Managing the Chaos of the Busy Holiday Season: A Survival Guide
Written by Lisa Montanaro | December 9, 2009

Overwhelmed just thinking about the upcoming holiday season?  Relax. If you take a little time to plan your holiday season, it will be more enjoyable for you and your family! Focus on practicing good organizational techniques and time management principles.  Here are some tips to make the holidays enjoyable and the new year start off in a positive manner.

Setting Your Goals for the Holiday Season

  • We are pulled in so many different directions during the holidays: travel, family gatherings, parties and social events, shopping, baking, decorating, etc. As yourself: What do I want? This question is an invaluable guide for the holiday season. Think about what you want to do, as opposed to what you think others expect of you. Decide on your goals for the holiday season. Do you want to spend quality time with family? Do you want to try your hand at hosting or baking? Or, do you want to relax and enjoy quiet time? Achieving your goals and creating a meaningful holiday season requires that you have smart plans in place, especially if you want to enjoy the season without overindulging or stressing out.
  • It is difficult to keep all of the mental clutter associated with the holidays in our head! Keep a ‘holiday central’ notebook or create a memo in your handheld device. List items you want to do (notice I didn’t say need to do!), gifts to be purchased, people to send cards to, etc. Create a holiday budget so you know what you want to spend and stick to it.

Dealing With Holiday Schedule Overload

  • All the things you want to do over the holiday season can bring pressure if you don’t bring your wants and needs into alignment and into a manageable schedule. Holiday joy comes from balance and choosing the activities that are fulfilling for you. Avoid taking on too much at this time of year. If you’re feeling too pressured, look for activities that you can reschedule until after the holidays, delegate, or say no to. Recognize that you can’t do everything, especially if you want to enjoy your holiday season!  Ask yourself: What is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t do this?
  • Identify and avoid triggers. If going to certain events or seeing certain family or friends stresses you out and always ruins your holiday experience, avoid that activity. If you must attend, shorten your visit. If you are watching what you eat, plan ahead by eating a small healthy meal at home, so you won’t be as hungry at the event. Or plan out what you will eat at the event, allowing yourself a few treats that you only get to have once per year and stick to your plan.
  • If you regularly exercise, don’t stop over the holidays! Carve out time for exercise, even if it is not as much time as you usually do. The holidays are stressful enough – don’t miss out on a great form of natural stress relief!

Holiday Decorations

  • Pull out those holiday decorations (yes, all of them!). Take stock of what you will definitely use, and donate the rest in time for a family in need to use the decorations this season. Those decorations that are really just sentimental, but will never be used, should be stored in your Memory Box, not with holiday decorations.
  • Do you need to go all out with decorating this year? Maybe you want to scale back? Ask yourself if you still want to decorate as much as you used to, or are doing it out of habit or others’ expectations of you. If so, then give yourself permission to keep it simple!

Holiday Cards

  • Buy your stamps in bulk or online at Check that you have current addresses for everyone on your holiday card list. If your contacts are stored on your computer, you can print labels.
  • Use a card sending service, such as Send Out Cards.
  • Consider sending New Year’s or Valentine’s Day cards instead. It’s unique and can be an unexpected treat to the receiver!
  • Just don’t do it! Don’t send paper versions of holiday cards at all if you don’t want to. Use email and social media sites to send holiday wishes, or pick up the phone and call special people in your life.

 Holiday Baking & Cooking

  • Prep your kitchen for holiday time. Purge any food items that your family is not eating (if they have not expired, donate to a nearby food pantry!) and make a shopping list of what you will need for holiday cooking and baking. Choose recipes in your favorite cookbooks or online, and start making lists of holiday menus you want to prepare.
  • Plan out your baking and cooking time on your calendar as an appointment so you take it seriously and stick to it. Otherwise, you will find yourself cooking and baking at 3 in the morning the night before the occasion!

Gift Giving

  • When gift giving, keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better – sometimes, it’s just more!
  • Considering regifting. Yes, I said it! Look at gifts you have received and have not used yet, or gifts you bought and stored throughout the year. Consider sharing some of these gifts with those on your list if the gift is a good match. Don’t feel guilty! It’s the thought that counts, not how you came by it.
  • Think outside the box. Try to give gifts that won’t just become clutter. Give perishables (make a favorite food item for a friend that always comments on your great cooking), gifts of experience (horseback riding for that niece that loves horses), gifts of time (baby sitting for the couple that never gets to go out alone), etc.  Be creative! Consider only giving gifts to children on your list, or deciding to donate to charities in people’s names instead of buying presents. Just make sure to agree to do this with others on your list so you don’t offend anyone come gift exchange time!
  • Ask people to be specific with what they want and need, and you do the same when writing out your wish list.
  • Let go of whatever gifts you receive that will just become clutter in your life, and do so without guilt! If you can’t return it, donate it or give it to a friend that is likely to enjoy it.

The payoff to all of this planning? You won’t have post-holiday regret syndrome! You’ll be calmer and more available to enjoy the company of your family and friends, and you’ll start the new year feeling empowered.

Meet the Author

Helping others be the best versions of themselves gets me jazzed!

I’ve worn many hats in my lifetime—often at the same time—while enjoying fulfilling careers. I’ve been a performer, teacher, sign language instructor, lawyer, career counselor, law professor, coach, consultant, mediator, entrepreneur, speaker, trainer, writer, and author. 

I’m an eternal optimist and life-long learner, constantly researching ways to improve personal and professional effectiveness. And it brings me great joy to then pass on the results of that persistent curiosity to my clients and audiences. 

Of all the career hats I’ve been privileged to wear, my favorite is owner of this business since 2002. Why? Because it provides me the opportunity to work with wonderful organizational and individual clients. On any given day, I get to connect deeply with audiences, work with dedicated teams, improve workplaces, watch clients have a-ha moments, and know I’ve made a difference in their lives and careers. And that is very satisfying.