10 Tips You Need To Get Organized and Reduce Holiday Stress Now

Let’s be honest. While the holidays are a beautiful time of year, it’s easy for us to slip into overwhelm when we start thinking about all the things we “have to get done.”

We find ourselves feeling completely stressed out as we think to ourselves, “there’s not enough time, there’s too much to do, and I’m too busy to enjoy myself.”

But what if that’s not true?

What if there is enough time?

What if there’s just the right amount of things to do?

And what if you could slow down and experience the joy of the season for yourself?

Well, good news, friend.

It is possible.

And episode 71 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast can help you do just that.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • Ten powerful strategies to get organized and reduce your stress this season
  • Step-by-step instructions to implement these tips immediately
  • How to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the season for yourself

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Episode #71: 10 Tips You Need To Get Organized And Reduce Holiday Stress Now (Transcript)

Hey, everybody! Welcome back to the podcast. And to those of you who are new, welcome! I’m excited you’re joining us. 

You are in for a treat today because we are exploring all-things-organization for the holidays. Before we dive in, I want to say that if you are listening to this episode outside of the holiday season and you’re wondering if you should keep listening, I’d suggest sticking around. And I say that because a lot of the concepts that we talk about today can be applied to any situation where you’re planning or organizing for an event, or you’re entering a busy season of life and you want some tools to help manage how you’re feeling and showing up each day.

Get Organized For the Holidays

Now, if you’re on my email list, you probably saw an email from me last week asking about some of the areas that you feel the most stressed or overwhelmed when you think about getting organized and managing the holidays. And I heard back from so many of you, which is fantastic. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to respond. It really helped me zero in on the most pressing areas so I can make this episode as useful for you as possible.

So today I am going to offer 10 areas to explore to help ease the holiday tension, get organized, and actually enjoy the holiday season. Now please hear me on this – and especially my ADHDers, listen up. You DO NOT HAVE TO DO ALL 10 THINGS. Okay? 

This is not all-or-nothing. It’s not “I must do all 10 things or non at all.” NO. Pick and choose what is useful to you and leave the rest. Okay? Because here’s what I’ve noticed. When we tell ourselves we have to do it perfectly or not at all – 99.9 % of the time, it is “not at all.” Because let’s face it. Perfect doesn’t exist. 

So then we end up throwing everything out and deciding to just “wing it,” and that’s when things get a bit challenging. So our perfectionist brains are not invited to the planning party this week, okay? Pick and choose which of the 10 strategies works best for you and move forward from there.

Get Your Workbook!

And as a side note, I created a comprehensive workbook that has checklists and planning sheets for each of the 10 steps. So do yourself a favor and get your hand on this document. I am telling you, it is GOLD. 

Set Your Intentions and Priorities

So the number one strategy I recommend starting with is setting your intentions and priorities for the season. What are the main areas you want to focus your attention on?

And I think this is such an important place to start because we often want to quote-unquote “do everything,” and so we find ourselves over-committing to every invite, each gift exchange, every tradition, and family gathering, and we either burn ourselves out racing from one thing to the next without actually enjoying the experience. Or we completely over-commit to the point where we literally can’t do everything, so we have to cancel and go through the drama of deciding what you’ll keep and what will go.

Now, given that we are still dealing with COVID at the time of this recording, some of these outside demands are likely less for many people right now. But because this episode will live on for many years past 2020, keep this in mind.

And what’s more, even if you aren’t going out to a big New Year’s party this year, or you aren’t having your entire family over for Christmas dinner, there is still so much value in identifying what you want to focus on this year. How do you want to spend your time?


Maybe one focus is on family activities like baking cookies and making holiday cards to send to your extended family. 

Perhaps one of your focus areas is ensuring that you have the whole family together every night of Hanukkah to light the candles after sundown. 

Or maybe you want to focus on connection, so you set up two Zoom calls a week with close friends and family you haven’t seen in a while just to reconnect and share what’s going on.  

