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Student Insights

10 ways to spend the holidays

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Nov 2023

young woman knitted grey beanie hat cream jumper sweater mug hot drink book wood logs winter holiday

Looking ahead to the festive season? Here’s how you can recharge and reset for the coming year.

1. Rest and recover

It’s a familiar story: you finally get some time off after a busy few weeks or months and you’re instantly hit by a cold, flu or migraine. One theory is that transitioning quickly from a period of adrenaline-fuelled stress into inactivity can throw your hormones off balance, weakening your immune system and making you more susceptible to infection – known as the ‘let-down effect’. Or perhaps you’ve just been so busy that you’ve ignored the signs of impending illness. Whatever the cause, listen to your body. 

2. Switch off properly

When you have time off, make sure it is just that: set your out of office, put away your laptop and silence work notifications on your phone. If you find that thoughts and worries about tasks are constantly intruding – that email you forgot to send before you left, or the big report you need to finish when you get back – then try a quick ‘brain dump’. Spending five minutes getting all those work thoughts out of your head and onto paper can help free up brain space and enable you to enjoy your time off.

3. Clear the decks

Decluttering is a great end-of-year activity, helping you start the New Year feeling a little calmer and more focused. First, tackle your physical workspace, organising your desk and getting rid of any out-of-date paperwork. Then deal with the digital clutter: spend a few spare minutes here and there deleting old emails, duplicate photos and unused apps and switching off unnecessary notifications – all of which will free up storage and help speed up your phone, as well as reducing your digital carbon footprint. 

4. Put key dates in the diary

Download the 2024 ACA, Level 7 or Level 4 planner and make sure all the relevant exam dates and deadlines are in your calendar, along with any study leave. You can sit ICAEW CFAB/Certificate Level exams any time, so think about scheduling them in if you haven’t already. If you’ve got Professional Level exams coming up in March, now’s a great time to create a revision timetable, taking the ‘little and often’ approach of an hour or two a day. Make use of the ACA and ICAEW CFAB exam resources, which include the updated 2024 syllabus, and bookmark the exam systems status page for any updates that may affect you.

5. Book holiday

It’s no surprise that people plan foreign travel in the cold winter months, with the first day off after the New Year return to work – known as ‘Sunshine Saturday’ – traditionally the busiest booking day in the UK. Having a holiday to look forward to can really keep you going, particularly when it feels like a well-earned reward for hard work. Even if you’re not planning a big trip next year, make sure you schedule in some time off every few months, especially when work is a little quieter or exams are out of the way.

6. Reflect on the year

When we’re focused on climbing the mountain ahead, we sometimes forget to stop and look back to see how far we’ve come. Do some year-end accounting of your own, taking time to reflect on your experiences over the past 12 months. Did you set goals for the year and, if so, did you achieve them? Think about the different areas of your life – this might include your career, studies, health and wellbeing, and your personal life. What went well – and is it something you can do more of next year? What didn’t go quite according to plan – and what did you learn from the experience? Then use this to inform your priorities going forward.

7. Set micro goals for next year

If you’re the sort of person who likes making New Year’s resolutions, then make them SMART ones: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound (read more about the golden rules of goal setting). Perhaps the most important of those is ‘attainable’ – whatever your goals, big or small, serious or fun, they should be achievable and sustainable for you. If you’re not currently exercising regularly, for example, then you’re unlikely to suddenly manage five gym visits a week from 1 January – start with one or two, and build up from there. Above all, be kind to yourself – if you fail to stick to your resolutions, don’t beat yourself up.

8. Get outside

One goal that’s definitely worth aiming for is spending more time outside. A daily dose of daylight can help make a real difference to your mood, sleep and immune health. If you’re someone who feels the effects of seasonal affective disorder, then it might be worth investing in a lightbox to simulate exposure to sunlight, or a dawn simulator to help wake you naturally in the mornings.

9. Stay on track

Another key to achieving your goals is to break down big objectives into smaller milestones, and to monitor your progress regularly – which is why the ACA training is broken down into six-month periods with a review at the end of each. Make sure your next six-monthly review meeting is in the diary, and that your online training file is up to date. This is a great opportunity to gather any professional development examples, work through some Ethics in Practice scenarios, or get up to date with your Ethics Learning Programme if you haven’t already completed it.

10. Prepare for busy season

For many accountants, January to April is the busiest time of the year, so it’s important to set yourself up well. Sleep, exercise and diet are the three pillars of physical and mental health, but they’re often the first to fall by the wayside when we’re busy with work or revision. Try to get them on track now, and set good habits before January rolls around. Socialising often ends up taking a back seat in busy periods too, so make the most of the opportunity to spend time with friends and family over the festive break – and try to schedule in some fun and relaxation over the next few months too.

Warm where you are? Read our guide on how to spend the summer months.

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