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The holidays are stressful enough, what with the frenzy of travel, last-minute shopping, and relatives determined to push your buttons. imagesThe last thing you need to add to the mix is unfinished work. Brian Moran provides some unique, pre-holiday break planning advice to help you get it all done before you take off (and make those “optional” holiday tasks a bit less hectic, too).

“You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to the holiday breaks,” says Brian Moran, co-author along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months (Wiley, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-1185092-3-4, $23.00, http://www.12weekyear.com). “The reason most people end up working during their holiday time off isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention when they have the opportunity.”

The following are some of their suggestions:

Create a pre-holiday season plan. Moran and Lennington explain that working from a plan has three distinct benefits. It reduces mistakes. It saves time. And it provides focus. For example, as part of the first week of your pre-holiday season plan, you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of how much time you’ll be taking off for the holidays, and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. On the home front, you might also get together with your spouse to work out who will be handling what holiday responsibilities.

Resign yourself to being uncomfortable NOW so you can be comfortable LATER. Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. This is just human nature. Problem is, the uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your holiday break are precisely the ones that will blow up, get out of control, or just keep you worrying while you’re trying to enjoy some time off. Take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your time off and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.

Make the most of performance time and down time. In other words, you have to use your time wisely. You can keep control of your day through time-blocking. Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks — strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, do NOT accept any phone calls, faxes, emails, visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities — like most email and voicemail — that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.

“Again, be sure to factor non-work related holiday tasks into your blocked out time,” advises Moran. “If you don’t, these will be precisely the tasks that you’re either squeezing in at the last minute or end up doing in lieu of finishing up that project or returning a client’s call.”

LATER THIS WEEK: More of Moran’s and Lennington’s suggestions for making your holiday season more productive and less stressful.