How do you use the last week of the year to be more productive, when the rest of the year has been anything but normal?
This is the 5th-annual installment in a series where I look at how we can more effectively use the last week of the year. In normal times, that last week is a chance to do things a little differently. To take stock and make big plans.
But when coming to the end of a year like 2020, how can you put a bow on it and move to the next? There are a lot of adjectives that have been floating around for the times we’re in (I’ve adopted “wack” or “wack-a-doo” as my go-to choices). But no matter what you call it, individually and collectively we’ve experienced a lot this year.
So how can you make that last week of the year one that puts you on a path towards a bigger and better 2021?
Escape the Black Hole between Christmas and New Year’s Day
The holidays are a break from the norm (even if the norm for many of us has been days that bleed together as we work from home). So it can be tempting to think that you are going to be a productivity machine in the week between the holidays. It’s normal to think that as we finish the year we are going to make some changes.
When I had a sales job, there was a mad dash to hit end-of-the year quota. This year, even with people working from home, people will have checked out and customers will be hard to get in touch with. It won’t help that in 2020, the holidays are on Fridays, so a lot of people will take off from work during the intervening week. (This would be the perfect year to do a long-holiday trip if we could travel).
Going into this week with vague and unstructured ideas about “getting some stuff done” leads to a lot of wasted time and unfocused effort. If all you have is a giant and unorganized “to-do” list, it’ll be easy to get off track. You don’t want to get to December 31st and realize that you haven’t done anything with your time.
Instead, do one of the following:
- Take the week off. Be one of the people who take the full-week vacation. It’s a great time to spend with family and friends. Even if it’s harder to travel this year, you can embrace the meaning of “Work to live. Don’t live to work”. Be deliberate with dis-engaging from work.
- Go into the week with a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. It’s the old, “plan your work, and then work your plan” concept. Instead of sliding half-heartedly through the week, you’ll know what needs to get done.
Create Leverage by Creating a Plan
If you are committed to working the week between the holidays, what can you do to make it effective?
First, acknowledge that the week is going to be a little different. You’re coming off a month of holiday “cheer”. Zoom parties, decorating, shopping, and running-around, made only more challenging because of social-distancing. And even with the pandemic, many of your colleagues and customers are taking the week off.
You’re probably tired of talking about the pandemic, but so is everyone else. After almost ten months of coronavirus concerns, everyone’s energy is running low. And it can be hard to get fired up when there is less sunlight! Expect that from yourself and from all of the people that you are working with.
And while your kids might have been doing school from home, now they won’t even have that to take their attention. So take that into account as well.
Then, take a deep breath and walk into December 28th with a clear plan for the remaining days of the year. Know what you are going to work on, and you won’t bumble along into the week.
To help, I tapped into my network to find out how other people approach this time. I went to my friends who were leaders in their fields to see how they were spending the last week of the year.
How to Maximize the Last Week of December
In normal years, a lot of the advice that our experts share focuses on how they are analyzing the past year and strategizing for the next. And they still shared some great nuggets this year.
But I also wanted to get into what they were doing to take care of themselves after such an emotionally intense year. Mental and emotional strain is a real thing, and it hits everyone. And while you might not know all of the names below, these are baller in their fields. They’re also humans. So I knew if they were working on self-care, then all of us could.
That’s why I think self-care is a great way to leverage the end of 2020 to have a better 2021. There’s an opportunity to go into the new year refreshed and cleansed (a little) of the stresses of the old year.
So one of the questions I asked my collaborators this year was simple: “How are you going to take care of yourself during the last week of the year?” Let’s start there:
Take Care of Yourself as 2020 Becomes 2021
Janice B. Gordon, founder of Scale Your Sales: “I am going to write a gratitude list of 100 things I am happy about and grateful for. The first thing on the list will be that I am happy to be here and the second I am grateful my family and friend are relatively fit and well. In 2020 I have seen a lot of kindness, generosity, and humanity, it is a shame it has taken a global pandemic to uncover what has always been available.”
Mark Bealin, founder and principle at SearchLab Chicago: “One thing I have been doing is walking long distances. It’s become an amazing way to think through matters at work, at home, and blow off steam over the politics that have consumed too much of my attention. I rely on it so much now. My dog loves the cold. I’ll get up early and walk about five miles and then take on the challenges of the day.”
Dan Golden, head of Be Found Online and orange blazer aficionado: “I’m going to spend some time working on a new side project or idea, anything that doesn’t involve the day to day. When the phone stops ringing and the inbox slows for a week, time to break the brain and think sideways.”
Tom Pisello, founder of the Evolved Selling Institute: “I definitely spend too much time at my desk and not enough time outdoors. I plan on getting out at least once a day with my morning meditative walk with my dog. And then elevating with physical activity later in the day that goes beyond the walk, like grabbing a session on my cycle or long run. And adding a couple of podcasts or read a book or two outside of my business needs and expanding my horizons.
Michelle Mazur, the head rabble-rouser at the Communication Rebel: “The last two weeks of the year is a sacred time for me. It’s a time to rest and recharge. That looks like curling up with a good fiction book, naps, and a re-watching of the Mandolorian (Baby Yoda FTW!)”
Darcy Eikenberg, coach and ringleader at the Red Cape Revolution: “My plan for the last week of the year is to steep myself in gratitude for others who help me soar. I have so many amazing people in my life, both professionally and personally, and making sure they know how much they matter as we enter the new year will be an important way to sign off on a year like no other.”
