December 3

Why It’s So Hard To Focus In December

During December, I notice my productivity takes a nosedive and it's not just me. It feels so hard to keep up with my usual pace amidst holiday plans and year-end wrap-ups. I get caught in the whirlwind of festivities, trying to strike a balance between my holiday to-dos, year-end goals, and everyday duties.

In talking with friends, family, colleagues, and clients, one topic has been consistent—none of us feel as though we can concentrate or get anything done right now. I can't count the number of times I sat down to write this blog, only to get distracted by something else. 

On top of my usual work and personal to-dos, the frenzy to find perfect gifts adds another layer of stress, along with juggling social engagements on what feels like an ever-changing calendar. 

Read on for information on why this time of year causes a dip in concentration and tips on how to manage your focus at the end of the year.

Key Takeaways

  • Holiday planning and festive events can make it difficult to concentrate on work and daily tasks.
  • Emotional stress increases during the holidays due to pressures like creating perfect memories and reflecting on the year, which affect our ability to focus.
  • Shorter days in Winter can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), causing symptoms like fatigue and difficulty concentrating which impact productivity.
  • Setting realistic goals and implementing strategies like prioritizing tasks, taking breaks for self-care, and seeking support can help maintain focus during the end of the year.

Factors Contributing to Difficulty in Focusing During December

As December rolls in, many distractions start to grow. It's not just the festivities that scatter our thoughts; emotional challenges also increase as we navigate family dynamics and reflect on the year's end. We may also find ourselves feeling anxious because we didn't accomplish the things we wanted. 

Even our brain chemistry can come into play, with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) causing some people's moods to dampen as days shorten.

Busyness and distractions of the holiday season

December always feels like such a whirlwind. It's like the entire world is on fast forward and finding a moment of calm to concentrate seems next to impossible.

During this holiday chaos, juggling work demands gets tougher. My inbox always seems to be overflowing and instead of tackling it, I find myself just wanting to relax with some hot chocolate (which I'm definitely drinking right now) and watch a cheesy Christmas movie.

Distractions are everywhere and I can't help but be focused on preparing for when my kids are on school break and preparing to travel to see family. 

Moving on from these distractions, emotional stress in December often adds another layer of difficulty in maintaining concentration during this period.

Emotional stress

I love holiday decorations and like to get our Christmas tree up as soon as possible. Inevitably, the decorations never quite turn out how I hope, and before I know it, we're about to celebrate the New Year. Sometimes I find I get so caught up in how to enjoy the season, I forget to actually enjoy it 

Dealing with emotional stress becomes especially tough in December. The pressure to create perfect holiday memories can stir up feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Everywhere we look, there's an ad or a movie showing families laughing around a festive table. Even if we know it's not real, our brain still takes in that information and creates a comparison to our own lives. 

Reflections on personal achievements—or setbacks—add another layer of stress. As a business owner, I feel so much pressure to perform and it can be disappointing when I realize the year is over and I don't feel like I've met my goals or that I'm where I should be. This can lead to increased feelings of stress and my ability to concentrate goes downhill.

Family stress increases to as we prepare to spend more time (or not) with family. We might be missing a loved one who is no longer here to celebrate or dealing with a difficult divorce. Family dynamics can take up so much extra brain space making it hard to concentrate on anything else.

Acknowledging these emotional hurdles helps maintain my mental health amid the yearend stress. I also like to remind myself that the end of the year and the beginning of the year are arbitrary goalposts. I can start and reach goals on my own timeline.   

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Brain chemistry and Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as the winter blues, can also make it hard to focus.

This mood disorder affects many people when the days get shorter and colder, causing symptoms like fatigue, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating.

You can face these challenges head-on by talking to a therapist, making sure you are getting outside during the day or using a light lamp, and sticking to your routine.

With each day getting closer to the Winter solstice, make sure to prioritize self-care while keeping an eye out for symptoms so they don't derail your focus completely. 

Tips for Staying Focused During December

At the end of the year, staying on target with your goals requires a strategic approach. Carve out time to prioritize tasks, ensuring high-priority items top your list.

Embrace brief interludes of rest and self-care. I always remind clients that rest is not laziness, it is an investment in "future you!" And remember, setting towering expectations is a recipe for disaster—aim for attainable objectives that keep motivation intact.

Prioritize and organize your tasks

Last week my to-do list was in chaos. To stay on top of things, I've found that making a clear priority list is key. I jot down all the tasks and deadlines looming over me and start with what's most critical or time-sensitive (Trello is my favorite tool for this).

It’s not just about identifying the big projects; it's also breaking them down into smaller steps that feel more manageable. This way, every day I can tackle bite-sized pieces without feeling overwhelmed. Organizing my workspace goes hand in hand with organizing my tasks. Keeping a clean desk helps me maintain concentration. 

And while managing work during the holiday season can be tough, these little strategies keep my productivity steady.

Set realistic goals and expectations

It's also important to be realistic about what you can actually accomplish before the new year. Setting goals that are too ambitious can lead us down a path of frustration and burnout.

I've learned over the years that establishing achievable objectives gives me a sense of control amidst chaos.

It’s about finding balance; aim for progress rather than perfection. I break my tasks into smaller, manageable actions that align with daily realities rather than overcommitting to big projects.

This approach not only keeps stress levels in check but also provides room for those unforeseen holiday delights or bumps that inevitably pop up this time of year. By setting sights on what's truly important and realistic, maintaining concentration during these winter months becomes less daunting and more doable.

Take breaks and practice self-care

In the hustle of December, make sure to hit pause. Taking breaks isn't just nice; it's necessary for handling holiday busyness. Step away from your desk, take a short walk, or spend some time on a hobby that relaxes you.

These moments help you recharge and tackle tasks with fresh energy.

Also, be kind to yourself and give yourself grace when things don't get done. End-of-the-year burnout is real, and you can avoid it by investing in your self-care.


December brings a unique challenge to our focus. The holiday hustle, emotional roller coasters, and dip in daylight stir up a perfect storm for distraction.

Arm yourself with strategies like prioritization and breaks to navigate this time. It’s alright if this month feels tougher on your concentration— you’re definitely not alone in that boat.

Keep your goals grounded and give yourself some grace as the year winds down.

Anne Rice, LPC, LMHC, CPCS

About the author

Anne is a licensed therapist in both New York and Georgia. She is the owner of Firefly Wellness Counseling located in the Atlanta area. Her team works with all members of the family struggling with anxiety, depression, and big life changes. Anne loves helping adults and teens navigate life's difficulties by creating a comfortable and safe place to share anything and everything that is on their minds. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Princeton University and her graduate degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston College.


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