Sara S. Skillen, CPO®, owner of SkillSet Organizing

Image from Unconditionally Her contributor Sara Skillen

It’s six days before Christmas (or Hanukkah, or New Year’s, or another special occasion). For whatever reason – and there are many good ones – the month has totally slipped by you, and now you’re staring down the Big Date with the same emotion you have prior to a trip to the DMV. There are so many expectations and wishes at this time of year. How are you going to figure out the shopping, cooking, wrapping, decorating, or even actual celebrating?

It’s time for a little honest sit-down with YOU. For the sake of example and simplicity, I’m going to stick with Christmas as the event we’re planning, but this strategy works for any holiday or looming project. Carve out an hour or so, take a deep breath, and try doing what I call a “brain dump”: make a massive list of everything you think must be completed. Maybe even get a little creative with it – use a whiteboard, or sticky notes, or colored pencils on art paper.

Now let’s go back to that sentence in the first paragraph about expectations and wishes. Whose are they? What are the wishes that actually mean something to you? Is it essential that everyone have exactly what they want from their list, or is it important to have a big family meal, or attend a parade or other event together? What is non-negotiable in your traditions, and what could be relaxed? Hard choices will come up, but see if you can cross out things that are maximum time-burners like the annual trek to cut down a live tree, or attending all of the neighborhood holiday open houses. Taking this big picture view should give you a starting point for springing into action.

So after your reflection maybe you’ve agreed that you’ll:

  1. Get gifts for just immediate family, and honor everyone else by donating in their name to your favorite charity;
  2. Have Christmas dinner at your mother-in-law’s (instead of trying to host it all by yourself again). She’s been wanting you to come for years, anyway;
  3. Cut back the usual number of baked goodies from nine to just three recipes; and
  4. Put up a tree and a pretty wreath, and stop there.

Whew – good job! Decisions are made, which is half the battle anyway. Executing those decisions should now be done as strategically as possible. Block times on the next few days of the calendar just for shopping, cooking, etc. Make these like booking appointments with yourself, and don’t let other things encroach. In usual circumstances you wouldn’t stand up a friend for lunch, so don’t stand yourself up now, either.

I also like to employ a technique that organizers call “batching” – putting tasks together with other similar tasks that use the same resources to cut down on the tendency to run around like a chicken with your head cut off. So for example, when you head out for grocery shopping, check and see if you can knock a gift or two off at the same time (wine? gift card?), or maybe even grab that wreath or some needed wrapping paper while you’re there. It can be more expensive to purchase certain things at a grocery store instead of discount or big box locations, but streamlining is the name of the game in this situation.

Another great skill that we often aren’t good at (myself included!) is delegation. Are the kids old enough to set up the tree this year, or make a batch of those cookies? Can you outsource the wrapping to a personal concierge or organizer (yes, lots of them do this kind of thing)? Can you get the online service to deliver the gifts instead of you shipping? Again, sometimes not as inexpensive, but totally worth it if it gives you some extra minutes to breathe.

Which reminds me, don’t forget to do that. Breathe that is. Taking care of yourself at this time of year is key to actually enjoying the meaning of all of this stuff you’re trying to do. When you’re booking those appointments for yourself, maybe book the gift of a massage or pedicure too. Invite a friend along, and maybe that can be your gift to one another.

Perhaps this isn’t the way you’d typically do it, but perhaps this isn’t a typical year. And maybe too, changing things up a bit can make room for ideas and traditions you hadn’t even thought of before. If having dinner somewhere else turns out to be fun, or cooking with your family opens up conversations you’ve not had before, then you’ve succeeded! Special never has to mean complicated.