Every year during the month of December I tend to take on less projects. Not that I cannot find the work; for example, just in the past few days I have had to turn down a few shoots the week of Christmas. This is a personal choice I’ve made every year for the past few years as I make myself available to my clients and what they need pretty much non-stop the rest of the year. It is the time of year I choose to disconnect, unwind, unplug and focus all my energy into my family and friends.

I am not alone in this decision. A lot of people (particularly those reading this) tend to take a bit of time off during the holiday season.

A complication that we sometimes face is that when the holiday season is over we can feel unfocused or unsure how to take that first step to get back on track.

Here are some techniques I’ve developed over the years to not lose that focus during the downtime, or if we do, to be able to get that first step back in without pause.

1. Step away from everything
One of the things that has worked very well for me is to make sure that I completely separated from my work for a period of time. For me it only takes a few days; for others they may want longer. By separating from everything, I mean that I do not check my phone, I do not check my e-mail, my social media channels and so on. In fact, I don’t even keep my computer anywhere near me. That step back, for me, offers two benefits. First it allows an amazing recharging of the batteries. Second (and just as important) is that it allows me to take a step back and I get a completely fresh perspective and view of my business, my goals and my direction. Often times when we are so busy and in the thick of things, it is hard to take that step back to see things clearly. When I reach that ability to see things clearly I can move onto my next step.

2. Reflect and set the main goal
At that point I start to imagine where I want to be a year from that moment. I do not yet open my computer. I simply will sit there and thing. Eventually I’ll grab a pen and a paper and begin to take some notes now that I have stepped back and see things clearly. I record notes on what I think went very well in the past year, I then write down what I think could have gone a lot better. I set the biggest goals for the upcoming year. What will my life, my business be like by this time next year?

3. Set specific goals and milestones
Now I can take out my computer. Surprisingly when I log on and check my e-mail and social media accounts the world did not end and everything is moving on normally since I went unplugged. But I am not on my computer to get buried in work – not yet. I will stay focused on setting goals and milestones for the upcoming year. I may e-mail some clients of mine to ask them for their feedback on what they liked about working with me, or what could be improved. I then pull that feedback into my own brainstorms. I then chart out very specific goals that I want to achieve in the coming year. I force myself to put as many details as I can so I can measure my efforts. For example, I don’t say I want to shoot a bunch of fitness magazine covers. I will write something like “Photograph 30 magazine covers, at least 50% in the health and fitness industry and 5 must be national or international publications.” Then I give myself a date that I want to complete this by. When I finish writing out all the goals, there could be anywhere between 30 and 50 goals I’ve set for myself and my work. Not every goal is big and not every goal will be completed. But each one has a specific metric as well as an estimated deadline.

4. Develop an action list
Once I have my set of goals, I now have a list of estimated deadlines. From this I can work backwards to develop a list of action items that need to be taken to get me closer to achieving these goals. One of my goals in 2013 was to develop a post photo shoot form I could hand out to my clients. So what actions did I need to take on that? Design it for one. Write the content for it. Get it printed. One of my other goals was to write for four separate external media outlets. So the action item was to first target which media outlets, then to pitch content to those outlets.

I’ve found that these four steps has helped me immensely in stepping away to recharge and be able to see my work with great clarity. Once I can do that I can set overall themes and goals for the coming year, which I can transition into specific goals and milestones that I can then turn into my action item list.

Once that action item list is ready, there is no question about what the next step is. I have a list of next steps and since my batteries are recharged I am energized and excited to get started.

Hopefully this process which has worked well with me can assist you in not only enjoying the holidays, but approaching the new year with a reinvigorated energy and focus.

James Patrick
Instagram @jpatrickphoto
Twitter @jpphotography