Dr. Kim Burns

December is a brutal times for academics. Students are stressed; just trying to make it to the finish line in one piece. Faculty are stressed as they stare at the enormous pile of grading in front of them. For administrators, the clock is ticking on what you can do while faculty are still on contract. For empathetic leaders, the stress of those around them has a ripple effect that is hard to avoid. December brings the additional burden, for women especially, to create all the magic associated with the holidays. I think of these times as survival mode. To do lists are crushing, expectations of what we can accomplish are often unrealistic, and our health suffers. Sound familiar?

Here are some tips on how to get through survival mode with a little less stress.

  1. Calendar management – Scan your calendar for meetings and appointments that can be pushed to January. If it isn’t time sensitive or if it would benefit from a more refreshed “January you” move it off your December calendar and into the new year. Plan to take time off at the end of December and block those days on your calendar, if you haven’t done so already. If your campus closes the last week of December, use that time to unplug and rejuvenate.
  2. Task management – Assess what you need to get done before the end of December and make a list. Prioritize the list. Focus on the top three on the list (some people recommend cutting the list in half). Each week in December, review that prioritized list and decide which tasks you can complete. Focus on the three most important things. This process of paring down your list helps you get to core tasks and can help you ignore the noise of the nice to do list. When you are in survival mode, the nice to do tasks need to take a back seat to the absolutely need to do tasks. I often load up my to do list with the nice to do, so ruthlessly prioritizing helps me focus on the most critical projects.
  3. Expectation management – Reflect on where your expectations for yourself may be unrealistic. Could the annual department potluck lunch be takeout instead? (December potlucks in workplaces of mostly women are a personal pet peeve of mine) Could book club be at a restaurant so you don’t have to spend your precious time cleaning your house? Where can you lower your expectations of what you are able to accomplish during this busy time? The fact that I haven’t started our gingerbread house yet is stressing me out. I’m beginning to think I need to let go of that expectation because it might not get done this year.
  4. Health & wellness management – Where in your schedule can you work in time for yourself? What can you do to reduce your stress? Can you use vacation time to go shopping? Can you leave early one day to exercise or get errands done? Would you benefit from a therapy session? How about carefully selecting which social events you attend? What can you delegate to family members or service professionals, if your finances allow (e.g., house cleaning, Instacart, laundry, catering)? You don’t have to do it all by yourself.
  5. Focus on the bright spots – listening to Dr. Katie Linder’s podcast on how to stay motivated this time of year, she reminds us to look for the bright spots. Bright spots can be things that we look forward to, everyday joys, and indulgences of the season.

Keep your heads up, friends. You’ve got this (and if you don’t, it’s ok to give yourself some grace and take a nap).

As always, connect with me on LinkedIn, send me an email at hello@drkimburns.com, or connect with me on Instagram. I would love to hear from you.


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