Years ago we invested in new kitchen cabinets and appliances. The cabinet installer was one of the slowest workers I’ve ever encountered. He’d work until he needed a special part and then went to the hardware store. An hour or so later, he’d return, and work some more until he needed the next part, leave, go to the hardware store, and return. This cycle was repeated several times daily until the project took three times longer to complete than the original estimate! It was clear, to put it kindly, that good planning was not one of his gifts! We can learn something from the cabinet installer when it comes to the holidays. I’m sure ours weren’t the first cabinets he ever installed, so he could have used past experience to put together a list of parts and materials he’d need, and in what order, to expedite the process. We’ve been through the holidays before, so we can revisit Christmases past and determine a plan for this year.
One of the first rules of good planning is to start with the end in mind; that is, have a clear idea of your goal. What does a Great Christmas look like to you? This year will be especially challenging with the current economic stresses. Set aside a block of time and envision the Great Christmas you’ll have with those you love. Now, pull out your calendar, a pen and a pad of paper and write down your description. Talk with family members and get their input, too.
Next, draft a list of actions to achieve your Great Christmas. Looking at your calendar, plan backward from Christmas Day, setting small deadlines for yourself for all the projects and activities you intend to do. Schedule time for shopping, cooking, social activities, and for yourself. Get detailed! Break it down to daily to-do lists if you can. Remember, the more you separate the projects into small, manageable tasks, the less overwhelmed you’ll be.
Now, sit back and review your list. You’ve worked hard to put it together, but now comes the tough part! Prioritize the projects and activities. Take a hard look at the ones that fall toward the bottom of your list. Are they really essential to a Great Christmas this year? Make sure you’re directing your energies toward and focusing on the priorities. For the sake of reducing your stress level, give yourself permission to narrow your list to the most important items!
Here’s another example of the power of a plan. About one month ago we made an emergency trip to the vet first thing in the morning. Usually a pretty calm boy, our 6-year-old golden retriever, Shannon, was crazed with pain and itchiness from a hot spot on his tail. Wearing his e-collar, he’d spin around as if to catch his tail, but really he was after a soothing lick or two. Out for his morning business, he sat in the cool, dewy grass, grateful for some relief.
The vet prescribed two medications, plus ear drops for another infection discovered during the visit. The medication schedule included drops twice a day, one pill three time a day, and another pill twice a day for three days, then once a day for seven, then every other day until gone. Whew! My head was spinning.
So, when I got home, I opened a blank calendar page on the computer and filled in the schedule for the next two weeks of medications. It took 10, maybe 15 minutes to do, tops. When I was done, I felt such relief: relief that I didn’t have to keep this all straight in my head; relief that we’d keep track of his doses in such a way that anyone in the house could pick up where another left off; and relief that he finally had his own relief, which freed me to get back to my other work and family demands!
Planning and organizing are great for this reason: they free us up to be present in other areas of our lives. I for one am trying to break the cycle of mulling things over until I’m stressed out! I’m learning to make a list, check it off, and set it aside. Planning can help us stay sane with Christmas on the way, too!