works in their own way. Personally, I find that I can be quite a sensitive person, and for those of us who identify this way, it can be really hard not to let work pressure impact how you feel. You should care about your job, but you shouldn’t care so much that you put yourself down or internalise things that are not going well.

In project management (and tech as a whole), they are always unexpected blockers and problems that surface out of the blue. You should be able to take time off during your holidays feeling proud of the work you have achieved throughout the year, even if it didn’t always go as expected.

In Summary

Finding ways to reduce stress at work is incredibly important, especially in the run up to the holidays. Make sure that you are being strategic with the time and energy you are spending on different things, and don’t be afraid to say “no” if you genuinely need to!