Monday, November 17, 2008

Holiday Planning

It's not even Thanksgiving and I'm already sweating the Christmas holidays. The cooking, shopping, wrapping, writing, packing, labeling, cleaning, baking, polishing, decorating... I'm exhausted just thinking about it.
Every year I make a "To Do" list and check it twice. It seems I'm both naughty and nice. I don't want to leave anyone out, yet I want to try to get it all done and still have time to enjoy the holidays myself. You know, the family being home, playing Jenga, timing to talk and kick back, and let's not forget the food. I like to eat; don't leave me out of the pies and cookies.
So all this brings me to the topic of today's post: Holiday planning. I'm not exactly a fly-by-the-seat kind of girl. I over plan. So much so that I probably stress myself out sometimes. Ask my kids and you'll get a big YES from that one. But I just about always make my deadlines, so I guess the result is good.
Some people I talk with are the opposite; they begin to stress on the 23rd or 24th of December. I know there are lots of websites and books that can help you with organizing your life, but today I'll give you my secret: my magic bullet, as Michael Connelly calls it in his Mickey Holler books. (My favorite is The Lincoln Lawyer) A former partner, Kim, liked this method so much she once asked me to write it up for her, and she was already an organized person. So maybe there's something to it, at least for those who are interested. Here goes:
The Magic Bullet Planning Method

My secret to making my deadline on any project is planning backward. Sounds crazy, huh? It's actually simple, and allows for things to go a bit awry at times. And it works for everything: deadlines for blog posts, manuscript due dates, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday parties, work assignments, major purchases--most anything that takes more than a couple of weeks to finish.

  1. Start with your deadline and back up 3 days. This is your new deadline. It gives you some breathing room in case of a last minute crisis. You can decide if you need more or less.
  2. Now comes the longest part of the planning process. Make a list of all the tasks involved in completing the project. Read and reread the list, adding things you missed.
  3. Now put the list in the order that the tasks should be done, understanding that some tasks will overlap.
  4. Reread the list again and you'll undoubtedly find more things you've left off the list. I always do. Add these in their appropriate places in the timeline.
  5. Next comes the hardest part. Start at the beginning and think through each item, considering what might go wrong. With these possibilities in mind, estimate a reasonable time for completion of each task. Now add 15% to that time and call this your time estimate. I'm sure you think I'm being overcautious, but this is REALLY the way I do things, and trust me, it works. You'll make your deadline.
  6. Get a calender page that has plenty of room for notes. Sometimes I scan my calendar before it is clogged up with daily duties, and use the scanned printout--enlarged--for my planning tool.
  7. Block out all mandatory obligations: work, appointments, classes, etc. The leftover areas are now your target task times (TTT).
  8. Add up the total estimated time for all your tasks on the list. Divide this by the number of days with significant amounts of TTT. This will help you estimate how many days you need to complete your deadline.
  9. Starting with the last item (roasting the turkey?), place it on the appropriate day. Obviously you won't be roasting the turkey 3 days before Christmas, so put this task on the date the family celebrates.
  10. Now you can count the days with lots of TTT and divide up the tasks, remembering to keep them in order. Some tasks may have their own deadline, such as mailing packages, so keep that in mind.
  11. Spread out the tasks, putting the first task on tomorrow's calendar box, and the last near Christmas. This should allow plenty of time in between for all the other things that life throws at you. Don't forget your usual daily routine: work, walk the dog, homework with the kids, bedtime stories, cleaning, cooking, etc. By all means, don't leave out the bedtime stories.

I'm open to ideas and fielding them through the COMMENTS link that follows this post. Drop me a line. And good luck. Happy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year. Enjoy your celebrations and your family time. This is the making of memories.

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