A woman wearing an all white outfit and white hat blowing snow

If there ever was a classic case of  “spreading oneself thin,” then it would be me. Living overseas for the past three years, I find myself wanting to fill every hour of the short Christmas holidays with things, plans and people.

Volunteer at the Christmas fair? Sure. Travel two hours in rush-hour traffic across London after the fair for the staff Christmas party? Absolutely. Prepare to shop, prep and cook for the family Christmas dinner? Leave it to me, I’ll get it done. Not to mention making sure I see all the people I want to see, go to all the parties, spend time with my family and, of course, bake a gingerbread house. 

For some, it’s less about saying yes to everything and more about finding the most exciting and in-vogue thing to do during the holidays. Social media thrives off of the “casino effect”—where bright lights, noises and high level of activity stimulates the mirage that busyness and extravagance mean success. The most common reason that people overbook themselves is because they fear people are having more fun than they are. 

Bright lights, noises and high level of activity stimulates the mirage that busyness and extravagance mean success.

It took a heart-to-heart conversation with a dear friend last Christmas for me to realize the flaws of overbooking yourself during the holidays, as tempting as it can be to pack the schedule full of festivities. Out of exhaustion, I called her to cancel our dinner date that had been loosely in the diary. She responded graciously, but she was understandably hurt by my inability to come through on our plan.

She rightly remarked that I had a habit of cancelling last minute when my schedule was packed. It was in that conversation where I learned a common pattern in my life—saying yes to too many plans means saying no to the ones I value and treasure the most. 

Saying yes to too many plans means saying no to the ones I value and treasure the most. 

Though our actions may convey a contrasting message, it is this time with our loved ones that ultimately leaves us with the feelings of fulfillment, rest and respite that we crave during the holidays. Since then, I discovered three helpful tips to eliminate hurry and busyness from the holiday season:

1. Prioritize people and plans

Thoughtfully consider which people you want to carve time out for before committing to the wider-circle plans. It might be that a dinner party with three of your closest friends is more important than the staff Christmas party. Decide what you will make time for and what you won’t, depending on what you value.

Create a list of high importance plans, i.e. hosting 25 people at your home for a Christmas meal, serving at the local homeless shelter, attending the children’s carol recital, baking with your sister, ice skating on Christmas Eve or time with family. Keep these at the forefront when saying yes to anything additional. 

Tip: It is not so much what you do, as much as it is who you are doing it with. By creating a list of what and who, you will fill your calendar with the right things. 

2. Block out time to rest

Empty days are to be protected. An empty day is a busy day. For every two weeks of the holidays, at least four of them will be blocked out as rest days. This creates flexibility in your schedule for something spontaneous to pop up (and spontaneity stimulates positive chemicals in the brain), helps you feel in control of your time and guarantees a time to rest. Both children and adults need downtime in order to unwind and recharge. 

Tip: Even on the busiest of days, schedule some buffer hours spare for travel time, naps and getting ready. Avoid making hour-to-hour plans. Even then, try to limit it to one plan per day.

3. Eliminate the “shoulds”

Depending on your role in the family, there is a healthy level of being responsible for the holiday plan or adhering to traditions during the holidays. Being in charge of your plans and schedule does not mean doing whatever you please, whenever.

However, avoid falling into the danger of allowing someone else to fill your diary, having to organize everything or beating yourself into doing something because it pleases or satisfies someone else. 

Tip: Point No. 1 will aid you in identifying what is your responsibility over the holidays and what is not.

4. Say no and don’t overpromise

Now that you have created a list of high importance plans, blocked out time to rest and identified your capacity, learning to say no will help you in all of these. Invitations and offers may come to you from every angle. Avoid jumping at each of them as they come regardless of what it is. Reflect on the holiday schedule before committing.

Tenuous plans require little commitment and often result in disappointment. Definitive plans require firm commitment and communicate your values. Had I been more aware of my capacity and my high importance plans and scheduled time to rest, then I would not have reached the point of exhaustion where I cancelled on a dear friend of mine. 

Tip: Respond to invitations with gratitude. Thank them and take a moment to think about your schedule before you commit.

Most of all, seek to enjoy the holidays. Find time to serve. Love the ones close to you. Stop for a moment of stillness in each today to be thankful for what’s around you.

Image via Ben Cope, Darling Issue No. 6 

1 comment

  1. I needed this! I head home for the holidays on Thursday and will need to keep this in mind by prioritizing the people I value most.

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