And maybe you have a focus area for reflection, so you spend time this season thinking about what’s happening in your life, what you’re feeling grateful for, what you’ve learned over the past year, and where you’re going next year. 

So again, these can be very specific activities, For example, Ryan and I are planning to watch our favorite Christmas movies each week leading up to Christmas. And they can also be on bigger themes, like connection, reflection, family, etc. 

I recommend choosing 3-5 focus areas, which will help you narrow your scope and keep you from overcommitting. Because if something comes up that you think you “should” do, you have your list of priorities that help you check-in and make sure you’re keeping what’s most important to you this season front and center.

Make Time For You

And this brings me to my next point. I encourage you to take into account your own opinion as you form these intentions and priorities. And in addition, make sure that you are creating space and time this season for you, too. 

One of the messages that I heard over and over from you podcast listeners and those of you on my email list, is that you occasionally have a hard time enjoying the season at all because you’re so busy worrying about everyone else. 

You’re so busy making sure that the kids have a good time. That you purchased and wrapped all the presents. That the meals are perfect. You’re making sure that all of the relatives are getting along well and each of the events is in order so that you can make an appearance at each one without disappointing anybody.

But here’s what I can tell you about that. When you focus your entire attention on everyone else. And you put all of your own needs aside in hopes of preventing others from feeling disappointed Then you often end up disappointing yourself. Because you put yourself on the back burner. The season races by in a blur. And you may even find yourself just wishing it was over already.

 I would like to challenge this approach just a little bit. 

Daily Self Care

So first of all, as I mentioned, make sure that you are involved in identifying the top priorities and focus areas. But in addition, I encourage you to block out 30 minutes a day – or as many days as possible throughout the week – for you. 30 minutes to journal, go for a walk, read a book, listen to a podcast, do something in the holiday spirit, watch your favorite show, etc.

I know this can be challenging, especially during the holidays, but I also think it’s extra important during this season. So brainstorm a bit. How can you make you-time each day? 

And if you need a little reminder of how you can start incorporating more “you” time into your already busy schedule, I encourage you to jump waaaay back into the archives with episode 4 of the podcast, which takes a deep dive into tangible, concrete ways you can incorporate daily self-care into your life no matter how busy your schedule is.

Let Go Of Perfectionism: There Is No Perfect Holiday

Now, the next tip that I want to explore is to let go of the perfectionist thinking of what a “perfect holiday” looks like. Because as I try to share as often as possible on this podcast, perfection is a unicorn. It just doesn’t exist.

We all have these idealistic visions of what the holidays “should“ look like. We think that every evening should be spent together baking cookies and playing games and snuggling up by the fireplace reading stories together. 

And we think that everyone “should” get along perfectly and that gatherings “should” be filled with laughter, good food, and great conversation. In our perfect holiday fantasies, nobody should have arguments, everybody should get exactly what they want, and everything should look like it came straight from a Martha Stewart magazine. 

But do you hear all of that “should” happening in there? As we’ve talked about before, should never feels good. And the truth, my friends, is that this is not reality. This is not how holidays unfold. And when you hold yourself to this unrealistic expectation of perfection, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

What is your “perfect” holiday narrative?

So I invite you to get curious about what your manual is for a perfect holiday season. What are all the things that you believe “should“ happen in order for your holidays to be a success? Should you host multi-course, incredibly complex meals for your family most nights of the week? Should everyone get exactly what they asked for on their wish list? Do you think you should you always be in a cheerful mood and never get stressed? Should the house look a certain way at all times? Should other people act in a particular manner and not argue or fight at all? What are the stories you tell yourself that “should” happen in order to have a successful holiday?

And additionally, be honest with yourself. If you hate baking, don’t put the pressure on yourself to bake 30 different types of holiday cookies. Frankly, you don’t have to bake any. There is no rule that says you must bake during the holidays. 

