In sports, the fourth quarter is when you put in an extra effort to win.  In the business world, we often see the opposite. The fourth quarter of the year is when we peter out and run out the clock. The holidays hit and the next thing we know it's the first quarter of the new year. 

The net effect is we lose momentum. When January comes, we feel like we have to start all over again. At the same time, as an owner or manager you don't want to come down too hard on your employees during the holidays. 

Is it possible to navigate the fourth quarter in a way that keeps employees happy and maintains momentum? I've found that there is. 

Following these five guidelines will get you through the holidays without missing a beat:

1. Load up on meetings in October. 

In October, the holidays haven't hit yet and the end of the year is in sight. 

From past experience, we can assume that November and December could be less than optimum months for getting the attention of your prospects or customers, so the solution is to push hard and set up a extra meetings in October. Start strategizing in September if you can to load up the calendar and plan ahead.

2. Use the holidays to reach out to contacts. 

The holidays are a warm and fuzzy time of year when your contacts will be up for a personal connection. 

Don't use this time to talk business but rather express gratitude for their support during the past year. Send gifts, take them out to lunch and build a personal connection.

3. Change your mindset. 

Avoid viewing the fourth quarter as a throwaway time. Instead, you can close deals while your competitors are taking it easy. 

This doesn't mean that you should be pitching on Christmas day, but don't assume that any time during the holidays -- even that slow week between Christmas and New Year's -- is a completely dead time. You might be surprised to find that other people are around too and they're looking to do some business or at the very least, are open to connecting and getting you on their calendar for January. 

4. Plant your seeds. 

It takes weeks to fill a pipeline. As sales guru Jeb Blount notes, there is a 30-day rule that dictates the prospecting you do during a 30-day period will pay off for the next 90 days. 

If you take December off, then it will bite you back in March. Most sales slumps come from violating this rule.

5. Plan for the new year. 

When things slow down, you also have an unprecedented opportunity to plan for the new year. 

Since you have extra time, ask yourself the deep questions like, What are we trying to achieve? What worked last year and what didn't work? Do I want to get bigger or just be more efficient and happier at my current size? What are my goals for next year? You can also take the opportunity to do more specific logistics planning. 

No matter what you do, that first day back in the office in January is always going to be slow going. Give everyone a week or so to shake off the holidays and by the second week of January you should be back in action. 

If  you make a real effort to maximize your time in the fourth quarter, that transition will be smoother. Think of your fourth quarter activity as a present to yourself that you will appreciate throughout the year.