Remote Working during the holidays

Working During the Holidays: 8 Lessons from Christmas Movies

Working during the holidays is a drag. You’re stuck behind a computer, glued to your home office desk, or otherwise confined to a workspace. To make matters worse, you’re counting the hours until you’re off as colleagues, friends, and family members cash in their vacation days or enjoy a generous amount of time off. Throw in the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, and things can seem downright unfair. But, that doesn’t mean you have to mindlessly surf the web or play game after game of solitaire. Instead, take a page from some of Christmas’ finest cinematic masterpieces for inspiration. You just might find you can turn boredom and gloom into productivity.

1. Savor Your Nights and Weekends

Savoring nights and weekends during the holidays can help telecommuters relieve stress and enjoy the holidays while remaining productive.

If you’re like 52 percent of Americans, you leave vacation days on the shelf. But don’t worry. There’s no inherent problem in that. Many employees and freelancers work during the holidays to garner notice for a promotion or outpace their colleagues or competitors. Nevertheless, you should use the Christmas season to spend time with the people you love most, even if it’s only on nights and weekends. The reasoning behind this is that you never know when you might get contacted for an impromptu shift, emailed about an upcoming deadline, or have a work emergency.

Solution: Channel Your Inner John McClane

If you can’t keep all of that straight, just think back to “Die Hard.” Protagonist John McClane starts his holiday off with the best intentions, flying all the way from New York City to Los Angeles for his wife’s office Christmas party. A 2,500-mile buffer zone is usually enough distance to ensure few distractions for most cops, but when a cabal of German terrorists take over the office building by force, McClane is thrust into action to eliminate the bad guys and save his wife and her co-workers. You might not have to kill nine mercenaries, throw Hans Gruber out a window, and save the day at your job, but it will sure feel like it when you have to part company with a tall glass of egg nog and a spot by the fireplace.

2. Don’t Make the Same Mistakes

Remember prior years when the 12 Days of Christmas consisted of you trying to complete your Christmas shopping, bake eight-dozen cookies, and work 10-hour days? Well, you should. And you should avoid doing it again. When you cram work, social events, family gatherings, and the undue stress of yuletide cheer together, every aspect suffers.

Solution: Reprise the Role of Your Inner John McClane

Look to 1990’s “Die Hard 2” for an example of how you shouldn’t keep making the same mistakes. Sure, the scenario may be a bit out of your control, but if problems and stress stick to you like rogue, maniacal, and violent megalomaniacs adhere to John McClane, it’s in your best interest to change your routine. As McClane rips into another horde of ruthless criminals at Dulles International Airport on the way to see his wife, you can’t help but think how the situation could’ve been avoided. No one’s saying that you should cut your spouse out of your Christmas plans, but some tweaks here and there could make a sizable difference in your mood and work.

3. Have a Little Fun

Work is work. Or at least that’s what generations of baby boomers told their offspring. It’s not supposed to be fun. While this thought may be thoroughly drilled into your mind, you don’t have to follow it by rigorously working during the holidays. In fact, a bit of fun might cut the monotony of work, or at least give you a spark of inspiration.

Solution: Sing a Song Like Buddy the Elf

One Christmas-themed way to spice up the office is through a Christmas-gram, much like Buddy delivers in “Elf.” Walking from the North Pole to New York City, Buddy’s estranged father puts him on the spot to sing a festive Christmas song. You don’t have to create a weird, bumbling, awkward, impromptu Christmas song like Buddy to impress your co-workers. “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” should suffice. Heck, you could even turn it into a full-on virtual competition or karaoke to set the tone. On second thought, don’t get carried away. A song or two is enough to lighten the mood and get you back on track with spreadsheets and reports.

4. Attend a Virtual Holiday Party

Christmas office parties and professional events provide both an opportunity to socialize and network for telecommuters.

It’s a foregone conclusion that not everyone loves Christmas. For some, the holiday is a clear-cut reminder of holiday commercialization, or it just doesn’t gel with their personality. If this describes your mood or beliefs, you’re not alone. But you also don’t want to become a Scrooge, especially when others are enjoying the season.

Solution: Don’t Bah Humbug Your Way Through Christmas

Virtual holiday parties are essential for improving your mood and professional aspirations. At these events, you can meet the people you work with, albeit in a virtual capacity. So when you throw on a tacky Christmas sweater and make your own egg nog, you’re not just getting in the holiday spirit. You’re furthering your career and making connections. Remember that when you decide to skip one of these events or sit in the corner, you turn into the remote office Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol.” The only problem is that you might not have hordes of money to start your life as a miser.

That’s why you should attend parties and social gatherings on Zoom even when you aren’t feeling it. You don’t want the Ghost of Career Past, the Ghost of Career Present, and the Ghost of Career Future waking you up in the middle of the night to right your proverbial ship. Making an appearance for an hour is often enough to show people you care. With the right connections, working during the holidays next year might just get a bit easier or more profitable. And maybe, just maybe, COVID will finally be in the rearview mirror.

