Updated: Mar 1, 2020
For years, my family (in this case, my original nuclear family - parents, brother and his family) has celebrated Christmas at Thanksgiving, because that's historically been the optimal time for our families to get together. My niece labeled this event "Thanksmas" years ago. But this year, there were several factors that made it look like we were going to miss this gathering. About two weeks before Thanksgiving, suddenly those barriers were lifted, and we decided very late in the game to make the trip to Colorado. The only thing was, we had not even thought about gifts because, not planning to make the Thanksgiving trip, we thought we had a few more weeks to order and ship everything. And by "we," I mean "I," because I do all the gift shopping.
So I had to fly into action to save Thanksmas. I somehow managed to poll, plan and purchase every gift and ensure that it arrived on time to distribute presents to each family member. And everyone else had to do the same for us. How did we pull this off?
It's my secret productivity sauce.
There's no time like the holidays to bring a higher-than-usual level of "there isn't enough time!" cries of anguish. I mean, that mantra is a recurring theme among most of us all year long, but it escalates during the holiday season. On top of all the usual work and family responsibilities, you now have to figure out how to purchase gifts, plan for and prepare for festive meals or parties, make appearances at special events, and take the kids for pictures with Santa! How do we get it all done?
But here's a radical thought. What if we stopped viewing time in terms of scarcity? I know that sounds crazy, but just come along for a sec.
What if I told you that you have enough time to do everything that's important? It's true! What is this magic sauce, and how can you get some of it?
Here's the recipe...just in time for the holidays:
Step 1. Prioritize. Cut deep. There are a lot of things that take up your valuable time but don't move you forward in accomplishing what's important. Apply the 80/20 rule: What 20% of your tasks will solve 80% of your problems or drive 80% of your productivity? Those get top priority. Everything else probably didn't need to be done anyway. For me, it's cutting back on time sucks like social media or TV. You decide what your own priorities are.
Step 2: Dissect. It's so easy to stall or not even start when you're facing a task that is complex or has a lot of steps. So first, break down every aspect of a major project by identifying all of the small steps required to complete it. If it's "gift shopping," which feels incredibly daunting, dissect it into steps like 1) research gift options, 2) price comparison, 3) shop for Mom, 4) shop for Dad, 5) shop for kid, etc.
Step 3: Ration. It's not about time management. It's about productivity. Ever hear of Parkinson's Law? This law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." In other words, any task will take the amount of time you give it. So armed with this reality, you now know that the trick to being more productive is to give each task less time. This is so critical. Think realistically about how much time you need to complete your priority tasks. Don't give your tasks too much time, or you'll just drag them out. Think economically. Then block your calendar for each of those tasks.
Step 4: Focus. Now that you're ready to tackle a single task, set yourself up to achieve it in the time you've given it. Remove all distractions, turn off all notifications, find a quiet place where you can't be disturbed, and set a timer. Yes, you read that right. Make it real and take that deadline seriously. Here's a tool you can use to time yourself, OR just ask your phone to set a timer for you (so long as your other notifications are turned off).
I can't magically make the holiday stress go away. But with this simple productivity hack, I can promise that it will be much less intense and much more enjoyable.
Have a fantastic holiday season!