10 Tips to Simplify Your Holiday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Or is it?  Most of us look forward with anticipation to the excitement and time off that the holiday season brings.  In our minds we are capable of baking and decorating like Martha Stewart, selecting Oprah-inspired gifts for everyone on our lists and wrapping them like Mr. Bean in Love Actually.  Realistically, even if we possessed all those skills, none of us have the time to make it all happen while maintaining our sanity.  We need to simplify our season.  As most of these tasks fall on females, it is no surprise that according to a January 2006 survey, women (44 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, citing lack of time (69 percent versus 63 percent), lack of money (69 percent versus 55 percent), and pressure to give or get gifts (51 percent versus 42 percent) as primary stressors.

Why do we feel an acute shortage of time in this season?  According to research, it’s because people volunteer more during the holidays; spend less time socializing with friends; having increased family obligations and significantly increase the time and money spent shopping, decorating and sending greetings.  What we really value most during the holidays, as per Odyssey, is:

 

PLAN BB-10 tips

  1. Being with family.
  2. Cooking with loved ones.
  3. No school.
  4. Shopping for holiday gifts.
  5. Decorating the house.
  6. Presents.
  7. Holiday movies on television.
  8. Holiday desserts.
  9. Holiday drinks.
  10. Enjoying the Lights.
  11. Holiday music.
  12. Being in the holiday spirit.

So how do you get back to the joys of the list above?  Simplify your life and add more “fa” to your “la” by following our ten tips below.

1. Say “No”.

Saying no is easier than you think and will save you from long nights of doing things you don’t want to do or staying awake at night worrying because you forgot to do them.  Let’s practice.  Your friend: “Can you make a Maltesers Christmas pudding for my party?”  You: “No.”  Your husband: “Honey, can you pick up some gifts for my mom and a few colleagues?”  You: “No.”  Your son or daughter: “Mom, can you be the stage mom for my school’s Christmas play?”  You; “No.”  You get the idea.  Of course, you should say it nicely, with a smile and add an “I love you,” but the point is that there are so many things for which your time is obligated during this season that you need to prioritize and simplify your schedule.  Don’t stretch yourself thin and neglect spending time with those you love doing the things you really love.  No one remembers the expertly decorated tree or present.  They remember the laughs you have over a delicious dinner, the movie you snuggled up watching and the game you played all night.

2. Ask for Help.

No woman or man is an island.  We all need help.  Ask your partner or kids to help with the decorating or baking.  It does not always have to fall on you just because it has in the past.  You might get some grunts, but who cares?  You’ve been cursing under your breath for the past five Christmases.  People simply do not offer to help anymore.  Our devices have made us somewhat oblivious to human cues.  Ask for help.  If you don’t, you won’t get it and you will resent the very people you want to enjoy.  You may not think this will simplify your season, but if you let go a little and ask, you will not only gain time, but you may have fun engaging in those tasks with your family.

3. Plan.

I like spontaneous decisions for travel and date nights, but not for family gatherings like Christmas and Hanukah.  Jot down or electronically transcribe a quick list of to dos and associate a timeframe with each.  Write down when you will get your tree, decorate outside and in, bake cookies, shop, and plan the special holiday meals.  For example, my family always gets our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving and decorates it slowly for two days.  It eases us into Christmas.  Then over the next week and before December 1st, we decorate the house inside and out.  Next, we begin shopping for our children, because let’s admit, it’s pretty much all about them.  We affix a deadline for the end of shopping to make sure we have time wrap our gifts, which occurs the week before Christmas.  The cookie baking takes place a few days before Christmas and we plan our meals three days before (as we buy a lot of our sides to again simplify our lives and spare us some time).  You get the idea.  Have a plan and roughly stick to it.  That way, you won’t get that panicky, rushed feeling on your first day home from work.  You can enjoy each phase as it comes, knowing you have time in between to relax. Check out our other tips on Making Better Use of Your Time.

