Ah, the holidays. Whatever your personal beliefs, this time of year is full of nothing but magic, joy, and celebration—all of which will spark your creativity and reward you with a bounty of inspiration.
Or so we tell ourselves.
More often than not, this season is stressful, hectic, jam-packed, and full of endless obligations. (Seriously, how do I need to send so many Christmas cards? Who even are these people?) It’s easy to miss out on the wonder of this time, and even easier to let your own creative projects and goals fall by the wayside.
Never fear; we’re here with five simple tips to keep your creativity and inspiration alive this festive season—and maybe bring a little holiday magic to your productivity and workflow.
The holidays can be incredibly overwhelming. There’s decorating to do, parties to plan, feasts to cook, gifts to buy, family to visit, cards to send, reindeer to train to fly. (What? You thought they just knew how to do that?) And that’s not even considering your own creative work. It can all get to be a bit… much.
When it comes to holiday stress, no one has it quite like Santa. So, if you’re looking for a lesson on staying productive during the holidays, you may as well learn from the master and make a list.
Take some time to think about what you want—or have—to accomplish creatively this season. Do you have a few article pitches due, blog posts to write, or your NaNoWriMo novel to edit? Are you itching to start your own website, finally try oil painting, or perform your poetry at an open mic?
Getting all your goals and tasks out of your head and onto paper can be a massive stress relief, as well as a way to make them more “real,” and even more likely to be accomplished. (Plus, there’s nothing like the joy of checking items off a to-do list.)
Once you’ve done that, go a step further and prioritize the items on your list based on urgency and importance to you. Consider whether there are any items that can be postponed until after the holidays so that you don’t end up biting off way more than you can chew—you may not be able to write a screenplay, edit a novel, write ten blog posts, and film for VlogMas while dealing with the holidays; sometimes you have to be okay with paring down.
Try categorizing your tasks according to importance: all your must do items in one group, your important (but not life-or-death) ones in another, your bonus items (the ones you’d love to get to if you have the chance) in another, etc.
I personally love setting myself a to-do list (based on my overall goal list) each day, with my tasks in order from most to least important. Once I’ve tackled my most pressing issues for the day, I instantly feel calmer and less overwhelmed (it’s even helped me be more productive while dealing with my panic disorder), which makes completing the rest of my list a relative breeze.
As a bonus, all that mental energy you aren’t spending by trying to keep track of everything you have to do can now be spent on your creative work itself. So make a list, check it twice, and let the creative energy flow.
All work and no play holiday cheer makes Jack a dull boy Scrooge—and no one’s eager for ghostly visitors forcing them to confront the worst sides of themselves (I’d take braving a mall on Black Friday over that).
When the holidays roll around, you’ll almost certainly have at least a few things you have to do (shopping, attending family gatherings, etc.). It’s best to be practical about this time of year and accept that it can’t be all work, all the time. (Even the most focused workaholics need to put on a Santa hat and eat a cookie once in awhile.)
And if you love the holidays (like me; I may have been wearing Christmas shirts and blasting Michael Bublé for weeks by now), it can be even more stressful. There’s so much you want to do, and it may feel impossible to balance all of the fun with all of your work—and that Holiday FOMO stress can zap your creative buzz.
Whether or not you feel you have to or get to participate in festivities, the same piece of advice can work: schedule time solely for celebrating.
It can also be helpful to implement elements of the first tip here and prioritize what things you must or most want to do this season. Are there days you need to travel, parties that you simply can’t miss, or gifts you have to buy? Make time for those first.
Don’t forget about the things that you aren’t necessarily obligated to do but feel disappointed about if you end up missing: baking cookies with your nephew, shopping on Black Friday with your best friend, or watching the Macy’s parade. Recognize that your wants are as significant as your needs, and make these a priority in your schedule.
If possible, try and schedule in some time to just chill out as well. Hopping back into full-on work mode the day after Christmas or trying to meet a deadline the day before you have to pack to fly home for Thanksgiving can turn you into a Grinch—and make you way too overwhelmed to feel creative at all.
Schedule your holiday cheer and relaxation as strictly as you would your work deadlines, and then make that time sacred. Not only will it give you a chance to let loose and actually enjoy the season (instead of having it pass by as a stressful, hectic blur), but taking some time off of work can also make you more productive.
So, avoid burnout by making sure to schedule in time to celebrate; it just may help you remember why you’re working so hard in the first place.
While holiday fun can be incredibly tempting (who wouldn’t rather overdose on pumpkin pie while falling asleep to their favorite childhood movie than, you know, work?), sometimes, you’ve still gotta get down to business.