If the thought of sending out perfectly curated holiday cards with matching outfits and thoughtful letter makes you want to start hyperventilating, drop it. You don’t have to do anything. Or maybe you scroll back in your photo album and you pick a picture of the family from this summer, and you decide it’s perfect. 

You get to decide

Did you know that this is an option? It’s true. You just get to decide. You get to decide that the picture is perfect. Or that baking one Batch of cookies is perfect. Or that ordering in every single one of your holiday meals is perfect. You get to decide. Because as we’ve talked about in the last couple of episodes, what everybody else thinks about whether you participate in the cookie exchange, or you turn down the invites to activities you just don’t want to do, or whether or not you put up a single decoration is of no consequence. 

And I truly hope that you hear this and breathe a sigh of relief. Because what that means is you get to decide what is enough. You get to choose what sounds like the most fun. And you get to create your experience this holiday. So drop that perfectionist thinking. Drop the all or nothing beliefs that you must do everything. And let yourself enjoy the holiday according to your standards. This is one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to identify what your top priorities are for the season – that first step I mentioned in our list today. Because it acts as a powerful reference point to help you check in with yourself and make sure that you are sticking to what is most important to you and your family.

Put Dates On The Calendar

All right. We’ve talked a lot about more conceptual things in terms of deciding on your priorities, making time for you, dropping perfectionist thinking. These are the powerful ways that we can clean up our thinking and have a mindset that serves us going into the season.

But I also want to talk about some real tactical things that we can do to help ourselves stay organized, and the first thing that I highly recommend doing is putting dates on the calendar to both make sure everyone is on the same page and you know what things are happening when. 

So thinking about the priorities that you’ve identified already, I recommend starting by putting the non-negotiable activities and tasks into your calendar. What days are the family gatherings? What day are the holiday parties with friends or at work? 

Of course, at the time of this recording in 2020, most of us have less of these larger events because of Covid. But, because people will be listening to this after 2020, I really want to mention it here. Plus, there are still things like Zoom gatherings where people are getting together to celebrate. In fact, yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States, and I had two different zoom family calls in the evening, which I made sure to put on the calendar so that I was ready to attend on time. 

So whether you’re getting together in person or not, make sure you’re putting these non-negotiable gatherings in your calendar that way things don’t get overlooked or double booked. 

Make the Calendar Available to Everyone

In addition, make sure that you have these calendars available to everyone in the family. If you’re not just planning for yourself, make sure that everyone is on the same page so that we don’t have miscommunications and double booked schedules between members of the family as well.

So in terms of actual events, this might look like family gatherings, holiday parties with friends and colleagues, class parties and school concerts, local events like tree lighting or theater performances. For example, when I was little my family and I would go and see the A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater every season. So that would go on the calendar and everyone would know the date. If you light candles after sundown every night during Hanukkah, that’s eight nights of everyone being around and available. So do you have a set time for the entire family to gather? Put it on the calendar so everyone is on the same page.

Less Obvious Calendar Details

Now, there are other things you’ll want to include on the calendar, too, that may seem less obvious. These might be things like what days you’re going to take family pictures, what days you have guests visiting, what days you are traveling, what days you plan to do your holiday shopping, when you want to do your baking, when you plan to wrap your gifts, what days the kids are off school and what days you have vacation from work. Put all of these things on the calendar so that you have a really clear idea of how the season is going to unfold. 

This will make it so much easier than trying to juggle multiple people’s schedules and ideas in your head. Not only will it make it much more likely that you will remember everything, but it also helps prevent double booking or simply overbooking yourself. When you see everything laid out, you can ask yourself: does this look good? Is this how I want to celebrate the season? Is this living in alignment with our intentions that we set for this season?

