Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Stress-Free Christmas Planning Session

Sometimes Christmas feels like an all-consuming project that sends us racing through malls, jumping from party to party, and being busy-busy-busy as we fill our time with lots of Christmas fluff.
I want something more than that, though.

I don’t want to have to “recover” from Christmas. I don’t want to start the new year eight pounds heavier. I don’t want my children focused only on the electronic gadgets they hope Santa brings. But everything I don’t want will probably become my reality–unless I take the initiative to implement what I do want.

David Allen’s Natural Planning Model (from the book Getting Things Done) seriously saves my sanity on everything from birthday party planning to creating new programs for my website, so this year, I decided to use the five steps of the Natural Planning Model to create a Christmas experience that is both magical and meaningful.

Step One: Defining Purpose and Principles

For this part, I sat down with my children and gave them the following prompts:
  • What’s the purpose of this season?
  • What do you want this Christmas to feel like for our family?
  • Please finish this sentence: “I would be happy with any Christmas celebration, as long as . . .”
Then I took good notes, and the beauty of their responses continues to amaze me.

Step Two: Outcome Visioning

We did this part on a separate day with an informal breakfast discussion, which basically took our ideas from Step One to a deeper level.

My 11-year-old was the scribe: We agreed that we want to be well-rested, reasonably-paced, and organized throughout the holiday, and we’re going to continue exercising and eating well so we’ll be in better health by the time the tree comes down. 

We’re all going to be happy with our Christmas gifts–even if we don’t get the “big” stuff that all the kids at school are talking about. We’ll purchase and wrap our presents by the first week of December, shop together for a beautiful tree that will be trimmed with homemade decorations, and focus the majority of our activities and expenses on making others happy.

Just typing these things out gets me so excited about the holiday season. Certainly, there will be days that won’t go as planned (probably most days), and some of us will be whiny or emotional while others will be frustrated or exhausted, but that’s just life. We can still aim high, can’t we?

On to Step Three: Brainstorming

This step is my favorite because it gives us a place to write all the ideas we’ve been cooking up over the past few months. 

We looked carefully at our notes from the first two steps and then gathered as a family one evening to brainstorm around seven areas of focus. Here they are:
  • Activities and Outings
  • Helping Others
  • Uplifting Media
  • Christmas Cards
  • Gifts
  • Meaningful Traditions
  • Healthy Food
Then my daughter added an eighth area called, “Unhealthy food.” (She needed a place to include the gingerbread house.)

Photo courtesy of Shawni Pothier

Seeing our areas of focus as clusters on one page helps us to realize that the “all-consuming” holiday planning really is finite. We can create boundaries around our time, we can control our expenditures, and we can make sure our energy is spent on what’s most important. 

In many areas, there’s a clear overlap. Can’t we create meaningful traditions that help others? Can’t healthy Christmas goodies and beautiful music be part of our Christmas-gift giving? Looking at the big picture clarifies everything.

Step Four: Organizing

This part initially feels hard. How am I going to take all these brainstorms and make them manageable?

Simply jump in.

I wrote out all the components and sub-components on little slips of paper.

Then I moved them around and organized them according to priority and sequence.
Here are my three sub-clusters: things to do this week, things to do before December 1st, and things to do in early December.

I noticed that four of these slips contained two-minute tasks, so I quickly accomplished those and then moved onto the next step.

Step Five: Identifying Next Actions

As I was getting all my ideas out onto Post-it Notes, I realized that some things I wrote down were projects, while others were tasks.
I created a list of Current Christmas Projects,

and then I created two Next Actions Lists: one for immediate Next Actions–things to accomplish within the next week, and one for important Next Actions–things to accomplish as soon as it’s convenient.

Then I simply put these sheets into my inbox to organize during my next Weekly Review.
I’ll create calendar triggers for the Christmas plans that mean the most to me, and then I’ll just do my best with the rest, knowing that ultimately, spontaneous events might replace those I’ve planned, some of these projects might not seem as important three weeks from now, and what really matters is how this holiday feels.

Your family’s Christmas planning will likely be much different than ours. There’s no one “right” way to do this, but I hope that this exercise using the Natural Planning Model will help you to create a wonderful Christmas for you and the ones you love.

To download your own template like the one in the photos, click here!


  1. Thank you for sharing this, April!!!! I like the first few steps, but I can imagine that they get automatic as soon as you've practiced this long enough so that they are really fast to pull together (as soon as you know what you really envision). Planning doesn't have to take 3 hours, right? Good, then I'll jump right in today. Afterall, December is right around the corner, literally.

  2. hey i love that your family also wants to incorporate healthy recipes if you find some would you please post them on your blog or possibily e-mail me them


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