Holiday Master To-Do List

This post is nothing more than how I’m tackling the holidays this year.  I wrote yesterday about my goal to Be Present!, which can’t happen without planning ahead.  In spite of not hosting my family for Thanksgiving this year, I’m still anxious about everything there is to do.  Granted there is less to do when you aren’t having a dozen people at your house for a long weekend.  When I get anxious, to-do items float in and out of my head.  I fixate on them so that I don’t forget.  The fixation makes me just want to get them done.  It may be shocking, but I don’t have the wherewithal to just do it all in a weekend.  Shocking, no?  Anyway… writing it all down is critical to my holiday mental health.

I spent a little bit of Sunday morning, sitting quietly (thanks to my husband for bathing the kids, so I could do this) with a cup of coffee so I could focus on what really needs to get done.  It is a process that calms my brain.  Writing down the thoughts floating puts them in a physical space.  As long as the list isn’t lost (which is why I take a picture of it on my phone), I don’t have to remember everything in my head.

To-Do lists are an integral part of keeping our marriage happy.  We have one usually every weekend.  Sometimes it encompasses the week, but mostly we just survive the week and accomplish little above and beyond.  The weekly to-do lists are open for both to add things or bring to discussion whether something should be deleted.  It has been a good communication tool of expectations.  Once we both write down everything we want to accomplish, we often find that there is more to do than can actually be accomplished in the time allowed, so prioritization has to follow.  My husband is awesome about helping with things, but he often says he needs to know what to do.  I’ve gone through phases of bitterness with this, because the onus is on me to always know what is coming and needs to get done.  I’m implicitly responsible when a birthday comes and goes without note.  Today, I’m accepting that our division of duties includes me being the planner.  He recognizes that this takes time away from other things and doesn’t magically happen.

One of the things that distresses me as the holidays approach is actually getting all the additional holiday to-do items accomplished among the regular weekly stuff that doesn’t go away.  Not to mention our weekends start getting packed to the gills.  So I start early.  My husband is a visual guy and if he doesn’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  (Come on, you know the man who swears that there isn’t any mac & cheese in the house, because it isn’t at eye level?)  He also loves to pack as many activities as possible.  He is almost always the one saying we should get together, meet up, and go places.  I’m an introvert and my batteries recharge when I’m by myself, so this can be a tenuous situation.  Long way of saying that having a list keeps my husband’s expectations in check of everything we can accomplish and what will have to be sacrificed to do it — things not getting done.  It also opens the door for creative problem solving when one of us wants to add more to the docket.

Our Master To-Do List (pictured above) has room for six “projects.”  Truth be told, I printed two just in case.  Part of keeping it simple was only allowing myself one sheet.  The agreed upon categories are: Cards, Decorating, Presents, Toys, Year End, and Thank You Notes.  Each category only has 12 lines and the items under each I try to limit to under an hour of time.  I’m not sure about you, but it is rare with two little kids that I have more than an hour of uninterrupted time.  Being realistic, it is unlikely we will be able to pack in more than 72 hours of preparations.

Using Cards as an example, I break it down to all the smaller steps:

  • Order cards (this actually got done in August after we had family pictures taken & I found a Tiny Print coupon for 30% off)
  • Update address label file
  • Mail merge & print labels
  • Buy stamps
  • Write holiday letter & copy (This takes more than an hour, but I don’t feel like it can be broken down further since the copies are a 5 minute project)
  • Stamp, return address, and label envelopes
  • Stuff & send

By breaking everything down, something that is typically my responsibility is more easily shared.  It also lends itself to multi-tasking, like accomplishing the last two steps while watching a favorite TV show.

Decorating encompasses everything from the putting up to taking down.  It would include vacuuming up tree needles after everything is done, but last year we made the difficult decision to stop buying real and got a fake that is pre-lit.  While we both miss the smell of the real deal, it has allowed us to put the tree up the weekend before Thanksgiving and enjoy the twinkle lights a little longer.

Presents really started months ago when I had pneumonia. At the suggestion of a friend, I got my list going and have been on the look out for deals on items listed.  The list pictured above has everybody we still need to shop or wrap for listed by name.  There are only twelve lines.  Our friends and families have embraced with us less gifting, which is a gift in itself.  We have six siblings and ten nieces and nephews.  That is a lot of people to buy for and doesn’t fit on twelve lines.  Instead we have taken to celebrating birthdays and have a new tradition of doing a family outing instead of presents.  This year, I’m really excited to be heading to children’s theater to see “Rudolph.”

Part of the reason gifting less has been so important to us is that we all have too much stuff.  Hence the next category of Toys.  I like to purge toys before Santa even arrives.  Physically making room for the season ahead.  We were talking about things that could be removed and sold, which there may be more of, but the train table immediately came to mind.  The kids don’t use it any more, preferring to play trains on the floor, and it could be the perfect gift for a 3 year-old child.  I’m all for non-toy gifts, but have also been on the giving end.  It isn’t very fun to hand over $90 for dance lessons that you never get to attend and the child would probably get with or without your gift.  This was part of what the inspiration was in doing less.

Year End is stuff that needs to get done, but isn’t related to any holiday joy… paying property taxes, FSA reimbursements (which we have extra time on, but could really help the holiday cash flow), etc.  Unglamorous, time-consuming, important.

You might note that the last project column is completely empty and labeled Thank You Notes.  They have to get done, but if I don’t keep track early, I forget.

To wrap-up (pun intended), each of the items from the Master To-Do list gets moved to the weekly/weekend to-do list as the weeks ahead progress.  Sometimes when I find time in the evening I wasn’t expecting, I will grab the master list and knock off one or two things.  (Usually, those times involve reading a book instead.)

What do you do to simplify the holidays?  Tips or tricks you are willing to share?

Note: I purchased the printable for my Master To-Do List, but found this very similar one free on the internet.  Thank you, Housewife 2 Hostess!!! You could use any paper to do the same thing, but I like to have something pretty.  

5 thoughts on “Holiday Master To-Do List

  1. I know exactly what you mean about needing to write things down. I write mini lists each night. What I want to accomplish the next day. I try to be realistic, keeping in mind not to overdo it. Then as I get each task done I check it off. I make sure I add tasks like “spend 30 minutes reading” so that I get some self care in. That is hard for me and I find that if I don’t have it written down then I don’t get me-time. So lists are very important for me. And useful to everyone!!


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