What you can calendar now to make your holidays less stressful and more enjoyable

August 28, 2023

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Full Transcript

Episode 18. Holiday Season

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey there! All right, so today we are gonna dig into winter and fall holiday planning already. You might be like, “It is late August. Slow your roll,” and what I want you to hear is that my goal is not to start this early to plan a Pinterest-perfect holiday season by any means. If you come into my house, you would not find that. But what I do want you to be able to do is this is around the time of year where we start thinking about it, and because we don’t truly turn into it in terms of doing the things for it yet, it has a tendency to kind of stress us out a little bit.

It might not for you, in which case don’t worry about it, but if it does, I wanted to record this episode and also give you an accompanying guide of things you could do to help alleviate the stress. I just want to be really clear about that, that the point is not, “Start now so that you can do so much on the holiday front so that it’s perfect.” That’s not my goal at all. It’s more to say, “What are all the things you want to do? How can we plan to sprinkle them over time?” and that will allow us to kind of reduce our stress knowing we have a game plan but also let it go until that time so that we don’t feel the pressure to do it all right now.

Before I dive in, just know that I am coming off of being sick, so if I sound a little stuffy and weird, that’s why. But hopefully it’s not too annoying for ya.

So, for some context, I did a simple post on Instagram about Halloween. As I’m recording this, it’s mid-August. That’s when the post came out about Halloween. In short, it was like, “Halloween’s two months away, but it’s a really busy two months. And so, here are the things you can calendar now to give yourself the game plan of how you’re gonna manage Halloween over time in a lower-stress way, but still with the peace of mind that you have a gameplan and hopefully with the idea of reducing last-minute scrambles.” So things like when you’re gonna decide what costumes you’re gonna wear, when you’re gonna buy candy, things like that, and just giving future you reminders to do that at the right time and repeat them annually so you get the benefit from here on out.

Two people asked that I do the same for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’m happy to, and I actually had done something like this last year and was thinking that this really needed to be more of a guide because there’s just a lot because Thanksgiving and Christmas, (and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, other winter holidays), they’re heavy lifts because I think they’re more complicated, they involve way more people, and so, because of that there’s a lot more nuance to it. And so, it lends itself more to more of a guide in this podcast episode than a simple and sweet Instagram post. So that’s what we’re doing today!

Holiday Reference Guide – 3:08

So, as I referenced, there is a guide that goes along with this podcast episode. So we’re not actually gonna dig into all the little details. But I do want to go over the broad strokes of it and then just know that there is a guide (the link is in the show notes) that you can grab all of the little details of all the practical steps we’re talking about that you can then calendar and repeat annually and have that game plan for how you’re going to approach Thanksgiving this year and things like that with a lot less stress, a lot less last-minute scrambles, more clarity, more peace of mind, and just being able to hopefully let it go until the times you need to do the things so that you cannot worry about it so much.

There are five things I want to address before we dig into the guide.

One: Is You Don’t Want To, Don’t Do It – 3:50

The first is, as with anything I talk about, if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. This guide is not the exhaustive list of everything you need to do to have a great holiday season by any means. It’s just a list of action items that have come up with clients, with people on Instagram, in my own experience of things that I like to do, or I know that other people like to do for the holidays, but you can pick and choose.

If you are not doing something on there, then just don’t worry about it. If you see it and you’re like, “Yeah, every year I kind of want to do that thing, and I just never get around to it because I always forget and then I always wish I had, this is the time where you can look at this list and say, “You know what? Let me take that thing, calendar when I would like to do it, when I would like to remind future me to do it, and I can see if this fits into my life.” And if it doesn’t, then you just delete it going forward. But I just really want to be clear about that.

My goal, my job, the way I view it is to alleviate stress and not add to it, so this guide that you’re gonna get has a lot of stuff in it with an eye of trying to help break down what are all the things that can go into these holidays. You pick and choose what makes sense for you and let go of the rest. You might even pick things that you think work for you, then you see how much time they take in your calendar, and then you decide they do not work for you, and you get rid of them, and that is a great outcome too.