Work Backwards And Plan It Out

Now as you create your calendar, the next tip that I suggest you consider is working backwards as you figure out your plans. And this is especially important For timed tasks, multi step tasks, things on a deadline, etc. So for example, on a small scale, when you are planning out holiday meals decide when you want the meal to be served, and then work backwards from there to understand all of the different steps you need to take and when you need to be done cooking. And remember that some recipes take a ridiculously long time. Especially if you’re using a slow cooker or things need to marinate or sit overnight. For example, I make a type of crescent roll where the bread dough needs to sit overnight before I cook it the next day. So make sure you are working backward on your menu items to ensure things get ready at the same time.

If you’re making gingerbread houses, make sure you take into account drying time for the icing that holds the house together before loading it up with candy.

If you are like me and do a lot of your shopping online, make sure you’re taking into account shipping time. (And delayed shipping time because of the holidays.) And when it comes time to wrap the gifts, allow time for that. Seriously, wrapping it gets me every year. I always forget about it and assume I can do it in about 15minutes… and guess what? I am wrong every time.

If you create gifts for people, make sure that you allow time to actually create said gift so that you are not working into the wee hours of the night trying to finish that crocheted scarf or patchwork quilt for the recipient.

Time Blindness for ADHDers

So again, really think about all of the different activities and projects that you want to do throughout the holiday season. And this is especially true for us ADHDers who struggle with time blindness and we literally don’t know how much time things take. Look at the recipe instructions for how long the recipe takes and add some extra time on to of it. Ask a partner if you’re not sure how long things take – if they have a neurotypical brain, they probably have a more accurate estimation for the time. If you really have no idea, take a guess and then either double or triple it. Time yourself the first time you do the task and make note of it for the next time.

And for everybody, be generous in the time that you allow yourself to do these things. Give yourself some wiggle room. Because let’s be honest, nobody wants to feel rushed and time crunched during the holidays, right? So give yourself the space to do the things you want to do.

Ask For Help

And that leads me into my next test, which is to ask for help. This is not a time to be the martyr and take on all the work and burn yourself out. If you’re preparing a meal, ask for someone to help you out in the kitchen. If you have guests coming over, ask someone to bring a side. Or maybe they bring the desserts. If you bought all of the holiday gifts, ask your partner to wrap them. If you have guests coming over, recruit the family to help with the cleaning. 

And don’t worry. I hear you. In fact, I can almost hear your sigh and see you roll your eyes as you think to yourself “yeah right, Paula. Where the heck will I get any help? Nobody is willing to help me even when I ask.” So don’t worry. I hear you. And I get it, really!

Avoid the Negative Beliefs That Don’t Serve You

Now for me personally, as a general rule, I try to avoid the thoughts like, “It always falls on me. I just have to do it myself. Nobody ever helps me. I always have to do everything around here.” Because those thoughts are going to just create a result where you do indeed have to do everything around here.

Because when you’re stuck in the belief that nobody ever helps me, you probably feel defeated or discouraged or frustrated. And I can tell you when I feel that way, I certainly don’t open up and brainstorm ways to lighten the load. I don’t reach out for help and find a way to get things done together. Instead. I get huffy. I do everything myself, I am super passive aggressive. And frankly – I am incredibly unpleasant to be around.

And low and behold, I end up doing everything myself. Surprise surprise.

So rather than getting stuck in that mindset, I encourage you to start thinking to yourself something like, I know I can get help. I can easily get some help. My family is happy to help me. I don’t have to do this myself.

When We Don’t Have Help

Now, again – I know that it’s also possible that your family won’t help. As we’ve talked about before, unfortunately, you cannot control the other people, darn it. So you can’t technically force people to help you. But, I can assure you that if you come at the spirit of asking a positive attitude and ask for help with the mindset of, let’s do this together; this will be fun! You’re not only going to have a more enjoyable experience yourself, you just might recruit some helpers along the way, too.

And if not, you can always hire help. For example, you could order in your meal. There are so many different meal service providers out there. In fact, this is one of the tips that I heard from several people. So many listeners are ordering in a portion of or their entire holiday meal. 