Danny Schuman, author of The Worst Business Model in the World: “I’m going to open up a unique bottle of wine from Georgia (the Eastern European country) from the best liquor store in Chicago, Independent Spirits. Then I’m going turn on some Stevie Wonder and cook fresh pasta for my wife and kids.”
Kiley Peters, CEO of Brainchild Studios: “Entrepreneurship can really take a toll and I’m making a commitment to myself to regain control of my health so I can be better for myself, my family, and my team. We are closed the last two weeks of the year to give everyone a chance to really reset and for me, that will include focusing on eating better, working out more, and really unplugging.”
2. Analyze What Happened in 2020
When you catch your breath at the end of the year, it’s common to see parts of your business and life that you haven’t spent a lot of attention on. Maybe they need a little love. Or there might be some activities that kept falling to the bottom of our to-do list. Now is a time you can catch up.
Erin Marcus, founder of Conquer Your Business: “I love to clean up my computer in the quiet week between Christmas and New Years as a way to not only prevent me from having to buy more memory, but as a way to walk through the virtual version of my previous year. It’s amazing what I find that I don’t even remember doing and can show me how far I’ve come.”
Brad Farris, coach extraordinaire at Anchor Advisors: “I track my trailing twelve-month average of sales and profits going all the way back to 2012. I’ll review that, along with a review of top customers and lines of business for 2020 to help ground me going forward. (Spoiler Alert: By year end 2020 is going to look a lot like 2019.)”
Robert Jacobi, leading tech analyst and strategist: “I made a lot of changes in real-time this year with minimal forecasting… because who knew what would happen the next month. The results were generally positive and I need to figure out why they worked and what in the process made them successful. So I’m going to audit the major decisions that were made.”
Ellen Rogin, mindfulness teacher and financial author: “It’s easy to feel bummed out if you didn’t reach the goals you set at the beginning of the year. To celebrate all that did go well I make a highlight reel by going through the pictures on my phone and creating a slide show of them. It brings back memories of awesome things I might otherwise have forgotten about.”
Dan Golden, orange blazer aficionado: “I’m going to plug in the camera and send personal video messages to key stakeholders at my company, with my clients, and in my network. Consider this time whitespace to make a lasting impression and time to skip the automation and impersonal sequences.”
Chris Ippolito, host of GetCoached360: “I plan on recording an episode for the GetCoached360 podcast that highlights what I’ve learned from our amazing guests this year. I’ll share how things have changed for me and all the lessons learned from my them. It’s going to be a powerful blueprint for this next year.”
3. Make Your Plans for 2021
A good planning process attempts to answer two questions: where are we going and how are we getting there? Take advantage of the pause in the day-to-day hustle of your professional life. Map out what you want to do with the next year.
Andy Crestodina, the sage leader of Orbit Media again: “I always set a fitness goal for the new year, then I make a chart to track it. I literally do it on paper. I sign my name to it and tape it to the wall. Here’s what it looked like last year…”
Heather Bennett, the author of Fun and Fulfilling Careers One Step at a Time: “Every year I draw graphic representations of what and how I intend to spend my time in the following year. First, a mind map (Time Map™) clearly shows where I need to focus, what I may have forgotten to plan for and what to remove from my schedule. Second, a month-by-month diagram (Timeline Planner™) helps me to organize when each activity, project, or commitment will take place.”
David J.P. Fisher, the handsome author of this article: “I work out the major content projects I have for the year, like books, courses, and video. Then I backfill the writing time and marketing time I have for each. I usually find that I’ve overcommitted myself and can adjust it a little so that I know it will get done.”
Steve Benson, founder of Badger Mapping: ” One thing to do the last week of the year is rethink your messaging going into the new year. Not only what you and your people say, but also look right at the top of your website. A lot of companies messaging basically says, “We Will Help You Do Better at XYZ”. A simple and powerful pivot: adapt your messaging to better resonate with your customers and tell them, “We’ll Help You Do More XYZ with Less.”
Greg Mischio, the content master at Winbound: “What I’d like to do for the first time this year is set up my book list for 2021. The New York Times released a list of recommended books from the past year, and I’ve got a ton of recommendations lined up on the business side. I’d like to get that organized so I don’t fall into a panic when I reach the end of a book.”
Grow in 2021
The first year I wrote these year-end articles I had included a submission from my colleague, Jim Rosas. I knew Jim from the “networking and sales scene” here in Chicago, and I found him to be super-smart and super-generous. Just a few months after the article was published, he passed away quickly and suddenly.
The idea he shared was prescient and such a powerful reminder to us all that I include it every year:
“Try something new! Prepare a plan of action that includes new activities, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors. So many people get on their hamster-wheel of business, run and run all day doing the same activities and never get anywhere. The importance of breaking bad behaviors in business is a critical step to success. What new activity are you committed to doing to make next year better?”
It all comes down to taking action. There’s way more knowledge and wisdom here than you can act on, but don’t let that paralyze you.
Use this time to reassess, re-calibrate, and recommit to the life and business that you want. Write what you come up with in your planner or on your whiteboard. Tell your coach, your sales manager, your mastermind group, your spouse, your dog…whomever will hold you to it.
And then go to work on January 2nd.
I’ll see you in 2021!