Fall is my favorite season. Not only because of the changing leaves and pumpkin spice everything, but because it is the part of the year that I feel like I’m the most organized. I have an irrational adoration for filling in the blank pages of a calendar with school and sports schedules, family traditions, and holiday activities.
But as wonderful as fall and the upcoming holiday season are, they also tend to get stressful with all the necessary holiday preparations that pile up—in addition to the normal schedule of school, sports, inside-the-house work, outside-the-house work, volunteering, and a million other things that we sometimes have a tendency to agree to before realizing we need to say “no” a bit more. (I’m constantly learning to say “no” more so that I can say “yes” to more important things. Always learning.)
While I still have my struggles, I do know that being prepared for the holidays ahead of time is what allows me to be at my kids’ games/activities as well as do the fun traditions that have grown to be very important to our family. To do this, I work backwards in order to plan ahead. This helps me put the focus of the holidays on family instead of gifts. I do this type of planning for most projects, but the holidays are a good example.
Start with Your End Goal. I try to start with the end goal in mind (the “why” am I doing this?). For the holidays, my end goal is to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the days between with family, focusing on the spirit of the season. For that to happen, I set a goal to be done Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving. December is then spent on family activities, not running from store to store looking for deals. This means I don’t shop on Black Friday. Black Friday at our house is “Tree Farm” day, and we hunt for the perfect Christmas tree as a family.
Work Backwards. In order to work backwards, I first schedule specific events and assign dates for tasks I need to accomplish in order to meet my goal. For example, I start at Christmas and work backwards through the calendar to schedule activities for specific dates: holiday parties, family holiday dinners, a tour of Christmas lights, gingerbread house making, cookie baking day with my mom and sister, kindness project, tree decorating, the pumpkin patch visit, and other family traditions. Then I fill in the calendar with deadlines/tasks that need to happen in order to pull off a stress-free season.
Using an organization system or task tracker (either paper planner or phone app) also helps. For example, I use ToodleDo.com to track all of my tasks.
Take the Stress Out of Gift Giving. One important deadline in my crazy plan is this: my kids must give me their holiday wish lists by end of Oct/early Nov. My kids know they won’t get everything on their wish lists, but with a deadline, they don’t spend as much time thinking about what they want to get. Instead, they can spend more time focusing on family, friends, and others. Then, my husband and I discuss which gifts we want to get for the kids and add in our own ideas of what we think they will like. After we make our purchases, anything else on the list is readily available when grandparents, aunts, and uncles ask what the girls might like for Christmas.
We also decide which gifts to make for family and friends. A few hours of research and shopping mainly online in early November saves me a lot of time, stress, and money without adding too many tasks to my to-do list. By doing this one part of the holiday season early and in small tasks like “gift research” and “online shopping,” it’s easy to not get overwhelmed.
Having all the gifts and project supplies ready before Thanksgiving, helps us feel thankful on Thanksgiving and spend December focusing on making handmade gifts, giving back to the community, and enjoying our family. We aren’t running around through crowded stores and waiting in lines for hours. (I know some people enjoy that, but I’m not one of them.) It helps us take the focus off of the STUFF and puts the focus on the WHO.
Discuss Family Traditions. As a family, we do usually discuss which traditions are “have to keep” traditions each year and ask if there are new ones the kids would like to start. With our girls getting older, some traditions don’t stick as much as others, and some things became traditions without us evening knowing it.
One year we were discussing where in the house we should put up the tree. When I mentioned the spot where we had put it in the previous year, our then 8-year-old said, “No way. It’s tradition that we put it in a different place every year!” I hadn’t realized that we put our tree in a different place each year or that it had become a tradition to her.
Use the Same Pattern Next Time. Overall, the best part about this planning process is that I have been able to easily recreate the schedule each year by pulling out the previous year’s calendar and adjusting dates for the same activities/events/tasks. Since I planned it out once, I now have a simple system to help me stay sane during the holidays.
I also use this working-backwards system when I plan birthday parties, weddings, and corporate events— as well as when I teach my kids how to plan for school projects. It can be used for small or large projects, a one-time project, or for those recurring projects that come up often. (The next big project I’m using this process for is college prep for my daughter who is just starting her junior year of high school.)
Relax and Enjoy. When we are able to relax and enjoy a family Christmas movie, dinners with extended family and friends, or go out to look at holiday lights without having to run extra errands, we’re able to see how advanced planning has helped our family. When you work backwards, you can save yourself a headache and live in the moment. And I am all about looking for ways to minimize stress and have more quality time with my family.
QUESTION: What things do you do monthly, quarterly, yearly, that would benefit from having a process in place to use over and over?
CHALLENGE: Consider what your end goal for this holiday season is. Write it down, and start working backwards!
Edited by Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
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