Some mentioned that they want to support local restaurants and they’ve hired them to help with their main dinner. Some ordered all the sides so they only had to prepare the main meal. Others did the opposite and only prepared the sides. I had one woman mention that she only likes baking, so she makes all of the desserts and orders the main meal, etc. You can get so creative here.

Maybe you have someone come and help with cleaning the house. You could check the website Nextdoor and ask around for a recommendation of a local cleaning service. And if that’s not an option, maybe you find other things that take your time, like grocery shopping or doing the laundry or walking the dog, and you recruit your family to help with those tasks so you can tackle the cleaning. I promise you, when you open your mind to possibility, you will find ways to get help. You just can’t slip into the mindset of “I always have to do everything,” because that is the exact result you’ll create for yourself.

Declutter Your Space

Speaking of cleaning, I think it is incredibly useful to set aside some time to do a bit of decluttering before we start bringing a whole bunch more gifts and items into the house. I know that when we see excess clutter and we don’t have spaces to put things away, it’s easy for our brain to start thinking, “I have no space. There is no room for this stuff. I don’t know where to put everything.” And for me, this leads to overwhelm where I start spinning out and often just avoid the problem. I’ve been known to come back to Boston after visiting my family for the holidays and if I don’t have an obvious place to put the gifts, they just sit on top of my dresser for weeks until I finally make time to put things away. 

And remember, you can do this step-by-step. You have to do everything in a day or two. Maybe you tackle one drawer. Maybe you tackle one room. But put in your calendar a handful of days where you can start decluttering and organizing so that when new gifts and items come in, you have space to put them.

Create A Family Bucket List

My next step is to create a family bucket list. Or if it is just you or are you in a partner, create a bucket list of things you want to do this season. And once again, put it on the calendar. Now, I think this is a fun approach for those of you who don’t love the idea of scheduling every single thing to the last letter in your calendar. 

I get it, that’s not for everyone. BUT, the reality is, when we aren’t intentional about planing our time, it’s easy not to do the things we really want to do. So if you are resistant to scheduling specific activities to do with your family in the calendar, or if you have kids who have changing interests and opinions and may not want to do the things that you schedule a couple weeks in advance, this is a great option. Create a bucket list of fun things that you would love to do this season. And once you have that list, you can either just keep it as a list or write it on little slips of paper and throw it into a hat. 

Schedule Time for the Activities

Then, schedule time on your calendar for bucket list activities. When the time comes to do the thing, you can get the list or pull and activity out of the hat. This allows for some spontaneity, but by carving out hours in the calendar, you ensure you have time to actually spend the holiday season the way you want.

One person who responded to my email said that one of the biggest challenges for her is that work really ramps off at this time. Everyone wants to finish their projects and everything by the end of the year. And by carving out specific activity time ahead, that helps prevent the work creep, which is especially prevalent this year and always for those of us who work from home. And work creep is basically where you tell yourself: “I’ll just work a little longer today. Another hour won’t hurt. We can  just do this activity or that activity another day.”

By putting the activities in the calendar, you help prevent those thoughts from taking hold and instead maintain the holiday time that you set aside. Now, of course, I know there are situations where emergencies come up and you have to cancel the activities, etc. This is not a space to beat yourself up over it. Instead, it is just a preventative measure to help my fellow work-a-holics who always have just “one more thing to do” before it’s time to shut down for the night. 

Get Clear On Gifts

The next area that most people mentioned in their responses to me was stress and overwhelm around giftgiving. And I’m going to talk about this in two different lenses. This first tip is simply around the act of giving gifts, finding gifts, making time to actually purchase the gifts, etc. 

Do you want to give gifts?

