For creative leaders, holiday time/end-of-year can be a disaster if not handled appropriately. Many of us end up working harder in the weeks between Halloween and Christmas than we do the rest of the year, and we work hard all year round. Our internal clients are trying to burn through their budgets before the year ends, while at the same time our team members (and we) are trying to use up their PTO before they lose it. Them there are the distractions of Giving Tuesday, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, as well as the long list of action items for our personal lives that accompany the holidays.

Sometimes it feels like the end of the year has disproportionate amount of surprises than the rest of the year, which only increases the stress of managing our teams and their outcomes. To manage this pressure, I have found these seven steps help transform a potentially stressful season into a truly manageable one.

1. Breathe
Breathing is such an underrated tool. When times get tough, we restrict our breathing without even realizing it. Breathing in and out steadily brings oxygen to the brain, which enables us to think more clearly. Try this: take a breath in through the nose for 5 seconds, then out through the mouth for 5 seconds. Notice how your shoulders fall gently and relax into a healthier position. Your heart is likely shifting a calmer rhythm.

2. Pay attention
Now that you've brought some calm to your body, pay attention to your mind. Are you jumping from one thought to another? Do you feel scattered? Take another breath and consider how you're modeling behavior that others will follow. If you're edgy, they'll be edgy--same with abrupt, snarky, or kind. Choose your tone of voice, body posture, and word choices carefully. You set the tone for partnership by how you behave.

3. Organize
There are two parts to organize:

  • People: Who's going on vacation when and who's covering for them? Do you need freelance support?
  • Projects: What's on our plates now, and what's coming up between this moment and January 2, 2017?

  • If you don't have a project management tool that can hand you these reports, make a spreadsheet. It's not hard, and it's invaluable. When we name what's happening, we can manage it. When it's an amorphous feeling, we feel stressed and out of control. It can be as simple as an excel document listing projects down the left side, the creative person working on each project, the due dates, and vacation dates. This alone can help you feel in control and empower you to delegate appropriately and justify bringing in support staff as needed.

    4. Prioritize
    Using your fabulous organization tool, decide who does what first. Sometimes it seems obvious that the earlier deadline needs to happen first, but we all know that the later deadline may require serious upfront due diligence. Seriously, take the time to closely look at each project to determine priority. Once you've done this analysis, share the priorities with your entire team so there are no surprises and everyone knows what's expected of them. People love clear direction and you can give them, and yourself, this gift.

    5. Lead by Example
    Step in and step up. Do some of the grunt work. Get in the weeds. This is crunch time. All hands on deck. (So many cliches, but they all apply.) This is the time of year when everyone helps regardless of title, function, or interest level. We watch other departments partying while we're redoing the social media campaign in response to the latest sales results. This is your moment of truth. Do you wander over to get a drink or do you bring a plate of cookies back to your team and dive back into the work?

    6. Compassion
    Let's face it. The holidays can be hardest on the boss. We end up picking up the majority of the work left by vacationing staff members, and the buck stops with us regarding work quality and budgets and deadlines being met. We signed up for this, and it still can feel crummy. Have compassion for yourself. Not pity, compassion. Allow yourself to feel disgruntled a bit and then pick yourself up and get it done.

    7. Celebrate
    Go to the office party. Many a martyr have missed an office party, but I've never heard of anyone who truly couldn't take a break in my 30 years of working in corporate. You're no martyr, you're a hard working, creative leader who knows that taking a break and toasting with colleagues is important for your well being and might even help your career.

    Have happy and healthy holidays and may this season go easy on you!
    p.s. These same seven steps apply for your personal life too! Take time to enjoy the season.