There’s no such thing as a free dog. There’s also no such thing as a free Christmas holiday — the price of entry is taking part in the extreme sport of getting everything done by Christmas.

But back to the ‘free’ dog. When we were given Max I didn’t know he would need a haircut every three months or so. At first, we tried doing it ourselves — it took hours. It was easy enough to do short back and sides but he wouldn’t let us do his feet without twitching away. He was definitely a dog with a home haircut in those days, and the more we left the feet, the more matted they became.

By adding sand and water from daily beach walks, Max ended up with knotted, concrete-like toes which he constantly gnawed. As a result, I have now become one of those people who get their dog professionally groomed.

Max had his summer trim last week, and as the first dog of the day, I had a chance to talk with the dog groomer as the bathwater warmed up. She had the flustered look of someone who has pulled herself out of bed to begin another grueling day. We talked about the crazy pressure of the Christmas countdown … although why every dog has to look their best for the ‘big day’ is beyond me.

The groomer said it’s the combination of the summer weather (dogs which have hair rather than shedding fur can get dangerously hot in summer) plus the crazy thinking we all get into, that everything needs to be sorted by Christmas. That means she is grooming six dogs a day for six days a week. And they’re not all tidy little poodles either. Her client list includes a 70kg Newfoundland and a collie that only gets one cut a year.

I also caught up with a friend who works in mental health. She is suffering from fatigue as every client who walks in her door is prickly with pre-Christmas stress … convinced they need to get all their issues resolved by Christmas.

It’s the same story in local government. Tidal waves of Council reports are being packed into the last Committee agendas for the year, with many other documents also having to beat the Christmas countdown. When you think about it, this is pretty strange given these reports will be washing up on the desks of managers who are away on holiday, so they will languish untouched, like seaweed on the beach, until the holidays are over.

It’s clear that our mass ‘get everything done by Christmas’ mindset is crazy. But knowing that doesn’t make all the pre-Christmas deadlines go away, so here are some ideas for getting the work done despite the pressure, rather than wishing away these last few weeks of the 2019 working year.

Five ways to get more work done during the Christmas countdown

These ideas are from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.

Schedule time for deep work

Schedule specific times of the day (and week) for quality, uninterrupted focus on projects which require deep thinking, while recognising that this isn’t something you can do in eight-hour stretches. (It is likely to be in the range of 30-50% of your working days.)

This means accepting that you need to allow for ‘scruffy time’ where you can only do basic tasks like responding to emails — and that this actually is valuable too, and gives your mind a break from the harder tasks.

Turn off email and phone notifications

Turn off the Internet during the times you have allocated for deep thinking. Where practical, I have started working in a different space, completely away from my computer.

During your scheduled deep work times, turn off email on your computer and turn your phone to silent, so that you don’t hear email or text notifications. This way you don’t have to use precious willpower resisting the urge to look at incoming messages.

Set mini-goals

When I’m at risk of being overwhelmed by my to-do list I find it valuable to focus on just the next step in a project and then set a really tight, defined amount of deep work time to complete that step. It’s not about beating myself up if I don’t achieve it within that time — but it’s surprising what can be achieved in a small amount of time without distractions. And taking that thing off the list sure does take the pressure off.

Write smarter emails

When using email to set up a meeting or resolve an issue, aim to write one-off comprehensive emails that reduce the to-ing and fro-ing. For example, when suggesting a meeting, state three times when you are available, and the location to meet, so that only one reply will be required.

Think really hard about the necessity of cc’ing other people into your emails — as it will be one more distraction for them.

Don’t work in the evenings

That’s because our capacity for doing deep work on any given day is limited. By evening you’re beyond the point where you can continue to effectively work deeply. Instead, give yourself downtime to recharge the energy needed to work deeply and to gain insights, because “providing your conscious brain time to rest enables your unconscious mind to take a shift sorting through your most complex professional challenges.” (Page 146, Deep Work)

Here are more reasons not to work in the evenings, as noted in Deep Work (page 149). “If you keep interrupting your evening to check and respond to email, or put aside a few hours after dinner to catch up on an approaching deadline … even if these work dashes consume only a small amount of time, they prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur … Put another way, trying to squeeze a little more work out of your evenings might reduce your effectiveness the next day enough that you end up getting less done than if you had instead respected a shutdown.”

A final solution to Christmas countdown stress

Finally, at times when the deep work isn’t flowing and my mind is jumping all over the place, I find it really helpful to think of the dog groomer dealing with six dogs for six days a week — including wrigglers and woolly mammoths. In comparison, wrestling with a few words on the page seem like child’s play!

All the very best for a calm and productive finish to your 2019 working year.