After last Christmas, I set an alert in my calendar to ask my family for their Christmas lists this year –in October. My thought was to minimize the rushing I typically feel around the holidays, and the panic of packages being delivered on time. When we add Christmas to-dos, on top of our regular to-dos, the holidays can feel like they are stretching our time thin and stressing us out. 

A to-do list is a perpetual list that is never fully completed. There!  I’ve said it! You cannot complete every task because there are continual cycles of tasks we have to accomplish; i.e. get groceries, pay bills, mop.  So, when we overwhelm ourselves by fretting over not completing an ongoing list, we are setting ourselves up for unnecessary stress.  One of the greatest resources I use every week is called a brain dump.  On a sheet of paper, write out the main categories of your life.  Perhaps it’s: Home, Family, Weekend Projects, Work, Christmas, Miscellaneous, etc.  Next, you are going to sit for about fifteen minutes and just dump from your brain all of the to-dos you have under each category.  The point is to free this space in your brain that has been anxiety-ridden trying to keep them all safely embedded.  There are sure to be straggler tasks that come to you following the allotted time, so just add them on.  Ah, take a very deep breath; it feels good, doesn’t it?

Alright, now I want you to look through the list and star the priorities.  I encourage you to stay within two to three priorities per category.  Perhaps the ‘Weekend Projects’ list doesn’t need any high-priority stars?  Now, pull out your calendar.  Put the priority tasks into your schedule.  Give yourself the time you need to fully complete them, even if you need to set up two or three separate times.  You may need to juggle a few things, but this is how you are going to know if you can actually do them this week, or not.  Maybe you need to push them into a future week?  Finally, what you don’t enter gets left on the brain dump list, and you put that list away for the rest of the week, so as not to agonize over it.  If spare time magically pops up, sure, pull it out, but otherwise, just wait until your next planning session.

I, personally, do block time scheduling.  Meaning, I have set blocks of time I hold open for required to-dos, and within that time I decide which tasks relevant to that category are most needed.  For example:  I have an hour block of time set aside each week for finances.  During that time I may pay bills, balance my Quicken, organize my receipts, revise my budget; whatever is needed regarding finances.  And, just to help myself, in the notes section of that block of time, I list all the possible tasks, so that if I’m feeling forgetful I have a handy cheat-sheet of how to best use my time. Christmas could be given blocks of time each week to use for decorating, cooking, store or online shopping, wrapping, handmade gift creations, updating lists, etc.

I also do weekly repeating events for the other essentials, such as: writing, groceries, cooking, running, bathing my dogs.  They are flexible in my schedule, meaning I can move them around as new obligations pop up, but they are none the less required.  By having them already scheduled in, I can more accurately see how much open time I actually have for my brain dump items.  The block and repeating events are required items, and thus they will always take priority over the brain dump to-dos.  It’s when we try to unrealistically pack too much in that we get stressed.

I am all about keeping programmed alarms and notes on my phone.  I have my phone linked to my Gmail account calendar, so that any changes I make, either from my phone or computer, will automatically sync.  When I hear my phone chime, I know there is something important I don’t want to forget.  It helps remind me of tasks like: call the vet, invoice a client, or go to bed early.  I refuse to take up valuable head space with trying to remember simple tasks. 

The more we can plan out our week, the more we are able to prioritize what it is that we actually value.  Next week we’ll discuss Christmas specific ideas and tools to maximize organization and help minimize holiday overwhelm. 


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