Don’t trust December

December is a dangerous cocktail.

Without much attention being paid to it, most companies combine end-of-year performance evaluations with planning for the following year. Major projects also consistently have deadlines and delivery dates in December, resulting in difficult decisions on resource prioritisation and trade-offs.

When this is overlaid with the pressure (and expectation) of preparing for Christmas holiday, a peak in social activity and general fatigue and sunlight deprivation, is it any surprise that many of us experience additional stress and struggle to manage our energy at this time of year?

Looking back at my professional life, the biggest crises I’ve experienced have all happened in the month of December. When you’re tired and stressed, problems seem bigger, we lose our tempers more easily, communication breaks down and we have difficulty in even the most simple tasks. In this cocktail of pressure and fatigue, it’s easy to assume negative intent in others, lose patience quickly and lose our ability to listen well.

In the past week, people I work with (senior executives) have filled their diesel cars with petrol, fallen out with colleagues they usually get on with and I’ve seen lots of general irritation and worry (accompanied by the usual judgments).

The only effective remedy I have found is to be aware of how impaired I am at this time of the year and – as the calendar ticks over into December – discount my feelings and try not to pay too much attention to them. As much as possible, I try not to make any important decisions (most can, after all be safely postponed), and make a special effort to connect and listen to colleagues.

In short, don’t trust December.

It’s extraordinary how small and easy to resolve the issues seem when I return to them in January, after I’ve had a good rest.

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