Two: Feel Free to Let Things Go – 5:08

So that brings me to my second point. You might think you might want to do a lot of this stuff. You might even have done a lot of this stuff in the past. You’re like, “Yep, these are all the things I do. Let me plot them in my calendar,” and then you see how much time they take and how much time they take away from other things that you want to be doing, and you might decide you don’t want to do them anymore, and that is a great outcome too. Just to be clear here, it’s a great outcome if you do them, it’s great if you don’t. It’s totally up to you, but I just want you to feel empowered to say, “Hey, you know what? This is why I feel really stressed during this time of the year. Because holy moly, look at how much time this stuff takes, and let me whittle down the amount of stuff I am doing so that I have more breathing space and I find it more enjoyable myself,” and that is wonderful too.

And then for the things you do decide to keep, my hope is that calendaring them out in this way so that you can spread out all of the action items really helps you just enjoy it more and not be so stressed out about it and by making it visual, just keep this in mind as we go through this stuff, it’s also a great opportunity to say, “I really do want to do some of this stuff, but I also don’t need to be the one doing it. Now that I see it very clearly, let me break off this piece and give this to my partner at home. Let me break off this piece and give this to other family that’s involved in this holiday season.” Whatever it might be, just keep that in mind.

So point one is don’t feel the pressure to do anything I say to do. Pick and choose what you want. Number two is you might even think you want it and then you see how much time it takes, and you realize I don’t want to do this, so feel free to let things go. If you do want to keep them, calendar this stuff over time and delegate it out to people.

Three: Holidays Involve More People – 6:50

Point three is, as with anything that involves other people, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and other winter holidays, they just involve more people. And so, because of that, it’s going to be harder to plan to a tee in a perfect way in our calendar, and we just have to accept that.

So I’m gonna circle back to this later in this episode, but for an example, the guide talks about plotting a time at a time that works for you, whether it’s June, July, or August, where you kind of decide, “What are we doing for Thanksgiving?” Just big picture. “Are we flying somewhere? Are we staying home?” Making that call of big picture, what am I doing for Thanksgiving.

If it’s just you making that decision, you can make that decision in half an hour to 45 minutes by yourself thinking through how you want to feel at the end of it, what you want that to look like, things like that. For a lot of people, there is more than just one person for good and worse. And so, what you might need to do in that scenario is plan that initial 45-minute window where you think about what do you want to do for the holidays. Maybe you talk to your partner about that if you have a partner and things like that. But it also might need to be an ongoing thing where, for example, you might need to kind of come to that decision of what you ideally want and then you send out an email to the relevant people and you’re like, “Hey, what are we doing for Thanksgiving this year? This is what I was kind of thinking about doing. Does that make sense?” And then you’re gonna have to follow up and it’s that kind of hanging thing that you can’t neatly wrap up in 45 minutes because other people are involved.

And so, for scenarios like that, just be realistic about it and then also think about what could I do to help me keep that ball moving forward so it doesn’t just fall through the cracks and peter out. So, for that example, instead of just plotting out that one 45-minute window where you decide what to do for Thanksgiving, you do that and then let’s say every week, every two weeks you calendar a 15-minute reminder to follow up with everybody on what are we doing for Thanksgiving. Does that make sense? So, basically, instead of just kind of wrapping it up into a neat package that you can handle on your own (that’s how you might plan to do something on your own), you send out that initial communication and then you calendar reminders to yourself at a frequency that makes sense to follow up with other people on it. This is a nice way to kind of keep the plans moving forward and get the resolution and the clarity that you’re looking for.

Four: There’s a Lot in The Guide – 9:21

Okay, point four is there’s a lot of stuff, as I mentioned, in the guide. I just want to really hammer this home that there is a lot of stuff in the guide. Obviously, don’t take it all. You don’t need to. Have the flexibility to let some of it go. But also know that a lot of this is a lot of front-end work and a lot of it you can repeat on an annual basis going forward. So just know that while it can be a fair amount of front-end work to set up the system to help you through the holiday season, you can also read this for every holiday season from here on out. So it’s a lot easier for me at least if I know that I’m gonna spend, let’s even say an hour working through that guide, calendaring everything out, I mean, an hour for the whole holiday season’s actually pretty good, but it’s definitely worth your time if you know that you’re repeating most of it on an annual basis and it will serve you from here on out for every holiday season. So just throwing that out there for you. Know that, as with a lot of time management stuff I teach, there’s a lot of front-end work that goes into it, but there’s a lot of long-term payoff, and that’s really where the magic happens to me.

