Friday, November 17, 2006

Use A Planner to Reduce Your Holiday Stress

Now is the time to talk to your family members about what their ideal holiday celebration entails. Take notes. You might be surprised to find out what is important to everyone. It is just as important to find out what everyone dislikes. Discuss how the family can focus on making the holidays meaningful. How can each person contribute to the celebration? Set the tone for a relaxed and open conversation. Discuss the budget now to avoid a debt problem. A blown time-budget is just as harmful: no one has fun when stressed and exhausted. Accepting your limitations is good and healthy.

Use your family discussion to launch your plans. Create a homemade “Holiday Planner” to work out all the details. As a result your holidays will be less stressful and more meaningful because you will be in control of how you celebrate.

To create your planner get a three-ring binder filled with paper and some tabbed subject dividers. Put the notes from your family discussion in the front along with the budgets. Put calendar pages for the months of November and December in next. The calendar will keep you “honest” about how much time is available. Immediately cross off time that is not available so you can get an accurate picture of your free time. Try to keep about 20% of your free time unscheduled in order to accommodate the “unplanned” events (like the flu) and provide some needed downtime. Planning downtime is necessary – no arguments, please. Use these calendar pages are “work sheets” for seeing how everything will fit together. You will want to transfer set appointments and events to the calendar your family uses every day.

Each section in the planner represents one aspect of your holiday. You may want to consider the following: “Get the Home Ready”, “In-Home Events”, “Outside Events”, “Gifts and Cards”, and “Travel”. Use a three-hole punch on some large, manila envelopes so you can file an envelope at the beginning of each section. The envelopes will hold the receipts for that section. Remember to write down what the receipt is for before filing it. Generate the details for each section by asking yourself as many “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “how” questions as you can. Write down as many details as you can.

If you are traveling, the “Travel” Section should be put together first so you can book your transportation and accommodations early for the best price. Spend a few minutes daily working out details such as what to pack, who will care for your pets and home while your gone, and what you will do once you are at your destination. Obviously, you do not need a “Travel” Section if you are staying home.

In the “Get the Home Ready” Section detail the cleaning and decorating that needs to be done. This is the time to get the public areas of your home in order. Forget about organizing closets and drawers and making major renovations. Book professional cleaners immediately since the holiday-time is their busy season.

Set aside a few minutes to look at the decorations you have already. Give away those decorations you do not love and toss those ones that are falling apart. Make a note of the things you need to purchase, and plan when to pick them up. When should your decorating be completed? Look at the calendar, pencil in your decorating time with some “fudge factor” time. Consider working for small increments of time over several days. A lot will get done with minimum impact to your energy levels.

The “In the Home Events” Section will contain the details for entertaining your family and friends in your home. Not only should you list the big parties, but also things as simple as watching special holiday videos and baking. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth planning. Entertaining involves some in-depth planning, and I just cannot cover all the details in the course of this article. But if you focus on breaking each event down into smaller tasks that can be scheduled on the calendar you will greatly reduce your stress. A few questions to get you started in your event planning are: Who to invite?, When to invite?, What menu to serve?, What to serve on (paper plates or china)?, and What music to play?

In the “Outside Events” Section gather schedules, ticket prices, maps, invitations and any information that you may need in order to attend the events your family is looking forward to. Consider the impact on your budget and on your time. Store the event information in the order of their dates. RSVP, if needed, and record the events in your calendar.

If you do nothing else in the planner, the “Gifts and Cards” Section alone will make your life easier. List everyone who will receive a gift from you along with some information about them such as their clothing sizes (if applicable), hobbies, and any strong likes and dislikes. Spend some time brainstorming about gift ideas for each person before you go shopping. You might even want to ask everyone for his or her wish lists. I guarantee this planning time will reduce the amount of time you spend shopping and help you adhere to your budget. Get gifts that need to be mailed first. I would allow a minimum of one month for international mail and two-weeks for domestic mail. Homemade cookies and breads are great hostess gifts, but if you do not like baking consider buying hostess gifts in bulk. You will not have to shop for each party. Scented candles, wine, chocolate (of course!), and luxurious hand cream are thoughtful items.

Wrap gifts in small time increments in over several days. Store your gift-wrapping items together so you will not need to hunt for your supplies each time.

Aside from getting gifts, sending holiday cards take up the next largest amount of time. Decide up front if you will write a personal note in each card. Obviously a personal note takes longer than just signing a card. Plan for your preference. Put your mailing list in your planner. Divide the number of cards you will send by the number of days available until your targeted mailing date, and you will have the number of cards you need to write each day. As each card is completed check off the name from your mailing list.

Once the holidays are complete spend some time reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work. Jot down a few notes in your planner. This feedback will give you a jump-start to the next year’s holiday celebration. With planning you gain the power to create celebrations that enrich your life and a peace that transcends the hectic pace of today’s lifestyle. Happy Holidays.