Whether you're in the office or working from home, this can be the most productive week of the year--the phone's not ringing, your workload is lighter, and you can actually hear yourself think.

But, because the pressure is off, it's easy to squander the last three days of the year. You pop out to the mall to use that gift card. Order a drink at lunch. Make a lazy circuit of the floor, chatting with colleagues along the way about holiday gifts and the Kardashians and the pitcher the Yankees signed. Oops, it's 5:30! Time to go home ...

Instead of wasting the remaining hours of 2015, put them to work--to get ready for a productive new year. Here are 16 ways to do so:

  1. Dedicate at least an hour each day to planning. Set a strategy for January, the first quarter, or even the entire year.
  2. Write five thinking-of-you notes to reconnect with people who matter. These can be emails or--even better--handwritten notes. You may not want to send them until next week, but get them ready to go.
  3. Mercilessly recycle papers. I can't stop myself from looking at every one, but it's faster to toss whole piles (and files) in the shredder (especially since most belong there, anyway).
  4. Ask a colleague for advice. You've been meaning to think about that tough problem, but it's even better to get a fresh perspective.
  5. Unsubscribe to email alerts you don't find relevant or useful. I somehow got on an IT management list and kept deleting emails over and over. Instead of managing the clutter, eliminate it.
  6. Read three articles you've clipped or bookmarked. You flagged them for a reason--now invest a couple of hours in learning about topics you care about.
  7. Speaking of development, take that online course your company (or boss) requires. Cross it off your list now, since you won't have time once January starts.
  8. Tackle one task you've been avoiding. I owe someone feedback on a draft, and I'm going to get to it right after I finish writing this. (Honest!)
  9. Regift things you don't need or won't use. I found myself with three 2016 wall calendars (and only one wall). So I stuck a Post-it that reads "Free to a good home" on the two I don't want and left them in the lunchroom.
  10. Get tech help. Assuming the help desk is up and running, it's a slow week for requests. Solve that software problem that's been slowing you down.
  11. Remove contacts from your address book. If you haven't connected in a year or two, you probably won't. So lighten the load.
  12. Decide on one book you will definitely read during the first quarter. Don't start it now--you don't want to use all your time--but stage it to start January 2.
  13. Donate 10 books you've been meaning to read but probably won't. (If you're a devoted e-reader, send them back to the cloud.) They're just weighing you down, not lifting you up.
  14. Delete more emails than you can ever imagine. Start by getting rid of everything old. Then trash irrelevant threads. Sort by contact and delete useless messages. Make it a game to see how low you can go.
  15. Make appointments with yourself in January. Block out time for thinking, planning, writing--whatever is important, but usually gets subsumed by urgent tasks.
  16. Start the year with a clean desk. The desired end state: not one sheet of paper.

Bonus: Play a few games of Heads Up! You're not goofing off, just bonding with your colleagues. (Just don't spend the whole afternoon doing it.)

Best wishes for a productive and successful New Year!

Published on: Dec 29, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.