Five: Don’t Beat Yourself Up – 10:22

The fifth and final point I want to make before diving into the guide is just that there are gonna be things in here that you might wish you’d done earlier. If you’re gonna get this in late August, you might be like, “Man, I really could have done this in June. It would have been nice to know I should have been doing this in June or July or early August, and now it’s too late,” just remove that judgment from any of it. Just remove it, and what I want you to do is instead say, “Okay, next holiday season in 2024 (or whenever you’re listening to this, a year later), when would I want to do it?” Calendar that, repeat it on an annual basis going forward, know that future you will get that benefit from here on out, and then just figure it out for now.

So just know that anytime I catch myself beating myself up for not doing something or not doing something early or things like that, just try and say, “How am I gonna fix it going forward? Let me use my calendar to make that better and help future me think of it at the time that I would like to, and then I’ll just figure out this year as it is and move forward. But now I know going forward I shouldn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way each year from here on out.”

The Holiday Reference Guide – 11:31

So, digging into the guide, it’s a big one, so I’m not gonna read it out loud to you. You can download it and go from there, but I do want to just kind of give you a taste of what’s in there so if you know whether it is for you or not.

So, for Thanksgiving, basically the first thing up there is deciding what you want to do for Thanksgiving. We kind of touched on that already, so I won’t dig into that, but it’s calendaring the window of time to decide and/or send out those first communications about it, and then follow up, follow up, follow up until you get that clarity.

Then they’re kind of separate sections. One is if you are traveling, what you might want to calendar. So that’s coming down to the flights, travel, when you’re gonna pack. That can be a big one. Especially if you also have to pack for kids, I find that blocking the time of when I’m going to pack is really, really important along with also when am I gonna do laundry in light on when I’m going to pack. So calendaring those types of things gives you an idea of when you’re gonna do things. It kind of helps alleviate some stress there, and it might play into this next point, which is blocking your work hours.

So, obviously, blocking any vacation time you want to take, any travel days you also would want to block your availability now, but also, as I said, packing, doing the laundry, things like that, do you want to maybe block just your meeting availability from the last day you worked, so you work from home that day, you don’t have any meetings. So you are working, but you’re also able to run laundry in the background and do an hour or two of packing in there at a time when you have childcare, things like that. So you think through things like that. That’s all in the guide.

Also, if you are not traveling but if you’re hosting house guests, then there are action items you can take on that front. So kind of just understanding and deciding on the arrival and departure times, and then in light of that, protecting time to just think through what are you guys doing for those days. It doesn’t mean that you plot out every minute by any means, but things like do you want to make reservations for any meals that you’re not actually cooking at home? Do you want to come up with a loose meal plan so that you get the right groceries? Things like that.

Also blocking work availability in light of that, and then also any cleaning or prep that you need to do to have those house guests, and along those lines, it’s also scheduling. If you have house cleaners, if you want to schedule a special cleaning before and after you have house guests, when you might need to do laundry to make beds up, asking about food allergies and when you’re ordering groceries, when you’re stocking bathrooms with extra toilet paper and clean towels. All of those little nitty gritty things, those are all in the guide as well to kind of help you walk things though.

Again, this does not mean you have to do all these things, and it also obviously doesn’t mean you do them all right now. The point of this is just to say, “What are all the things that go into this? When would I need to do them? Let me put those in my calendar now so I understand how it’s all going to come together, and that gives me a realistic game plan that helps, also, me understand that I have a game plan, so it reduces my stress and the last-minute scrambles and all of that.”

Finally, on the Thanksgiving front, there is a section on if you’re hosting the meal. That would go if you are hosting house guests or not. If you’re hosting the meal, that’s a whole other fun can of worms to deal with, and so, that really lays out deciding what you’re gonna do for the meal – if you’re cooking, if you’re running a potluck-style thing, if you’re catering it, if you’re catering part of it, if you’re gonna buy part of it. Just coming to that decision early, you can always change your mind in this too. I just always, especially with meal things, think there’s such a — I’ve even had clients where they’re like, “All I’m supposed to do is bring the pies,” but their life is so busy at that period of time that we just talk about, “Why don’t we just buy the pies?” That might not work for you. I’m not saying you have to do that, but the more you can get clear in not even your mind, but in your calendar about how much time this stuff takes, then you can make more informed decisions on whether you want to do those things or not, and if you do, then you can own it and really come up with a game plan that makes it less stressful for you, and if you don’t, then you feel more empowered because you’ve made an informed decision knowing how much work it takes.

