Holidays and Work: Maintaining Balance

Coplin Family Christmas TreeThanksgiving, Christmas and vacations used to catch me off guard. I was unprepared to take time off and failed to fully enjoy holidays and family vacations as I tried to “keep up” with work while away from the office.

For several years work, kids' school and sports activities, Thanksgiving preparations and Christmas parties were so consuming that by the time a holiday arrived I was too tired to enjoy being home with family. Hosting extended family members or traveling to relatives' homes during holidays was stressful even though I love investing time with family.

I was out of balance and decided to change, implementing the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Vacationing that have dramatically improved my balance. Now, I look forward to the holiday season and vacations with renewed expectations. I am invigorated and ready to enjoy our family time together to the fullest.

Make family
time the highest
of your priorities

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Vacationing involve my approach to work before, during and after Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Seven Habits have made a tangible difference, increasing our enjoyment of time off and maximizing cherished memories. You can experience the same benefits.

Habit #1: Put family first. Make family time your highest priority. My kids will remember that I was at their concerts and cheering loudly at their sporting events. My wife will know I was with her and the kids and not in front of the computer or on the phone when family should have my undivided attention. Your family won’t know about or care about the work you do that draws me away from them. They will remember the conversations, meals together, hugs and high fives. Good memories and constant interaction are great relationship foundations as kids move into and through their teen years and beyond.

Habit #2: Get more sleep. During the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, work at getting extra sleep. If you are a night person or up before dawn, it is hard to get enough sleep. Set a goal a week before the holidays to gain at least an hour of sleep a night. The net result is you will be better rested and able to enjoy the holidays.

Habit #3: Avoid year-end deadlines. They are just a bad idea and a recipe for failure. Plus, year-end deadlines can destroy personal and team morale, not to mention family harmony. The schedule we kept during Y2K as my team transitioned to new systems made a lasting impression; round the clock work and no time off made that holiday season miserable. I haven’t scheduled a year-end deadline since then and never will again. Avoid scheduling big deadlines before or soon after any time off.

Habit #4a: Schedule vacation intentionally. Schedule vacation time between Christmas and New Years. This just makes sense; very little work gets done during this time. You may find yourself either showing up just to be seen and trying to look busy or “catching up” on emails and administrative tasks you should never be behind on during any time of the year. It is wasted effort contributing little to your own or your company's success.

Habit #4b: Schedule meetings intentionally. Schedule as few meetings as possible the week before time off. During November and December, my kids’ basketball and cheerleading activities can mean we’re busy every night of the week and on weekends. Use the non-meeting week before Christmas to make sure you are up to date on reporting or planning. Doing this limits unfinished business hanging over your head that you feel obligated to finish but are unlikely to actually do over the holidays. Schedule meetings for January leading up to and during this week. The big benefit is that the week before the holidays is far less stressful.

It’s not too late to
implement some of
these ideas this year

Habit #5: Don’t check voicemail during vacation. During time off, do not check voicemail unless a high priority contact calls (think boss, key coworkers and key partners only). Set your voicemail to indicate messages will be returned the first morning back in the office. If you have to take a call, take care of it as quickly as possible, being careful not to interrupt or delay family activities. One great advantage of letting a voicemail wait is that you don’t get “new work” over the holidays that might have artificial year-end deadlines.

Habit #6: Skim emails during vacation. Scan through email during the holidays to weed out unimportant newsletters and messages that do not need attention. You can mark anything needing attention or a response as unread or turn it into a task with a January completion date. Work through emails when finished with voicemail beginning the first day back from vacation. The benefit of scanning emails is that instead of hundreds of unread emails waiting when you return from vacation, only a few will need attention. Instead of creating that sense of “I’ll never catch up”; you have messages that are easily managed the first few days back in the office. A by-product of skimming is that you will already mentally prioritized a few requiring “immediate attention”. You will be able to get back to Inbox Zero in short order.

Habit #7: Reserve the first week back for recovery and planning. Avoid scheduling meetings as much as possible the week following time off. Use the first week back to return voicemails, go through emails, schedule new meetings and to prepare for upcoming meetings. The advantage of doing this is not juggling meetings, carving out time for catching up and feeling overwhelmed immediately upon returning. This simple step will reduce the stress of the first week back immensely.


Some of my ideas may be obvious or seem impossible to consider, much less attempt. Choose just one habit and try it; you will enjoy the payoff. Implement a second habit before your next vacation and so on. It’s not too late to begin implementing some of these ideas for this year.

It took me a couple of years to adopt all Seven Habits of Highly Effective Vacationing into my routine and the hard work it took to do so and to maintain is worth the effort. I'm more productive at work both before and after vacations and I'm a better husband and father during the holidays. My eager anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas is better now than ever and our family priorities and traditions are creating lasting memories. You can experience the same.

I’m interested in other ideas and strategies you use to maintain balance while taking time off from work. A positive habit can make a big difference in the balance we experience integrating work and family. Please share what works for you!







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This post was adapted for summer vacationing in July 2013: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Vacationing


I work alongside emerging companies on business formation, commercialization strategies, and capital planning. My passion is to find, support, mentor, coach, incubate, & fund start-ups engaged in innovative technology businesses.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jesse Roberts

    Thanks Rick for the reminder. It is exactly what I am doing this week and next. Merry Christmas to you and the family.

    • Good for you & your family, Jesse. Merry Christmas to you as well; I know we’ll cross paths early in 2014, so until then, Happy New Year!

  • Pingback: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Vacationing | MidWest TechBiz()

  • Great writing Rick. Keep authoring that OPUS. I love it.

  • Lori Crock (@WrittenImpact)

    I had two opportunities to say yes, when I needed to say no & be there for my family … and I followed through on both!

    One was a volunteer role and that was fine — and also a new client — and I am not sure how they took it when I said I couldn’t meet until the week of Jan. 2.

    But my family is very proud of me as I have a very hard time saying no and taking time off because I love what I do.

    I feel good about standing firm and your post strengthened my resolve to do so when those week-before-Christmas requests popped up. Thank you Rick and Merry Christmas!

    • Rick Coplin


      GREAT news! I am always reluctant to say “no” to requests, and the holiday season makes it harder because of the extended time frames. The times I have not said “no” I regret and the times I do say “no” and ask to schedule at a later date have almost always worked out favorably.

      Here’s to more time with family and less stuff hanging over heads through Christmas and New Years!

      Thanks for being a friend,