while it's fresh in your mind

I did this experiment last year, and it worked.  Now I want to let you in on it.  Maybe it'll work for you, too.

Here it is:  Right after the holidays in 2013 were over, I planned for the 2014 holidays.

Wait.  Hear me out.  This is not quite as ridiculous and over-the-top and groan-worthy as it sounds.  And it'll take you about 15 or 20 minutes.

Here's what you do:

1:  Make a list of three things that stressed you out about the holidays this year.

Maybe your Thanksgiving weekend was too full.  Maybe you really needed a day of rest after you traveled for Christmas before you went back to work.  Maybe wrapping presents got pushed to a last-minute tension-filled rush.

2:  Make a list of three things that are really important to you to include in your holidays.

This could be stuff you did this year--or stuff you didn't do but wish you had.  Really love sending holiday cards?  Put it on the list.  Want to be sure you have a special meal with certain friends or family?  Put it on the list.  Just can't go another year without a solstice celebration?  Put it on the list.

3:  Open your 2015 calendar, and put the things from both lists in there right now.  

If your stressed-out list says that you needed a day at home between traveling and work, mark the most likely day (December 28?  January 3?) as an at-home day.  If your really-important list says that you want to send holiday cards, maybe you mark November 7 for taking a photo, November 14 for designing and ordering the cards, and December 5 and 6 for addressing and mailing those suckers.  

We can reserve the space now for what we know will be important to us then.

Okay, maybe all this sounds lovely but highly theoretical and like it won't actually work when November 2015 rolls around.

Indeed, here's how it happened in real time for me this year:

  • I didn't do everything (or even most things) on the exact dates I planned a year ago.
  • There are things I had planned that didn't happen at all.
  • I still had a few moments of holiday-related stress.

But also, this happened:

  • We ordered our holiday cards without paying extra for faster delivery for the first time in four years.  While we actually started the process about a week later than I had marked on my calendar oh-so-long-ago, my magical-thinking brain was at least reminded that I actually needed to set aside real time if we wanted to send cards.
  • We didn't over-stuff either holiday with too many plans.  I marked my 2014 calendar with a note on October 1 reminding me that, while much of it was lovely, we felt exhausted afterward, and I got sick as a dog the day after Christmas in 2013.  The note said:  "Do not over-commit for the holidays."  It was a helpful because until I saw that, I had mostly forgotten how we felt last year.
  • We consciously traded some important things for more important things.  Remember I said there were some things I had planned that didn't happen at all?   Having a holiday party is great example.  That was on my important list for 2014, but then we got the chance to see a group of friends that hasn't been together in 10 years on the would-be holiday party weekend.  We could see because of the notes on my calendar that we just couldn't swing the prep for both.  So we picked one, and we had an awesome time.  Without those notes, magical thinking would probably have had us doing both--and enjoying neither.

This is not about productivity or fitting more stuff in the same amount of time.  This is about being intentional--even if that intentionality means setting aside time to do whatever the heck comes up in the moment.

Give it a go.  

I'd love to know in the comments if you do.  That'll help cheer other folks on, too, I think.

And this time next year, we'll see if our 2015 holidays included more space for the things that we want to do, and less time spent frazzled, tense, or overwhelmed.