It's that time of year again.

Advent of Code has started. People are decorating their houses. And for some reason, the entire planet is broadcasting radio signals of Mariah Carey into the depths of the universe. It's also the time of year when professional and domestic stress combines into a giant stress press that squashes you into a lifeless wad of exhaustion.

At least, that's how I sometimes feel around the end of the year.

Here are a few things that get me through the end-of-year hustle and bustle without losing my sanity.

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Protect Your Personal SpaceTime

Physical boundaries have cognitive side effects.

One of the challenges I face working from home is separating my work from the rest of my life. I learned pretty early on that I need a dedicated workspace at home: a room with a door that I can shut to keep work out of view and, therefore, out of mind when I'm not working. The separation of professional and personal life was the first and most crucial thing that I missed about commuting to an office.

Here's the catch:

Even when I'm not working, I still see the door to my office.

A commute severs you from the stress triggers of the office. Imagine "work thoughts" are rays of sunshine streaming into your bedroom window while you're trying to take a nap. The office commute is a blackout curtain. The door to my home office is a Venetian blind.

Sometimes, just looking at that door floods my brain with thoughts of unfinished work tasks.

I need a boundary in a different dimension.

This requires a change in perspective. All time is personal time. Work fits into my life, not the other way around. This doesn't mean that I only work when I feel like it. But when questions of priority do arise, the "work adapts to me" attitude makes it easier to make healthier choices.

I must practice this mindset continually.

Don't Add Things To Your To-Do List; Replace Them

I'm a big fan of checklists.

I have one that I use every week to maintain the server that runs my blog. I use one to stock up on supplies for the hurricane season here on the Gulf coast. I have one for things I need to do around the house before a winter freeze.

But despite my appreciation of checklists, my track record for keeping daily to-do lists is spotty at best.

And I think I finally figured out why.

Checklists are useful tools that help me finish a task more quickly and with fewer mistakes. A to-do list is an ever-expanding list of all of the things I haven't finished yet; a constant reminder that there's still more to be done. It's not uncommon for me to finish the day with a to-do list at least as long as the one I started with.

I use two hacks to combat the impending sense of failure to accomplish anything despite working all day:

  1. New urgent tasks replace existing to-do items, which are moved to tomorrow's to-do list. The size of the list grows only if all of the existing to-do items are non-negotiable.
  2. At the end of the day, I move all unfinished items to tomorrow's to-do list. Then I think about everything I did that never made it to my to-do list. Take the kids to school. Wash the dishes. Get kids to after-school activities. I put all of the important-but-mundane things I did on my to-do list, then check them all off.

They're simple tricks, maybe even a little bit silly, but they do help me stay afloat.

Make Time To Play

Every December, my family has a tradition: we collect and build all of the holiday-themed LEGO sets.

I admit: my motives for establishing this tradition were selfish. LEGO is one of my favorite hobbies. No. It's not just a hobby. It's therapy. So spending some extra time each December building LEGO sets brings some much-needed balance to my life after a year of hard work. Play isn't just for kids, you know.

Luckily, both of my children enjoy LEGO, too.

It's something the whole family looks forward to.

So as we head into the final weeks of 2022, as we hunker down at work to try and knock out the final goals of the year, and as the demands of family during a season full of festivities and obligations pile up on our calendars and to-do lists, pause and take a moment to catch your breath.

And maybe shuffle a few things around on next week's to-do list to make some time for yourself.