By Laura Stack
When was the last time you had a really relaxing holiday? I don’t mean that peaceful 30-minute aftermath that follows a successful dinner party or the kids’ gift-opening extravaganza. I mean a holiday that is relaxing, from beginning to end. That includes travel, dinner preparations and shopping. All it will take is a little organization and advance planning. Here are some tips to get you started.
Make a budget. Unless you’ve got more money that you know what to do with, it is easy for the holiday season to turn into a financial headache. Much of that stress can be eliminated by thinking ahead and making a budget. Financial sanity doesn’t come from having a ton of money; it comes from spending it wisely.
Decide how much you’re going to spend and stick to it. Letting yourself creep over your budget probably isn’t going to make you a hero in the gift department, but it might cost you a gray hair or two when it comes time to sort out the holiday bills. How many times have you charged expensive items and spent five months paying for them? See if you can break tradition this year by drawing names or just sending cards. Tell the people you’re not buying for that you’ve pared down your gift list out of necessity and ask them not to buy for you as well.
Avoid the shopping marathon. Unless you really do enjoy the “shop ‘til you drop” marathon mall sessions, skip the all-day shopping trips. If you start now (or better yet, six months ago), you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done by picking up an item here and there while you’re running your everyday errands. The secret is to sit down, make a list of the people you need to shop for and keep it with you.
Ideally, your list will include one or two gift options for each person, too. Keep your list with you and cross off a few people every week. Also keep your eye out for stocking stuffers and similar small items.
Wrap as you go. Don’t put all of your wrapping off until the last minute. As you pick things up, go ahead and wrap them as soon as you get a chance. Wrap a couple extras for a guest who shows up unexpectedly and gives you a gift. It helps to have a dedicated wrapping area cornered off that is well-stocked with all the essentials — wrapping paper, scissors, gift tags, tape, etc. The easier you make it for yourself, the more likely you are to get it done.
Make friends with the Internet. More and more shoppers are finally taking the plunge and skipping the traditional brick-and-mortar stores completely. Internet shopping has come a long way, and you might be surprised at how simple it has gotten. You can compare prices and find good deals on shipping that will guarantee arrival in plenty of time for the big day.
Play your cards right. Many people take one look at that mound of Christmas cards and suddenly think of three or four other things that require their attention. We love getting cards but hate the prospect of doing ours. So we procrastinate and pull another 2 a.m. shift to get them in the mail by Christmas. Breaking the project down into smaller pieces makes it seem more manageable. You can even begin now!
The first thing I do is create the labels. Second, I stick them on the envelopes with a return address label and stamp. Next, I write the family newsletter and get it copied. Finally, I set up an assembly line: (a) add a salutation to the card such as “Dearest X Family,” (b) sign our names, (c) enclose the newsletter and a picture, and (d) seal the envelope with a sticker. No licking for me! If you prefer to hand-write your cards, the trick is to write five each day, starting the day after Thanksgiving. Take some with you wherever you go, in case you find some free time: at the doctor’s office, waiting for a meeting to begin or picking your child up from a lesson.
Cheat. Unless you really enjoy preparing mass quantities of food from scratch, there’s no reason not to take advantage of a short-cut or two. Particularly when it comes to the dessert menu, there are plenty of quick and easy mixes that can help you shave some serious time off of your meal preparation schedule. Just go to the grocery store and find a few easy-to-make offerings or buy something from the deli. For a special touch you can dress your desserts with extra holiday sprinkles or a squiggle of chocolate sauce across the plate for a very restaurant-looking presentation.
Give yourself the gift of time. How about purchasing a few months of housekeeping instead of clothes? Purchase a gift certificate to a restaurant so you don’t have to cook. Have the veterinarian groom your dog instead of doing it yourself, being soaked and making a mess. Buy a book on tape to listen to in the car on the way to work. Hire a teenager to do the major cleaning required before house guests arrive.
Remember your priorities. Take shortcuts where it really doesn’t matter: Buy cookies instead of baking them or barter a task you don’t like for one you do. I know two women who trade chores at holiday time. One hates to bake; the other hates to do crafts. So one woman decorates the other’s home and wraps her presents beautifully; the other does the meal preparation and holiday baking! Cut out as many social engagements as possible if you want more family time — you can’t go to a school musical when it’s more convenient. Kids appreciate happy and relaxed parents more than perfect decorations.
Get moving! However you choose to get a head start on the holiday season, you won’t regret putting in the extra effort early on. Keep yourself motivated by thinking about how nice it will be to cruise through the end of December stress-free and full of holiday spirit. You might make a date with yourself to visit the mall on the last weekend before Christmas — just so you can observe the mayhem you successfully avoided by being so productive!
Make it a productive day! ™
Do you have hassle-free holiday tips of your own? Share your traditions with us by commenting below!
(C) Copyright 2007 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Find More Time and Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.