5. Stay Vigilant and Meticulous

You don’t have to look on Facebook or Instagram too long to find your friends, co-workers, and peers living it up around Christmas. It’s easy to get a case of the Christmas blues gazing at their pictures, but remember—it’s not actually Dec. 25 on the calendar. When you start to act like every day from Dec. 1 on is Christmas Day, you lose focus. Essential last-minute tasks can go by the wayside while working during the holidays, such as missing a decimal or following up with clients before you leave. Pretty soon, you’re making errors that cost time and money.

Solution: Don’t Forget the Important Things Like the McAllisters

This situation is similar to the crux of the plot in “Home Alone.” Peter and Kate McAllister put their youngest son, Kevin, to bed without dinner the day before they plan to leave for Paris. After a storm knocks out their power, they wake up late, causing a frantic race to the airport. During the chaos, Kevin gets left behind. He quickly learns that his house is the target of seasoned burglars, and must defend his home with a series of homemade booby traps. After three days, the family returns to find Kevin relatively unscathed.

This movie has a happy ending, but when you overlook key factors and end up with a cataclysmic failure, you won’t have a crafty 10-year-old around to diffuse or fix the situation. Remain diligent and attentive to detail, and you won’t have to rush back from your holiday in a frenzied state.

6. Don’t Over-Commit to Work or Work Functions

You might feel the pressing urge to over-commit around Christmas, both professionally and socially. COVID may have stymied traditional gatherings, but the obligation can still feel overwhelming. Working during the holidays and tackling that extra project can get you noticed while attending every little get-together can get your foot in the door. However, this type of over-commitment can have you landing on your face. It drains you of a work-life balance, which becomes even more crucial around Christmas.

Solution: Don’t Have the “Santa Clause” Rule Your Holidays

If you have a problem with over-commitment, “The Santa Clause” should help steer you straight. In this hilarious comedy, Tim Allen inadvertently takes the place of Santa after accidentally knocking the real Kris Kringle off his roof on Christmas. Prodded by his son, he puts on Santa’s outfit and delivers the rest of the toys. Afterward, he flies to the North Pole where a head elf informs him that he’s become Santa because of a legal technicality, and must assume all of Santa’s roles for the next year.

Don’t end up being a Santa Claus just because you can’t say no—whether it’s deliberate or inadvertent. Your body, mind, and soul will thank you for giving it a break from all the extra work.

7. Leave Your Work at the Virtual Office

When you’re trying to get ahead by working during the holidays, your work may follow you out of the home office. But don’t forget: you already have plenty on your plate at home. Throwing added reports and projects on top of family time, trip-planning, and other activities only leads to sub-par work, fatigue, and even more stress.

Solution: Don’t Kidnap Your Boss Like Clark Griswold

For a lesson in why you should leave your work at work, you only need to watch a snippet of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Throughout the movie, Clark Griswold mentions how much he’s counting on his Christmas bonus, and when he gets a Jelly of the Month Club membership instead, he snaps, wanting to see his boss in-person to insult him. Cousin Eddie takes this idea all too literally, kidnapping Clark’s boss and bringing him to the Griswold house, where the SWAT team promptly breaks in to save the boss.

Although this is an odd interpretation of bringing your work home, it should stand as a testament to how your personal life and even your work life can unravel when you overextend yourself.

8. Get a Plan Together Early

Once Dec. 1 strikes, it’s probably too late to put together a plan for working during the holidays. There are too many other factors at play and too many moving parts. And with both family and the boss counting on you, maneuvering around scheduled events can prove difficult. However, creating a schedule early can help iron-out any issues, as well as tell your clients or employers when and how much you’re willing to work.

Solution: Set a Plan to Take Over Like Jack Skellington

To understand the importance of planning ahead, you only need to look at “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Arguably one of the best Halloween movies and one of the top Christmas flicks, this movie follows Jack Skellington—the leader of Halloween Town—who comes across a portal to Christmas Town. Once in Christmas Town, Jack becomes infatuated with the holiday, aiming to take over Christmas, but moving the festivities to Halloween Town. With careful study and strategy, he puts his plan into action well ahead of the Christmas season, kidnapping Santa and giving each of his zombies, mummies, vampires, and ghouls a task to complete.

Although Jack’s plan to become the new Santa backfires, it shows that a properly implemented plan can help you tackle even the most daunting tasks around Christmas. Just make sure to steer clear of the holidays you know little about. And never, ever try to celebrate one holiday on another. It’s just not in the spirit of the season.

Projects need to meet deadlines and work still needs completion during the Christmas season, yet with all the distractions and stress, it’s perhaps the hardest time of the year to get things done. Staying on task is no simple matter, but with a few tips from these flicks, you’ll be in a better position than ever.

Do you have any life or career lessons you learned from a Christmas movie? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your comments. We’d love to hear from you.

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iStock Images: Svetlana-Cherruty, AleksandarNakic, skynesher

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