4. Calendar It.

Once you have a list worked out, calendar it.  For those of you who don’t use google calendars, get on it!  You can color code your entries for work, family and personal and share them with your loved ones.  This way you can include the activity, the address, the travel time, and any notes you may have in the margin.  Now, I am not saying that your significant other won’t still ask you where he’s supposed to pick up the catered food, because if he’s like mine, he will.  At least he or she will have the opportunity to see when and where (with a quick click to navigate him or her there) you would like him or her to help.  If the items are more nebulous, use the “all day” button and a range of days in which to complete the task.  It really helps you feel centered and in control of your days during the craziness of the season.

5. Pare Down.

Don’t you hate the feeling of cramming a bunch of new clothes or toys into closets and toy bins after the holidays?  As an organizer, I get sick thinking about it.  Take a slow Saturday (ha, I know) in the next few weeks and donate your older items that are outdated and those that are too small for your kids.  Go through the toy bins.  You know the toys that your kids love and those that have been overlooked since someone bought them for their birthday.  Give them away.  There are plenty of families in need during this season who would love them.  Use it as a learning experience for your younger kids to teach them that not everyone is so fortunate.  They will get excited about helping others and have their first philanthropic experience.

6. Out with the Old Decorations.

Christmas is a special time of year and we are all prone to overbuying trinkets and ornaments that make us happy.  BUT, there is no need to have a garage full of Christmas bins. I guarantee you do not even know what is in half of the bins since you take out only the top two winners every year.  You never use it and you aren’t going to.  You know where I’m going with this.  Clear out the stuff you do not and never will, put out.

Do you like it?  Will you ever use it?  Are you keeping it because of a guilt trip your mother-in-law may impose?   Give it to someone you know if it assuages guilt, or donate it.  Either way, simplify your life and let it go.  You will be so happy you did.

7. Volunteer.

Yes, I know I wrote that volunteering was a time suck in paragraph two, but not strategic generosity of time.  Pick your favorite charity and pledge 2-5 hours of your time on a given day.  (Add this to your plan above!) Nothing brings perspective like seeing the plight of those that are forgotten during the holidays.  Again, if it is appropriate, bring your children and show them that your family places value in helping the less fortunate.  Those moments imprint on them.  We can never forget that for those of us that have chosen to have children, our most important mission is raising good little humans.

 8. Skip Some Gifting.

I generally enjoyed shopping before I had children.  I still would if I could justify brick and mortar purchasing while paying a babysitter.  It’s fun to buy yourself things.  It’s even fun to buy for others, but not for everyone at once and in such a condensed timeframe.  If your family is on the large side (like my husband’s family with seven brothers and sisters), skip the gifts.  (Gasp!)  Of course, make sure everyone is ok with foregoing the present swap.  You may be surprised to find that other family members are relieved to cross some people off their lists as they are feeling the crush of holiday presents as well.  If it’s necessary to swap presents between kids, establish a maximum as you would at a Secret Santa party.  It takes a lot of the pressure off and simplifies the time spent with your family.  The focus becomes hanging out and not endlessly opening gifts!

9. Be a Thoughtful and Conservative Gift Giver.

Don’t you hate hauling giant coffee table books home in your suitcase?  So does everyone else!  Don’t give oversized gifts just to give. Think about the giftee and their interests.  Think about logistics.  Can they carry it home?  Will their children destroy it?  Here’s a good one:  Will they like it?  Simply put, put in more thought.

Likewise, save the flashy gifts for your significant others.  People are embarrassed when you bestow lavish gifts on them and they don’t return the favor.  Of course, later you will receive a gift of greater or equal value as the need for comity sets in.  People really do appreciate thoughtful gifts that show that you actually considered who they are before you bought them.  You don’t have to spend a lot.

10. Pace Yourself.

If you’re hanging lights and your shoulders are burning, take a break.  If you can’t imagine baking one more batch of cookies, put the spatula down and put the dough in the refrigerator.  Don’t think of it as giving up.  Everything in life is better in moderation.  Many of us grew up thinking we should not put off for tomorrow what we can do today, but sometimes you are a much nicer person tomorrow if you put off today.  Don’t stress your mind or body by giving yourself artificial deadlines.  This also means you can’t wait until the last second to do something that has to get done by a certain date (See “Plan”).

