Let’s begin 2022 with a roundabout optimistic thought: Is the first week of a new year the most difficult work week of any given year? I suppose, however, before we answer that question we have to define “difficult,” don’t we? Because this will almost assuredly not be the most difficult work week of the year if we are simply judging the tasks to be performed, right? I mean, for tax professionals the week leading up to April 15 is probably the most difficult work week as far as workload. For delivery drivers it’s probably the week leading up to Christmas. And for most other folks the most difficult week of the year as far as workload will happen one of the other 51 weeks of the year, so we can’t be basing this just on workload.
But then there’s production. That can make work difficult. In fact, we’ve already discussed how the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Years is the least productive time of the year because of the hectic nature of the holidays. It can be difficult to get things done in that stretch because of people being on vacation, offices having irregular hours, government offices being closed, the mail being slow, and generally having the holiday season wreck havoc on professional schedules. That said, that time of year generally has a little bit less workload for most professions, so it’s probably not as awful as it could be.
Finally, there’s motivation. There are some times when it’s difficult to be motivated to put in the effort at work. The Monday after a holiday, the Friday before a holiday, the days right before you take some vacation time, etc. But those are less regular because the lack of motivation typically comes in days and not weeks, and generally will be different for everyone because of people taking vacations and having other life events that drain workplace motivation at different times of the year.
But those three factors: workload, production, and motivation, can all add up to create a difficult work week. With that in mind, let’s look at the first work week of the year.
Not with a Bang but a Whimper
This is how the work year begins, this is how the work year begins, this is how the work year begins, not with a bang but a whimper. T.S. Eliot’s original poem was talking about the end of the world, figuratively and possibly literally, but I’m going to commandeer his words for this cheap bit of schtick for one blog post that not too many people will even read.
The work year begins, in some senses, with a bang. Typically there are a lot of people playing catch-up after the holidays. Reports need to be made, time sheets reconciled, passwords updated, emails returned, new company policies implemented, end of the year accountings compiles, beginning of the year invoices to be sent out (or paid), there’s normally some weird company meeting that has to take place, and finally there’s the hundreds of times you have to say, “we had a great Christmas. No, we just stayed in for New Years. Yeah, it was awesome. How were your holidays?”
And all of that is in addition to your normal workload. You still have whatever your normal work duties are, plus all the new stuff, end of year stuff, beginning of year stuff, and innocuous conversation. That means you have a lot of work to do, which in some ways means the work year starts off with a bang.
But then there are the other two factors: motivation and productivity. Regarding motivation, I think you’d be hard pressed to find that many people who are really motivated to be back at work the first week of a new year. Many people end up getting two consecutive long weekends because of Christmas and New Years, and it can be difficult to come back to a forty-hour week after two straight thirty-hour weeks. Plus, knowing how much crap you’ll have to do and how many phony conversations you’ll have to have, it’s tough to get really excited about the first week of the year.
Then there’s productivity. It sounds like you have a heavy workload, which you do, but how much of that work is really productive? What with all the extra stuff (new company policies, administrative tasks, returning emails, and having the same Christmas conversation 11,000 times), it’s difficult to actually do your real job.
I’ll give you a prime example. In January 2019 I had been a lawyer for just over a year. I had begun at the firm I worked for in December 2017, and by December 2018 I almost felt like I knew what I was doing, and by January 2019 I was at least treated like I knew what I was doing. So the first week of 2019 I was pretty much left to my own devices, but that meant returning a million emails, following up with clients to say I hope they had a happy holiday and remind them that their deposition was next week, answering questionnaires for the firm’s malpractice insurance policy renewal, getting all of my December 2018 time finalized so that it could be compiled, edited, and sent out for payment, going over the newest firm policies that were going into effect, attending several meetings that could have been emails, and, of course, catching up with everyone and hearing about what everyone did for Christmas. It was at least three or four full days into the new year before I really began doing what I was hired to do—practice law.
So that’s what the first week of the year is: busy but not especially productive. Busy, unproductive, and unaided by the complete lack of motivation that everyone has for being at work. While the business makes the year seem like it’s starting off with a bang, in fact the lack of productivity and desire to be there means the year begins with a whimper.
Because of that, this is the worst work week of the year.
Caveats and Additional Thoughts
Of course, there are a few exceptions. If you’re a teacher, for example, the worst work week of the year is probably the first full week kids are back after summer break, coincidentally for the exact same reasons this week is the worst work week for most other people.
There are also some caveats: Sometimes there will be some unforeseeable event that will make a different week of the year the worst work week for someone. If there is a natural disaster, or maybe your company gets hit with a ransomware attack, or some other emergency comes up, then the week that everyone deals with that will probably be the worst work week of the year. My position of the first week being the worst week is a position that can only be held in a vacuum; there is no truly hard and fast rule, because all such rules have exceptions, and those exceptions have exceptions, and it gets reduced to absurdity if you try and make anything absolute.
Additionally, if you know that this week will likely be terrible, it’s less likely to seem terrible. So that’s another caveat: be optimistic and my theory might just be proven incredibly wrong.
There’s also the adage about time healing all wounds. Of course I’m not trying to be that dramatic about a busy work week, but on a smaller scale, it’s true. Even if this week is terrible, in the next couple of weeks you’ll get back in your rhythm and everything will seem normal again. In fact, in no time you’ll be thinking how nice it will be to take a few days off around Christmas.
But for now, please enjoy the new year and the new week and all that other stuff. Go out and make 2022 the best it can be considering whatever your circumstances are. For a long time I was mostly pessimistic about new years, change, and personal growth, especially in the Age of Covid. But I’m trying this optimism thing out, and it turns out that it’s pretty cool. I might end up disappointed, but until then things seem pretty nice, and that’s something we should all appreciate.