How’s Your Holiday Bandwidth?

What’s your best guess? Will you…

  1. Glide through the holidays with tidings of comfort and joy?
  2. March through the holidays, bearing gifts and traveling afar?
  3. Muddle through the holidays, trying not to echo Scrooge with a “Bah, humbug!”?
  4. Struggle through the holidays, exhausted, longing for a long winter’s nap, void of any jolly feelings?

If you didn’t answer 1), take a few minutes to read on for some research-based tips on ensuring you have the brain energy and bandwidth to enjoy whatever the holidays bring.

What is Bandwidth?

My colleague Ann Holm and I began our research on bandwidth in 2015 when our coachees in a leadership development program constantly complained about being too busy. We developed a quick quiz on what our brains need to be energized, effective, efficient, and engaged. We had so much success using this as a tool to help them rethink their ways of working that we researched and validated what is now our Brain Energy and Bandwidth survey.

You see, your prefrontal cortex gobbles tons of energy, tapping the same “bucket” for being patient…

…roasting those chestnuts on the open fire and the gingerbread in the oven
…staying on task
…making wise food choices
…getting to the gym
…listening attentively to Aunt Grizelda,
…and more

Use your bandwidth for one task and you won’t have it for others. You can increase the amount of fuel by developing better strategies and habits, but remember that stress and exhaustion deplete it no matter how much you usually have.

How about having as much bandwidth as possible for the holidays by taking our survey and working on one or two bandwidth-boosting strategies?

Blameless Discernment: The Start of Bandwidth

Here’s a link to our public survey.


Please don’t answer it with the attitude of, “What am I doing wrong?” but rather, “What is simply true about life right now?”

Then, to get the most out of the survey, look at your results with “blameless discernment.” Simply be objectively curious about your results. Give equal consideration to how your own habits, the norms of your family or workplace, and current circumstances may affect how you answered the questions. This unemotional objectivity is the best way to pinpoint one or two steps you might take over the holidays to be the person you want to be and stay healthy, patient, and even fulfilled.

In looking at your results, choose just one of the six areas to set a few action steps for the holidays to ensure you have enough energy. Then, skim below to find my top tip for your category.

The Six Keys to Bandwidth

The survey questions are categorized by the six areas our research showed contribute to overall bandwidth. Which might you work on for quick results? Where are the “low hanging fruit” to bring you comfort and joy? Here are some suggestions tied to the holidays.

  1. Balancing Priorities. You can’t do it all, so make sure you’re choosing activities you and those you love find meaningful. For example, when our children were young, we simply asked what was most important. Besides the big cousin gathering, they wanted to see Santa and make a gingerbread house. Easy peasy. No going to light displays or holiday shows. And, the gingerbread house had four simple walls, a roof frosted with melted white chocolate chips. No Martha Stewart arrangement of candies, but rather a cacophony of sweets as only two preschoolers could create—an edible centerpiece they devoured the next day with their cousins.
  2. Filtering Possibilities. Beware the endless internet search or mall-traipsing for the perfect gift. Why not for example limit looking for the perfect book to gift at a local bookstore you’d like to support? You can bet an employee can answer, “What would my four-year-old nephew who likes hockey and playing drums like to read?” Or, set a holiday menu for one key meal and use it year after year. My brothers and I (and all our adult children) don’t call it Christmas if ham and cheesy potatoes aren’t on the table. Save searching recipes for a saner time of year.
  3. Focus Your Attention. Do you struggle to focus on the music you’re hearing, the story your child is telling about an underwater helicopter, the holiday story you’re reading, the recipe you’re supposed to be doubling? You aren’t alone. Try increasing your focus by, for example, reading A Christmas Carol or A Christmas Story or North to the Pole for at least 20 minutes (or maybe start with 10!) without checking email or looking at your watch. Set a timer. Enjoy the moment!
  4. Fuel Your Brain. Yep, exercise, sleep and diet will all influence your bandwidth. But keep that blameless discernment going. To start with, dismiss any guilt at the thought of napping. There’d be so much more peace on earth and good will toward all if we took power naps when that foggy feeling comes over us. Again, set a timer for 20 minutes so you don’t get groggy. My children understood, “Mommy will be so much happier if you let me sleep for just 20 minutes.” Try it.
  5. Stay Connected. This category is simple but powerful. Devices away when you’re with people you care about. Conscious use of devices at other times only in ways that bring peace or fulfilling engagement. Did you know mobile phones are now classified as adult comfort objects, much like Linus’s blanket in A Charlie Brown Christmas? How often do you mindlessly reach for yours? Thinking of it as a pacifier might make you find a different way to spend your time and attention!
  6. Make Time Work For You. You can’t make more time!!! One top tip for making time work better is to build slack into the holiday schedule. Don’t fill the schedule to the max; be realistic. For example, if it often takes 20 minutes to get to Grandma’s, allow 30 minutes so you arrive calm and smiling. If the cookies are supposed to take an hour to mix, roll, and decorate, allow 90 minutes. If your children are involved, you’ll probably need that extra half hour to sweep up the choco-jimmies and colored sugar.

Reclaiming Your Energy, Passion and Time

I could share so many more ideas—in fact, Ann and I have a whole book coming out in 2022 on Educator Bandwidth (ASCD). But I don’t want to overwhelm you. Choose one or two of the above, set an action step, perhaps find a partner to hold each other accountable in following through, and enjoy that extra energy in the next weeks. Think of increasing your bandwidth as a gift you’re giving to those you love the most. They’ll appreciate a calmer and brighter holiday you!

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Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.