The end of the calendar year offers a singular opportunity for dedicated reflection, gratitude, and downtime. But for busy creatives, even reflection, gratitude, and downtime require thoughtful planning.
Ritualizing these practices is the key to their success: like holiday traditions, year-end habits are annual commitments to ourselves and the people around us. They evolve as we evolve. And in an era of unprecedented burnout, they give us a rare pause for real examination.
We asked some of our favorite creatives to let us in on their December rituals from self-evaluation to file organization to team celebrations. Whether you’re perfecting your own rituals or just starting to establish your habits, their practices are a cheat sheet to winding down the year that was and gearing up for the one ahead.
“I try to save a vacation day or two to process.”
Youngna Park, Executive Product Director, NYT Parenting
“December is always a buzz of celebrations, reflection, and lots and lots of planning for the next year. At NYT Parenting, we are in the midst of setting our goals both for the first quarter of 2020, as well as looking big picture at what we want to accomplish in the year.
“Formally, the New York Times has all employees do self reviews, then each person is also reviewed by peers who they’ve worked with closely during the year. As a product team, we also review and score ourselves on OKRs. More informally, I try and check in with myself: how am I feeling about what my team and I accomplished this year? I have a lot of aspirational goals about work/life balance, my role as a parent, and pursuing creativity outside of my job that are part of my personal self-reflection. I try to save a vacation day or two [in] December to process all this.
“The NYT Parenting team is celebrating the end of the year with a family-style dinner. We have a fair number of remote employees, so most of them are coming to town to celebrate with us, a rare chance to all be in the same room. Our department also does a fun year-end party and we have a ‘Best of 2019’ highlights reel meeting to cap the year off in work.”
“I’m very much looking forward to unplugging.”
Irene Pereya, Co-founder/Designer, Anton & Irene
“December is usually: Wrapping up projects, setting up new projects, getting paperwork sorted, and having our studio Christmas dinner and party. Dinner is just with the studio, and the drinking and dancing is for our extended friends and family as well.
“We do one new conference talk a year, so that time really allows us to look back on the previous year and see what some of the highlights and low points were that we can share with others.
“Our whole studio takes two weeks off. We just leave. Go somewhere for vacation. Turn off all our devices, don’t answer any calls or emails. As for me, I will be traveling around China. I’m very much looking forward to unplugging and being somewhere completely different. I feel most relaxed in unfamiliar surroundings. Then when I get back to work in January I am completely refreshed.”
“No professional process or ritual should be happening only because, ‘It’s how we’ve always done this.’”
Jess Freaner, Data Scientist & Senior Design Lead, IDEO
“December at IDEO is a mix of planning for the year ahead, holiday cheer, travel, a few surprise client projects because of end-of-year budget surpluses, baked goods, a mad dash to submit all lingering expenses, and very strong sweater game. We evaluate ourselves based on the IDEO values, a framework we use to define professional development, and how we’ve measured up to the objectives we set for ourselves. Currently, we’re piloting a new tool to standardize how we capture feedback in a more consistent way across our global organization. It’s a work in progress, but a great example of how no professional process or ritual should be happening only because, ‘It’s how we’ve always done this.’
“I also go through a process of ‘winter cleaning’ my physical and digital workspaces to silence lingering mental noise. One tactic that seems to be standing the test of time is the use of three very special folders on my desktop called ‘the_past,’ ‘the_now,’ and ‘the_future.’ The past is an archive of past work and memories I’d like at my fingertips. The now is a repository of resources I continue to turn to most frequently. And the future is inspiration I gather and things I’d like to learn. The end of the year is a nice time to clean out, reevaluate, and shuffle these around.”
“IDEO’s moments of gathering continue to evolve as we strive to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of the community. These are moments to show appreciation for each other, celebrate the hard work that can sometimes fall under the radar, and acknowledge creative excellence. Along the way, we also sprinkle in smaller opportunities to connect and share our passions and gratitude with the community. A new tradition started this year is the #BYGI (Bring Your Gratitude In) effort. When put in difficult, uncomfortable, and less resourced situations, it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate what others do to alleviate discomfort, and bring joy to the office. We started giving #BYGI cards to each other to acknowledge small gestures and huge efforts alike. I imagine some version of this newest tradition will stick around for a while.”
“Everything happens in December.”
Christina Amini, Executive Publishing Director, Chronicle Books
“As a publisher, we sell the greatest number of books and gift products in the last month of the year. At the same time, the creative teams are hustling to send out our files for our books for the following year before the end of the year. Everything happens in December. It’s a lot of output in a short amount of time.
“I keep a ‘good file,’ where I stash away the highlights of the year as they happen: emails of appreciation, awards, team celebrations. At the end of the year, it’s a way for me to celebrate the successes. For the last five years, my colleague Bridget Watson Payne and I have each chosen a Word of the Year. For each of us, the word (e.g. Joy, Love, Tenacity) emerges as the one to focus on. It can be a word to inspire, direct decisions, or just give an aura to the year ahead.
“I prioritize all the lovely traditions: Friendsgiving, an annual latke party, Christmas with my large family (I have five sisters!), New Year’s Eve Cooking Club. It’s been a long Chronicle Editorial Team tradition to host a white elephant of sorts. This is a clever and creative team, which means the gift exchange is hilarious and very competitive.”
“The end of the year is about closing chapters.”
Reggie Black, Multimedia Artist, Designer & Principal, All Things Progressive
“The theme of every year is captured in one word. The word dictates the direction of what’s to come. The framework of my brand and client work is centered around it too.
“Every year, I refer to the Muji notebook (always Muji) that I set intentions, goals, and objectives in at the beginning of the year. The ritual starts with a gratitude list and outlining all of my accomplishments. Celebrating what I’ve achieved allows me to create moments of appreciation and pause. With goals I did not accomplish, I examine why, what went wrong, how can I improve, and what ways I can incorporate those things into the upcoming year. I think oftentimes as designers, as well as entrepreneurs, we gravitate towards assessing areas of improvement. It’s the nature of the industry and creative evolution. I try not to beat myself up about falling short, since it’s how we continue to learn and grow.
“Acknowledging the end of the year for me is about closing chapters. My objective is to always purge clients, work, projects, ideas, and people from my life that no longer serve the direction I want to go. Closing chapters is a powerful act for progression.
“It’s a time to slow down, reflect, and spend time lots of time with family and friends. Slowing down and reflecting helps me appreciate the current moment. Spending time with family and friends reminds me of what the core and purpose of everything is all about. It grants me the space needed to intentionally refuel. It’s also a great time to express my sincere gratitude to clients, supporters, and collectors of my work.”
- Tie up loose ends; bring projects to a close and tidy your physical and digital workspaces so you can take a true pause over the holidays and enter the new year feeling refreshed and ready
- Celebrate successes: make time to celebrate your personal or collective achievements from the year, whether by writing them down or announcing them at a gathering with colleagues
- Practice gratitude: find ways to thank your team, collaborators, clients, and supporters
- Step away from work: schedule dedicated days (or weeks) for decompression and reflection, and to spend quality time with loved ones
- Set an intention for next year: consider choosing a word as a theme for the year ahead, or map out your professional and personal goals