By Alicia Puritt
It’s that time of year – we’ve had the first major snowfall and stores have had Christmas decorations and music playing for the last month already. Do you find yourself being pulled in 800 different directions? Feeling event fatigue? Too many commitments that seemed like a great idea when you started planning them in September and now find difficult to manage? You are not alone! Anyone who’s met me knows how much I like to keep busy and stay involved in a multitude of different projects both professional and personal. That doesn’t happen without some serious planning and coordinating on my part – and even then, it’s never a perfect solution. There are always a variety of situations that shift and change at the last minute.
Preparations take many forms
Despite the disappearance of that first snow, record breaking warm days seem done for a while. It is steadily becoming colder, and increasingly, I reach for the winter weight socks. Around this time I also start debating the merits of pre-heating the car before heading out in the freezing early morning. Beyond the weather, it’s also the time of year where I like to set aside a little bit of time for reflection. What’s my current situation? Where do I want to be before the New Year comes up? How can I keep sanity and some measure of calm in this last spurt of year end madness? Askari has a very generous holiday employee plan from noon on December 24th until January 2. This allows all employees to spend time relaxing with loved ones, and/or recuperating a little from holiday mayhem. While I know there is a break week coming, until that point, there are so many different things that take up my time. Planning comes in handy at this point. Since it is always more effective if we are prepared for what is coming – in Ottawa’s case, a lot of snow and very cold weather – my question is, are you ready? My favourite mug is primed and there are an assortment of special teas I’m planning to try in the coming days. What about you? How are you preparing for the holidays? For me, this time of year also brings out my list-nature. I generally find lists make life activities more manageable. In the holidays, though, I really like to come up with a series of tasks and attitudes that make handling all my obligations manageable. These suggestions are worth sharing, so here is what works for me: 1. Make a list, at least one: Here’s the thing about holiday lists. Don’t just make a holiday list of presents you are buying or people to whom you need to write cards. Make a list of all your professional and personal responsibilities. Getting all that information down, out of your head, leaves you feeling so much better. Not only does it clear up mind space, but it also lays the foundation for setting your direction for the next month. We all have busy lives. Complicate things with holidays and there is so much going on! Calendars are a good start, but they’re limiting too. Putting all your plans on paper helps you avoid forgetting something. Besides, you can always add to the list as you go along. 2. Prioritize your time and value YOU: Don’t treat the holiday invitations and requests different from the rest of your life. They are just like everything else. There are different priorities, acknowledge that and start ranking your tasks. Need to contact different people for work or personal reasons? Do it sooner rather than later. As Christmas approaches, more and more people will be off on holiday or too busy with their own schedules. If you have ideas for presents, try and organize your purchases to happen all together. Sales happen all the time and the relief of getting everything done early and not facing the increasing crowds is surely worth the 10% extra that you might be saving if you wait for the perfect sale. Ask yourself, how much is my time worth? Try and group your activities. Set aside different blocks of time (and using your handy list from above), to maximize and improve your time management. You might have committed to five different events each week but remember that you will get tired. And what happens when you’re asked to help with an event last minute? Intentionally set aside “you” time. Plan some open time to leave you with flexible last minute availability if you’re up to it. Preparing is a GOOD thing. Work life balance is very important. 3. Set attainable goals: After you’ve prioritized all your activities, remember that you’re human! Try to minimize the amount of work you need to accomplish in one sitting or outing. If you’re planning to do errands in town, try to keep it to fewer stops and consolidate your efforts to keep your energy up. Don’t expect to do everything at once. This deceptive concept is usually followed by harsh reality and leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Typically, we aren’t able to sustain a frantic pace. When you’re fully tapped out (a cold hits you or your stuck in endless weather-complicated traffic), suddenly you are back to square one of having too many things to complete. Be realistic and kind to yourself. Others around you will appreciate that too! 4. Find strength in numbers: Use your network! See about getting help from others. If you have a variety of small projects you want to close out before the end of the year, see if your colleagues have time – be prepared to help them too. Remember, your combined and collective brain power can probably finish and solve your current projects a lot faster. In any event, a fresh pair of eyes might just make things clearer. And what about shopping? Connect with a friend and make him/her your Christmas shopping partner in crime. Not only will you have support, the company and visiting makes time go by faster. You can certainly cover more ground together. Then there’s the business of decorating. Again do this with a friend. Same idea as the shopping. If your find Christmas decorating daunting, invite a helper (your own elf?) and offer to make the hot chocolate and supply the tunes. 5. Keep an eye on perspective: Finally, if you want to keep the stress down during this season, remember that the holidays are not supposed to give you a constant headache. The end of the year should be about finishing off your long-standing projects, getting ready for the New Year, and contemplating how many candy canes you’re going to eat this year. It’s an old cliché, but the holidays are really about more than worrying about gifts, parties, and stress. Deadlines should be respected, but should not overtake your life. Haven’t managed to find the perfect gift? Remember, your time and your health are valuable and important – take care of them. In the end, you are in charge of you. If you follow the five steps laid out above, this holiday season should hopefully be more relaxing and manageable. Now, about that list…