But try telling that to your neighbors, who just have to have you over THIS MINUTE for cider, or your dad, who’s convinced that you have to drop all of your obligations for the entire two weeks he’s in town.
Setting clear boundaries with your friends and family is a must to stay creative and productive throughout the holiday season. Let them know when you’ll be working, and don’t let them guilt you into feeling bad for having to be productive.
Take note: this advice goes for your personal projects just as much as any work you have to do for your day job; your manuscript deserves the same attention that your assigned work does.
Setting firm boundaries can even make it easier on the people who are craving your company. Not only can you tell your friends and family when you’ll be working, you can tell them when you are free: “No, I can’t go caroling tonight, but next Saturday we’re cutting down a tree and decorating together.” “I can’t make your last-minute holiday dinner, but I’ve taken time off for your party this weekend and can’t wait!”
Letting others know that you have made time to celebrate can help them respect the times when you can’t. (And can you really blame them for demanding your attention so much? Come on, you’re fabulous.)
Even if it may feel a bit harsh, clear boundaries are a win-win for everyone involved. So, don’t be afraid to say “no” as long as you also make time to say “ho, ho, ho.” (Cheesy rhymes are allowed at the holidays.)
Even as someone who is holiday-obsessed (seriously, it’s been Bublé for weeks), sometimes the holidays can get a little bit old. (If your day job is retail, the scope for this doubles; the same ten Christmas songs on repeat for three months can rob you of your Christmas spirit very quickly.)
Colored lights, glitter everything, music and more music, excited kids yelling, family loudly catching up, decor everywhere. It can all be overstimulating, and may end up distracting you and interrupting any creative flow (or keep you from getting there in the first place).
If Celebratory Overload (I’m pretty sure it’s an actual medical condition) seems a likely threat for you, set aside a holiday distraction-free zone where you can escape if you need to.
Whether it’s your office or workspace, a local coworking space, or a local diner run by a stubborn owner who refuses to decorate (i.e., Luke Danes), find a space where you can escape and focus solely on your own projects.
If you can’t find one, try and create your own. It can be something as simple as sitting at the table in Starbucks that faces away from most of the decor and popping in your earbuds to play your favorite (and most creativity-inducing) non-Christmas music.
Don’t feel guilty for sometimes needing a break from it all. It doesn’t mean you’re a Grinch; it simply means your creative side is a little overwhelmed and requires some room to breathe. Listen to what it needs and give yourself a break.
While the holidays may not always be as picture-perfect as we all hope for them to be, and while they may often come with more stresses than gifts, they’re still a great time to reconnect with yourself and what truly matters to you.
Take some time during this season to indulge in whatever moves you (or what used to move you, if you’ve been neglecting celebrating in favor of working the past few years, as we often do).
Whatever makes you smile and gives you that special, warm, fuzzy feeling, go for it: take a long walk in the snow, bake your favorite cookies, have a snowball fight in your front yard, attend a church service, volunteer at a food bank, listen to your favorite Christmas album, lie under the Christmas tree to see how beautiful the lights and branches look from underneath (one of my personal favorites).
If more traditional holiday activities aren’t what move you, don’t try and force it, but instead do what makes you feel best: reread your favorite novel, take time to meditate, play your favorite old-school Nintendo game, go for a long drive with great music playing, take up your old drawing hobby.
Use this time to celebrate in whatever way feels best to you. Find your own personal source of holiday magic and let yourself feel as inspired as possible. When you feel full of wonder and passion, you’re likely to ignite your creative side. Give your creativity the fuel it needs to start a fire inside of you that will burn long after the season is over.
It’s easy to get bogged down by obligations and distractions this time of year and let your creative energy be drained and your project deadlines and goals be forgotten. But the holidays don’t have to be a time of stress, chaos, and lost creativity.
If you commit to yourself by prioritizing your creative goals, scheduling time for fun, setting boundaries, finding an escape, and seeking out what makes you truly happy, you can find yourself rejuvenated and refreshed by the season, instead of burned out and exhausted.
So, have a cookie, sip some cocoa, and let your creativity shine brighter than the star on top of your tree. After all, you owe yourself a gift this year—and what better present to give yourself than creative inspiration?
Now, go out and make your own holiday magic.
Amanda Kaye Stein graduated from the Academy of Art University with an A.A. in Fashion Design (focus on Fashion Illustration and Creative Writing). She’s worked as a freelance writer, editor, social media manager, graphic designer, artist, and comedy improv performer. She’s an aspiring novelist, YouTube creator, and ukulele rock star.