The key isn't managing time; it's managing yourself.
I love Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Even in Florida, where there’s less sleigh-bell ringing and more Aedis aegypti buzzing, there’s this intangible cheer in the air. Everyone is happy. No one is stressed.
Except me, that is. I always feel furtive and slightly guilty admitting that Christmas prep stresses me out, but it does. Every single year I end up getting snappy with my family because I’m running out of time to make the Christmas bread dough or wrap the presents or even order the presents, and instead of enjoying the holiday we run around like crazy people for two weeks until Christmas morning, when we all collapse in exhaustion after the present frenzy and stay in our pajamas all day.
It’s not exactly magical. But as it turns out, I’m not alone in feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the holiday season. According to a survey by staffing service Accountempts, 32 percent of employees list balancing work and holiday commitments as their top stressor this time of year. (Sadly they did not specify how many of that 32 percent are working moms, nor did they survey the wives of said employees, but I guess nobody’s perfect.)
However, Ozy.com had some great tips in a recent post prompted by the survey results. Some I have employed over the years, some I have not, but there’s one tip that is my absolute favorite. It took me years to learn and many more years to take seriously, but it’s truly the only way to avoid stressing out over making holiday cheer.
Time management expert Mitzi Weinman has an odd mantra, considering her profession: “Managing time is an impossibility.” Instead, she says, you have to manage yourself. That means being aware of what stresses you out, learning how to respond more effectively and being strict about priorities. “One of the ways to make time for your partner, other important relationships and yourself is to look at it as a priority,” she explains. “Block that time out in your calendar.”
It sounds simple, but it’s not. Managing myself is a lot harder than trying to manage time. It’s easier to run around like crazy and insist that everything get done to my impossible standards, even if it takes more actual work.
It’s much harder to adjust my standards to reality. It’s harder to identify the non-negotiables and put everything else on a separate list that might not (and probably won’t) get done, because I want Christmas to be perfect. I want it to be magical. But it’s not magical when I’m stressed out and snappy. It’s not even enjoyable — not for my family, and certainly not for me.
In the past few years, I’ve managed to narrow down what makes Christmas magical for our family. I’ve found that while some things can only be done by me, on my time — Christmas bread, for example — the rest are really more about letting my family help make Christmas magical in their own ways. My daughter, for example, loves to line her Nutcrackers up in one central place. This year I finally stopped trying to convince her to spread them around to balance out the effect, because who cares? She likes to see them all at once when she walks in the house. That’s magical for her.
Same with stuff like wrapping presents. The kids love to wrap gifts for each other, and it makes the gift-wrapping go much more quickly. Who cares if half of them are wrapped in blue camo wrapping paper and duct tape? Seeing the 5-year-old glow with pride when he gives the present he wrapped to his older brother is way more magical than a perfectly wrapped gift.
And really, the best way to make Christmas magical for my family is to give them my time. I might think that Christmas dinner isn’t magical unless I make raspberry crème cake on Christmas day, but my kids think Christmas is magical when I spend the day doing new puzzles with them and reading their new books aloud. And the truth is, they’re right.