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AAA predicts that nearly 107.3 million Americans will travel over this year's year-end holidays—the largest number on record. And those numbers are typically higher around the year-end holidays, especially between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

But what about the rest of us who stay closer to home?

If you’re not planning to hit the road, runway, or railroad over the holidays, you may find yourself in the office at one of the slowest times of the year (unless you work in development, in which case we’re thinking of you and you’ve almost made it!).

Working during the final days of December can actually be a great gift for your productivity. When email traffic slows down and your days become less filled with meetings, there is so much opportunity to make progress and start the New Year off on the right foot. Here are 5 ways to take advantage of that time.

Get organized

There are two dimensions to this piece of advice: your physical workspace and your virtual space, including digital files.

For your physical workspace, step back and take stock of your desk. Where do papers tend to pile up? What kinds of papers get thrown in a pile instead of filed away? Do you see extraneous items taking up space on your desk, such as a stapler you never use or seven coffee mugs?

These kinds of questions aren’t meant to shame your desk habits. Rather, the point is to figure out how your desk is getting so messy and then come up with systems or solutions to interrupt the cycle. For example, if you notice that the stack of manila folders on the corner of your desk is constantly out of control, consider buying a stand-up file organizer. That’s the difference between organizing your desk and simply cleaning it.

Similarly, the goal with your digital files is not to create a computer folder for every file. Instead, choose an organizational system—whether that’s folders or metadata tags—that’s going to be easy to use when work picks up again.

Pro Tip: The end of the year is also a good time to back up your work files if they aren’t already stored on the cloud.

Tackle the bigger projects on your list

If your to-do list is anything like mine, the big projects that don’t have an immediate deadline (or any deadline at all) tend to fall to the bottom of the list, buried by the short-term items that have to be triaged each day.

The good news is that the short-term items often slow to a trickle at the end of the year, freeing up your time and energy for the other work that has been waiting for you—tasks like writing up department-wide processes or evaluating your organization’s social media presence or email program.

Having time to tackle these longer-term projects is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is obvious—you finally have time! The curse is that staying motivated while working on a big project can be more challenging. Also, the project may have been sitting on your to-do list for so long that it’s starting to inspire a sense of dread.

To counteract those feelings, break up big projects into small chunks that you can work on each day. At the beginning of the day, set a goal for what you’re going to accomplish and write it down. You can also reward yourself for finishing parts of the project by taking a walk outside, popping into a colleague’s office to chat, or grabbing a treat from the office vending machine.

Try new systems or tools

It can be easier to establish new habits when your workload is lighter. Maybe you want to take control of your email inbox or try a new time management tool. Test it out and see how it goes!

Not sure where to start? Ask a coworker what systems or tools they use to stay organized. To get the best advice, be honest with them about what problem you’re trying to solve, whether it’s an unruly inbox or keeping track of a project with many moving parts.

And if you feel like your current systems are already running smoothly, it's okay to skip this suggestion. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?

Spend time with coworkers

For some of us, it can be hard to find time to go out to lunch or coffee with coworkers during the pace of a regular work week. But those kinds of informal interactions are important for establishing positive relationships with colleagues, which can make the office a happier and more productive place.

Invest in building those relationships during the holiday slowdown, and get creative with how you spend your time. Gather a few coworkers in an unused conference room for a brown-bag lunch, organize an office potluck with other people on your floor, or make a point to have a real conversation in the morning, beyond the usual, quick hellos.

This can also be a great time to branch out and get to know colleagues that you don't often work with. If there are only a handful of you in the office, band together and keep each other company!

Reflect on your 2017 accomplishments

The end of year is already a time of reflection, so you may as well extend that spirit to your workplace. And reflecting on your accomplishments will put you in a good place for your next performance review, whether it’s one month or 12 months away.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What outcomes am I most proud of from my work this year?
  • What notable outcomes did I contribute to that helped my organization further its mission or make a lasting impact?
  • How have I grown professionally in the past year? How has my professional growth helped my organization succeed?
  • How did I do in meeting my goals this year? If I feel short, what factors contributed to that result, and how can I learn from the experience?

Pro Tip: If you’re still looking for New Year’s resolutions, try committing to regularly tracking your accomplishments so you won’t be starting from scratch when you revisit these questions in December 2018.

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Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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