So in terms of giftgiving, the first thing to get really clear on is are you doing gifts or not? And if so, who are you buying gifts for? Remember, there is no right or wrong here. You get to decide what’s right for you. You don’t have to do giftgiving if you don’t want to. And guess what, you can have an amazing holiday without it. Did you know this? It’s true. There were several years where my family and I did not do gifts. Instead, we hung out and played games and told stories and ate good food and it was amazing. 

Or maybe your family decided to donate to a charity instead of giving gifts. I remember my mom and her siblings would decide on a charity and contribute to that instead of buying gifts for one another when I was younger. 

Create a List

If you do decide to give gifts, that’s great, too! But remember, you also don’t have to purchase gifts for every single person you know. Or even every person in your family. Maybe you draw names. Maybe you do a secret Santa. If you celebrate Hanukkah, do you want to give presents each night? 

So again, make a list and decide ahead of time who you want to buy for. And then start exploring what you might want to give. What are their interests? What do they need? Do they have a list of things they want? I know people have very different stances on whether to ask for a list or not, but if it works for you, do it! I know I find it helpful when I at least have an idea of what people want rather than simply opening up Amazon and hoping to find something. 

And then also consider the broader radius of gift giving. Do you have colleagues who you want to give gifts? Is there an office secret santa? Perhaps you have friends that you like to exchange gifts with. Do you need a host gifts for various parties?

Do a big thought download of all the different people you want to give gifts to, and start brainstorming gift ideas (or decide to ask for a list) so you have someplace to start. 

Other People’s Opinions

And again, remember that you get to decide whether you want to do gifts or not. And I know this might not seem true on the surface. You might think that you have to give gifts because everyone else is. But that’s just not true. And this goes back to the last two podcasts about other people’s opinions. So if you’re fighting with me on this concept, check back to those episodes – episode 69 and episode 70 – and give them a listen. Because I promise you, if you’re feeling pressured to buy a certain amount of gifts for people, it’s only because you’re thinking about other people’s opinions and what they’d think if you didn’t. 

Set Your Budget

And that leads me into my last tip in terms of getting organized for the holidays, and that it all about setting your budget so you know how much you want to spend. 

Now, this was – by far – the biggest stressor for almost every person who to responded to my email. The holidays can get expensive if we let it. And if that’s not how we want to spend our money, we’re going to have a hard time enjoying ourselves because we’re going to be so focused on money and feelings of scarcity and stress. 

So I really encourage you to be proactive about how much you want to spend on the holidays this year. And I’m not just talking about gifts. I’m also talking about holiday cards – the photographer, the printing, postage, shipping. I’m talking about decorations and food. This also includes any entertainment or new outfits for this party or that gathering. It includes holiday travel and pet care – these are two that I used to forget about. 

So spend some time – ahead of time – thinking about how much money you want to spend. Be intentional about your situation. And this might help inform your decisions about your gift list as well. 

And I really think that when you follow the other steps, too. Like getting intentional about how you want to spend your time. Not over committing to every party and event because you think you should. Letting go of the perfectionist thinking of what the holidays “should” look like. You will have an easier time knowing how much you will spend on events, travel, gifts, food, etc. 

Best News of All

And the best news of all is this. Whether you do lots of activities or a few. Whether you bake all the holiday cookies or none. If you travel or you don’t. And whether you decide to give gifts to everyone, draw names, make a donation, or not do anything. You can have an amazing holiday season. You can have a season filled with joy and love and light. 

And that’s because you create those feelings with your thoughts. You don’t feel joy because there are lots of gifts under the tree for everyone. You feel joy because you’re thinking something like, I love being with my family and seeing their excitement. And you don’t feel love because you’re attending a tree lighting with your partner. You feel love because you’re thinking, I am so lucky to be with this person. They are amazing and I love them so much. 

So my last bonus tip to explore as you get yourself organized this holiday season is to do some journaling and decide intentionally what you want your experience to be. How do you want to feel this holiday season? Joy? Love? Peace? Content? And once you have that dialed in, then ask yourself, what can I think to myself to help me feel that way?

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