Time Management During the Holidays

"Christmas shoppers in the Bullring." Photo by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

"Putting the kids to work." Photo by justj0000lie (Julie Vasquez). From the Flickr Creative Commons.

"Fun at the Airport." Photo by lunchtimemama. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Now that we are past the big November holiday, Thanksgiving, the frenetic Christmas season has begun. Managing your time well when you have a lot to accomplish is essential. It should be simple and intuitive for us to realize that when we are adding a lot of extra duties on top of our already busy lives, the smart thing to do would be to cut out some other activities so that the number of added and deleted tasks balance each other out.

Yet, most of us fail miserably at this task. Sometimes there is nothing to cut. Sometimes we just can’t let something go. The typical result is that we add and add and add and overschedule and stress ourselves out. Below are some suggestions on managing your time this holiday season.

Shopping Stress

If you are looking for time in your holiday planning, look to your shopping time budget first.

This year, due to the present “truces” on both sides of our families, we only have to purchase for ourselves and three small boys. In general, I don’t mind Christmas shopping. It doesn’t stress me out. I enjoy picking things out and finding new discoveries in the shopping universe. Because of our limited shopping lists this year, we didn’t participate in Black Friday sales and just did a minor amount of online shopping. I am still in shock at how much time this saved me!

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we had time to go for a walk, put up the Christmas tree, chat with family and clean the house. The weekend seemed long and relaxing.

Shopping, particularly holiday shopping, becomes a black hole of time wasting. We are all looking for the “perfect” present at the “perfect” price. Even if you manage to find the perfect present, it often is too expensive, sold out, in the wrong size or color or can’t be delivered in time. You then start all over finding another “perfect” present. I realized this last night as I searched diligently for the best quality children’s art supplies for my daughter. I like what I ended up finding but I am embarrassed to tell you how many hours were spent in the process.

How can you save time on your shopping? You could get gift cards for everyone and spend your time writing a thoughtful message in the card. You could donate to charity (but be careful to choose one that the recipient likes). You could get everyone the same thing (there is a $10 box of Costco Belgian chocolate cookies that is wonderful and you can use the tin afterward to store letter-size paper or other objects—an organizer’s dream) or just send cash.

Cleaning Stress

If you are hosting guests, cleaning your home is not a small consideration in your holiday budget planning. I truly wish there were some great shortcuts to share here. It is tough. Unfortunately, the main timesaving options you have with cleaning are: 1) hire/ask people to help you or 2) streamline your stuff so there is less to clean in general.

You could of course quickly box up excess “stuff” and rent a storage unit, or stow it in your garage or basement. Far better, however, would be to get rid of as much as possible by donating or selling. This will save you cleaning time in the future and will also free up space for all the incoming presents.

Travel Stress

Traveling during the holidays is extremely stressful. In addition to the regular challenges of airport security and traveling with children, you often have to manage a ton of presents, extra luggage and navigate large, agitated crowds. One way to make your travel a little less stressful is to either ship your presents ahead or go the luggage-minimizing gift card route. That also saves you the stress of worrying about lost luggage or extra baggage fees.

While you can’t necessarily save time on holiday travel (because most of us are traveling in the same time window) you can make the travel more enjoyable by planning ahead. If you have the option to travel during an off-peak day or time, by all means take it!

Make sure you pack some entertainment in your carry-on or car. If traveling by plane, streamline your outfit to be something stylish and comfortable with shoes that are easy to remove and with few metal accessories. Treat yourself to a compelling book to read while waiting for your flight or a book on CD for your car. Find great videos or quiet toys to entertain your children (a treat for you and other passengers). We always pack ear plugs and an eye mask on long airline flights for a touch of first class even in coach. Small blankets and soft pillows also help you (and children) to relax in flight or in the car. A few snacks also help to keep everyone in good spirits when you are tired or mealtime is delayed

Cooking Stress

If you are an excellent cook and you will settle for nothing less than the best on your table, then you need to budget time for cooking and spend less time on something else (decorating, shopping, cleaning, etc.). There are so many options to save time (and sometimes money) on food, however. Potluck is a great way to spread the cooking time and cost out across several people. Your grocery store can help you here too. There are so many great prepared meals you can purchase fresh or frozen that only require a little heating. I have been served many of these foods at elegant lunches and dinners where the hostess managed her time by serving some homemade dishes and some purchased. Going out to eat at a restaurant can be fun too and sometimes can save money over making it yourself.

Decorating Stress

If you already have a house full of things, it often comes as an unpleasant surprise each December to add a large tree to your décor. While you are moving or storing furniture, pause to take a moment to determine whether that item of furniture is really needed. Recently we removed several items of furniture from our family room and the extra space is addictive! We now have room to exercise, put up our tree and imagine new possibilities for the room.

Your decorations don’t have to be time consuming to have a big impact. Buy an inexpensive wreath of fresh greens for your front door, put out some candles and a small tabletop tree and you can be done with decorations in under an hour and have something that is easy to store.

Financial Stress

You wouldn’t know it by the response to Black Friday sales, but many people this year are struggling just to get by. Many people on tight budgets get all caught up in the holiday advertising and the chance to “buy” a reprieve from everyday worries. Yes, sometime we need to treat ourselves but holiday giving purchased on credit comes at a very high cost. Remember that you will be paying on all of these purchases for months to come–long after the joy of receiving this new item has worn off.

If you are struggling financially this year, consider asking for a present truce, set budgets for holiday items (like a dollar store gift exchange) and explain to your children why they can’t have everything they want right now. Kids are more resilient than most adults give them credit for. Yes, they might be disappointed at first but often they will bounce back and surprise you.

Work Stress

Few of us have the option to shrug off work responsibilities during the holidays.  If you are also slammed at work, you have to be extra careful with your time management.  Do your best to not take on any more projects at work during the holidays and just focus on finishing existing projects.  If necessary, create a list of “future projects” and tell people that you will get back to them in January.  If emergencies pop up, try hard to offload an existing project or delay it as you take on the emergency project.  You want to do a good job but you are only one person!  If you expect you will be overly stressed at work, reset your expectations at home that you are likely to do only the bare minimum of holiday preparations.  It’s ok!  You have to put your energy where it is most needed.

Where are you spending the most time this holiday season? What are you willing to cut out to decrease your stress? Have a timesaving tip? Please share in the comments.

Liked this article? You might also enjoy this post: Traditions: When is it Time to Change? from the Reluctant Entertainer blog.