Balancing work and family is difficult enough without throwing the holidays into the mix, but we’re asked to do just that from the fourth Thursday of November through the very last day of December — and sometimes even longer when company comes to town.
Although it’s next to impossible to have a stress-free holiday, there are ways to juggle it all and even have a good and festive time in the process. The key is in how you approach the season.
Rather than writing off the next couple of months as a never-ending to-do list of obligations, look at it as an opportunity to become more cognizant of your time and how you choose to use it.
1. Start the season with realistic and manageable goals.
Like many professionals, you make a habit of overextending yourself this time of year. You try to squeeze in one more report, respond to one more email, or schedule one more meeting before heading home to head back out to enjoy the festivities.
Look at the calendar and decide exactly what needs to be done and what can wait. Oftentimes, stepping back to appraise your goals can help you recognize the natural priority of things. Once prioritized, you can better plan and execute each goal in a reasonable amount of time.
2. Identify whether to delegate certain duties.
When you can offload certain tasks, by all means do so, and do so both at work and at home. Remember, delegation isn’t passing off work. It’s a better use of company time and resources. But only delegate those tasks not critical to your job — or to the happiness of your spouse, of course.
If, for example, someone in the office is closer to a particular activity, this person is likely to get it done better and faster than you. So, ask if he or she has the time. The same goes for your home life. Does your spouse have time to check a few items off that list? Or maybe catering the holiday meal can help lessen your load.
3. Commit to not overcommit.
If there’s one word to help you better manage your time during the holidays, it would be “No.” You can only go to so many parties, visit so many family members, bake so many cookies, send out so many greeting cards, coordinate so many gift exchanges, etc.…
Decide what matters most to you, and politely decline those unnecessary obligations when you have little-to-no desire or time. The holidays are meant to be fun, and fun for everyone.
4. Shed the impulse for perfection.
Whether you’re hoping to find the perfect gift, prepare the perfect meal, or host the perfect gathering, understand that nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. If you really weigh the consequences for when things don’t go perfectly, you’ll realize they’re not that bad.
Take some time to evaluate what you can control and what you can’t (and do the same for others while you’re at it) to help put things into perspective. Sometimes, getting the job done is just as good as getting it done to perfection. More often than not, no one will know the difference either way.
5. Settle on a budget.
You probably keep track of your finances all year, so why are the holidays any different? Look at whom you want to buy for and what you plan on doing and settle on a budget for both gifts and gatherings. And make an effort to stick to it — even if you have the credit to make up the difference.
But setting a budget does no good if you never decide on how to track it. Store your receipts for gifts separately from those for your standard expenses. Do the same with receipts for gatherings. Then, schedule a time once a week to total up your spending. Once you reach your limit, resist the urge to go over it.
6. Get smarter with your smartphone.
You already use your smartphone for managing productivity, scheduling appointments, and tracking your finances — and let’s not forget Candy Crush isn’t about to play itself! But that handheld device can also do wonders for lightening your load this holiday season.
If heading out of town, apps like Kayak, Airbnb, and TripIt can make planning a lot easier, allowing you to compare air prices, find affordable lodging, and book travel arrangements. One even creates a travel itinerary for you. When shopping, Amazon Price Check, RedLaser, and The Find allow you to scan your way to the best deals by comparing prices for products at nearby stores as well as those online.
7. Set aside time for your family.
No one needs to tell you that the holidays should be about family. But not everything around this time of year needs to be an event. Find fun, yet practical holiday activities you can all do together, like making wreaths for the grandparents, volunteering at a food shelter, taking a special shopping trip, or simply reminiscing about holidays gone by.
As long as you’re together, why not make a point of making it special? If an activity ends up not being fun for all involved, pull the plug and move on to something else.
8. Set aside time for yourself.
Of all the things you can do for your family, friends, and colleagues, one of the most beneficial is to set aside some time for yourself. Be it a nap on the couch, an hour with a good book, or a quick trip to the gym, it’s just as important to take care of your needs as the needs of others.
You’ll feel less stressed and more likely to enjoy the holidays. And if you’re enjoying them, those around you will have a better opportunity to do the same.
Whatever you choose to do — or not do — this holiday season, always keep in mind its true purpose. So what if your calendar is a bit overfilled? It only comes but once a year. Make the most of it, stress and all.