Christmas is kind of a look back at Thanksgiving to do all those things also if they’re applicable to you. This goes for any winter holidays as well or even if you’re not celebrating a religious holiday, having the winter break and things like that. So you’re kind of going through those same exercises we did for Thanksgiving with Christmas or a holiday season or whatever makes sense for you.

Then I also added in a section on holiday cards if you’re doing them. This is a big one where I just want to be clear that not everyone has to do holiday cards. It’s one of those things though that if you want to do them, it tends to run up against time in a really — it can be a source of stress. And so, this includes things like when to reach out to a photographer if you want a nice family photo or I should say a formal family photo, especially if you’re in them. I have very few photos of me with my kids actually. So if you want to do that, it’s a reminder in June or July to even reach out to a photographer on that front. Scheduling time to review your Christmas card list and things like that.

I’m a big proponent here of Postable. Now, not everybody, but my grandmothers and people like that, I’m not gonna send them an email link to update their information, but for the vast majority of people on my holiday-card list, I have their email addresses. Postable sends them a little, “Hey, is your information up to date?” They can update anything. It’s super quick and easy, and I love it. I know that Minted and some other platforms have that option now too which is awesome. So just a reminder. I think I put it in late October to do that, and then time to actually do the holiday card piecing together.

In addition, there are sections on gift giving and house decorating. If you decide to do these things, just some reminders to do that, including maybe early on in November broaching with the people that are relevant to do more of a Secret Santa-type exchange than an everybody get everybody presents, and it just becomes a lot of work and money and things like that.

So just things like that are in the guide all laid out. I’m not gonna read them to you. It’s not really worth your time as you’re driving or walking a dog or things like that for me to read out loud the things that you won’t be able to take action on in this moment. But just know the guide has them all laid out. You can pick and choose what you want, and then you just calendar when you’re gonna do those things into the future and repeat them annually. It’ll take a bit of time, but you’ll get that payoff for years to come.

One of the things that I love about this the most is that it really is making what usually is very heavy mental load stuff visual and out of our heads, so it’s no longer a mental load. It’s still a load, but it’s no longer just in our brains weighing our brains down. When you see all the steps that go into whatever you decide you want your Thanksgiving or other holidays to look like, when you see all of the little steps that go into that and then attach them to time in your calendar and see how much time they take, it really gets it all out of your head and into a system that you can trust to help future you do the things in a way that allows for a lot less last-minute scramble and more enjoyment for the people that tend to not get to enjoy holidays as much because of how much labor goes into it.

Again, also, you can share that labor with other people. When you get it out of your head and make it visual, it’s easier for you and other people to understand it more in a way that you can break it off and give it to someone else. Where when it’s all up in your head, it’s almost just easier to do it yourself. And so, by making it visual, we can really alleviate that element of this as well.

The mental load unloading is really one of the parts that I love most about this because it’s kind of what I say about my calendar might look super cluttered to you, but to me what’s just truly amazing to me is that I used to manage all of that in just my head. If it’s not in your calendar, it’s just in your head. And so, I just want to throw that out there that this is similar. When you see all the steps written out, it’s just truly mind boggling that it probably all used to live in your head, and now we can get it into a system that it’s not in your mind anymore. It’s sprinkled out over time. You have a game plan. You can break things off and give them out to other people, or you might just be like, “Wow! No wonder I was overwhelmed! Let me get rid of a third of these things because I just don’t need to spend this much time on that. It’s not as enjoyable to me, and now I really understand why.” So I just love this part of these exercises of getting stuff out of our head, making more informed decisions, and then what we decide to keep, really laying it out in a way that works better for us.

So I hope you experience that as well! I would love to hear how you think about it. Grab your link in the show notes below so that you can get all the action items so you can pick what works best for you and plan out your realistic game plan that will serve you for years to come. And if you like this episode, if you find use in it, please feel free to send it to a friend. I would love to help more people actually enjoy the holiday season. It’s such a wonderful time of year so long as you can actually soak it all in. My goal is that this guide helps us all do that and then enjoy the time even before the holiday season without stressing so much about it.

Also, if you like this type of kind of very timely-specific stuff, this is the type of stuff I share a lot on Instagram because it’s more timely and right in the moment as I’m thinking about it, I’ll share stuff there. So follow me there! I’m at @_kellynolan_, and I look forward to hanging out with you there, and I’ll catch you in the next episode!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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