Monday morning. The beginning of the holiday season. My list is long. I sigh, already tired, and decide to grab a cup of tea while I decide how to tackle the enormous to-do list.
As I look at my list, I decide to put an approximate time commitment behind each item in hopes that it will help me decide what to tackle first. Of course, the usual everyday items such as brushing my teeth, eating, and doing devotionals were on the list. But, in addition to those daily habits, there were items like ordering gifts, grocery shopping, decorating the house, finding time to take a picture for a Christmas card, digging out specialty bakeware from storage, and more.
The list started to take shape as I wrote a myriad of items down, and it became clearer that some things needed to be done sooner rather than later. My weekly day calendar started to fill in. As I filled in the blanks, I realized that I also need to account for transition time, either to physically move from completing one project to starting another or to mentally move my brain from one type of activity to another (I need way more brain power to write a Christmas letter than to wash dusty stored dishes?!). As I was putting things on the list, I kept saying, “Oh, that item? It’s not that big of a deal. I can squeeze that in between this and that”. I’ll add that turkey for the community dinner to my grocery list. I can drop the turkey off after work on Thursday on my way to the bank. Easy as pie, right?
Wrong. Looking at my calendar, I realized that I had overcommitted on items deemed “not that big of a deal”. My calendar was littered with them—small acts of volunteerism, cooking all the main dishes at the family gathering, deciding to handmake several gifts, and so on. The longer I looked at the calendar, the more anxious I got. You know that antsy feeling of being overwhelmed, almost like a deer in the headlights feeling. I chuckled as I realized Martha had taken over my life. No, not Martha Stewart, Martha from the bible. Martha was busy in my life preparing for a party, and she was determined to make it memorable, even at the expense of her own best interest. All the things on my list were good. None of them by themselves would push anyone over the edge of sanity. But, together, that was a different story. When I added up all my “not that big of a deal” items, I was on the verge of being deemed a little crazy and feeling it. I realized I had created a scenario where everyone around me would enjoy a memorable and beautiful holiday except me. I would be tired, frazzled, and not very “merry and bright”!
I decided to use a different tactic with my list. First, I returned to the original list and ranked each item between one and three. Items ranked one had to be done, no matter what. Items ranked two really should be done. Items ranked three would be nice to have done but could be forgotten if needed. Second, I went over the list and marked which items on the must-be-done list I had to do myself and which could potentially be assigned to others. I put the must-be-done-by-me items on my calendar in a way that would allow me to enjoy each task, not being rushed and with plenty of transition time. Then I set out asking for help completing the other must-be-done items. My husband was assigned tree duty. For the large holiday gathering we decided to host, well, I asked my mother to make the green bean casserole, my brother-in-law to make a ham, and my father-in-law to make pies.
I repeated this tactic with each ranked list, one, two, and three. You probably think that nothing from list three made the cut. You would be wrong. While many things went by the wayside as “would be nice, but not happening,” several items made it onto my calendar. By taking a realistic look at my list and prioritizing what had to be done and who could help me do it, I was able also to include items that, from a practical perspective, might seem unnecessary but, from a personal standpoint, bring me great joy. For example, I like to hand-address my Christmas cards. Nobody expects it. I wouldn’t have to do it. However, for years I have made a tradition of praying for each recipient as I handwrite their address. Something simple, perhaps “unnecessary”, but meaningful and almost magical. After making my lists, I realized this item had to be on my must-be-done by Liz list. Had I not done my lists, I would have never realized how deeply spiritual this item was and how important it was for me to create ample space to complete it.
Are you feeling overwhelmed this holiday season? Have you added up your “it’s not that big of a deal” items on your to-do list? As I did, you might find some relief in doing so. When I prioritized what was really important to me—praising God, rejoicing in the coming of Christ, and spending quality time with the people I love—it became pretty easy to cull the list. It is even easier when you ask for help!
Contributed by Liz Hunt