It is only the first week of December and I am already overwhelmed with holiday to-do’s. My life is ridiculously hectic on any given Tuesday, so I’m at a loss as to how to manage my work and my life while still enjoying what is supposed to be a season of merriment. Any suggestions?


I went through the same pre-holiday panic last Sunday. We bought our tree on the way home from our Thanksgiving travel on Saturday night. We broke out the bins of holiday decorations that evening as well. We put the wreath on the door, confident that we were ahead of the game and in great shape to simply coast through the bliss that is this holiday season.

And then Sunday had the temerity to show up. That morning, in an effort to prepare for the month ahead, I glanced at the December calendar and promptly choked on my coffee. Realizing that I’d either need to clone myself or hide under my desk for the next 30 days, I then proceeded (audibly) to lament the craziness of my schedule, question how I would get it all done, and briefly consider cancelling everything on the list.

As my husband patiently enabled me to rant and hurl the report of the coming week’s obligations at him like rapid gunfire, he gently reminded me of the one additional item that I neglected to include on my Very Busy Schedule. His birthday.

That’s when I took a big step back. Way back. Because I realized I had committed one of the Top Three Sins of the Season: forgetting the people behind the celebration.

None of us wants to simply “get through” the holidays, and all of us would certainly prefer to enjoy them. Balance between your work and your life, however, is tough to achieve, as you wrote, “on any given Tuesday.” So how in the world are you supposed to make it happen when you have so many extra to-do’s thrown in the mix?

For starters, commit to not committing the Top Three Sins of the Season:

1. Forgetting all of the reasons for the season. We often get so busy fighting mall traffic, juggling holiday parties and having the “No, We Went to Your Parents’ Last Year” argument that we forget why we’re running around in the first place.

Try to remember the spiritual purpose of the holiday, and the special people in your life for whom you get to scour stores and web sites to find the perfect presents. Remind yourself that if your biggest problem is that you have to juggle celebrating the season in all of these beautiful ways with all of the fantastic people in your life (and the ones you have to, by occupation or relation, put up with), well Happy Holidays to you!

Before you groan about having to endure yet another holiday office party, keep in mind that this is often the one time each year that your employer springs for punch and pot stickers in an effort to show his or her appreciation for the work you do. And in this economy, be grateful that your employer kept that holiday party in the budget, when so many have had to slash any staff appreciation line item.

Stay focused on this daily. Stick a post-it on your computer or bathroom mirror that reads “My biggest holiday challenge today will be managing all of the gifts in my life” or other reminder in your own language.

2. Taking too much on. To avoid committing Sin # 1, you need to take an honest look at the time you have and the tasks you have to accomplish.

Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between what you have to do and what you want to do. You don’t have to write a personal note to each holiday card recipient or bake fresh gingerbread men; you can pre-print your holiday wishes and buy cookies at the bakery. And while you don’t have to make your own bows or host 50 people for dinner, if these are things that bring you joy, you will have to let some other things go.

Lose some to-do’s instead of your mind. Hate the crowds at the mall? Shop online. Loathe trying to figure out the perfect gift for everyone in your office? Coordinate a gift exchange and quickly go from 10 items to one.

Grab your list and check it twice; what can you let go of to make room for the things that truly mark the celebration of the season for you?

3. Overlooking life. Keep in mind that because all of your holiday tasks are in addition to, not a replacement for, everyday life, you can’t allow Operation Decoration Perfection or other December obsession to take over those commitments you’ve already made to balanced living.

You still have a life to live, a job to keep, and good health to maintain, so try to be realistic with which holiday goodies you add to your already full plate. While most job duties slow down during this time of year, some don’t. If you’re trying to get those contracts signed by December 31, year-end financials submitted or benefit plans approved, it may as well be June for you.

Balanced living is not perfect living; it’s about making room for the things that bring you peace (financial, emotional, or otherwise) and letting go of the things that don’t. The holidays can really confuse us when it comes to this endeavor, because sometimes we equate the perfect gift or the perfect décor with the amount of love our recipient or guest will feel in the wake of it.

But think about…if you knew that your gift giver was exhausted and financially strapped because he gave you the perfect gift, wouldn’t the gift seem just a little less perfect? Or, if you knew that your friend went two sleepless nights to get the hand-written holiday cards out on time, wouldn’t you have simply preferred a pre-printed card with a picture of her kids by New Years’?

The true beauty of the holiday season is not the perfect table setting or that gorgeous cashmere sweater. It’s the opportunity to enjoy community and celebration with the people that matter to us. And that’s something we don’t get on any given Tuesday.