No matter what annoying occurrence befalls you holiday, above all, try to shrug it off.  A wise confidante of mine has a little sigh sound that he makes when something goes wrong to tell his brain it’s going to be ok.  It’s a high-pitched “hhhmph” with a shrug of the shoulders.  This season is so fleeting and won’t be here again for another year.  Simplify it, but enjoy it.  When you feel stressed, shrug, and say “hhhmph” and get back to watching Ralphie beat the crap out of that mean red-headed kid.

Five Habits to a Happier 2018

In a few short weeks, holiday gluttony will give way to guilty feelings and itchy fingers.  That’s when we will all sit down to write a set of aspirational goals for 2018.  Working out more and spending more time with family are commendable objectives, but if you are disorganized, you often mismanage the time necessary to achieve these new goals.  Amy Esper, professional organizer, move manager and co-head of In Order to Succeed in Sarasota, FL will let you in on five new habits that will improve your life quality and make the time it takes to get to the gym and play with your kids.

1. Don’t Let Guilt Hold you Captive to Things.

Being sentimental is commendable.  Holding onto everything that is sentimental is a slippery slope.  Throw away that shredded duck pillow that your mother had on her couch 20 years ago.  Your memories are with the person, and not the thing.  Share your stories of the fun you had on the couch chatting with your mom as you laid your head on that pillow.  It is not enough to put it in your basement or attic.  Get rid of it!  Slowly go through items that you stored and part with them.  Your loved ones will be so proud that you did!

2. Bargain Hunt Selectively.

Frank Woolworth opened America’s first discount variety store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in June 1879.  Today there are over 250 discount chains worldwide and countless online stores constantly advertising sales.  Saving money on things you need is smart.  Buying things on sale that you don’t need is not.  Practice smart shopping.  Don’t go to the store without a list- even if it’s just in your head!  Resist the temptation to go off list.  You will have more money in your pocket and less clutter in your home to clean around.

3. Get your Children on the Chore Train.

It’s never too late to teach your kids to do for themselves.  Tired of making four beds in the morning or packing three lunches at night?  Me, too.  Start small and give your kids incentives.  For toddlers, get a jar and let them fill it with pennies after each completed task.  If your kids are older, increase their bedtime or curfew for chores well done.  New research shows that it takes 66 days to create a habit, so get going!  The kids will feel proud and you will have more time to do fun things with them. Check out our other tips on the Five Ways to be More Organized Parents.

4. Put Everything in it’s Place Right Away.

Stop putting things in temporary spaces.  When you walk in the door of your home or office, put everything in its place.  Your keys go in the dish or on the hook.  Your briefcase goes on your desk. Your coffee mug goes in the dishwasher.  Your shoes belong on their shelf and your clothing goes in your closet or in the dry-cleaning bin.  Why wait?  Its only going to accumulate.  Keeping things in their place avoids the large clean ups that occur on the weekends when we want to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

5. Sell It.

Those kindles your kids bypassed for iPads?  The jeans you can’t quite squeeze into?  Don’t let them clutter your surroundings.  Recoup some money for them and make way for new hobbies you can share with your loved ones.  Facebook marketplace has replaced Craigslist as the best place to sell your goods locally.  You can post anything from an old camera to a car in less than five minutes.  It feels so great to free up space and get your items to people who will use them!  There is also a new game in town when it comes to clothing sales.  Move over eBay, the Poshmark app is here. Place your item for sale with a few clicks and when it sells, print the emailed label, package your item in envelopes (available for free at your post office) and place it in your mailbox.  The best part?  Poshmark allows you to transfer your earnings to your bank account in minutes!

Adopting these 5 Habits will give you a Fresh Start to the New Year!

Get Through the Holiday Hustle

There is no busier time of year than now when it comes to balancing work and life. Parties and other social engagements, cards, kids’ performances, work events—it all adds up to a tremendous amount of things to get done. But you don’t have to do them all alone.  In Order to Succeed can provide virtual and physical assistance any time of year to help with a variety of tasks allowing you to balance, and enjoy, all that is on your plate. If you’ve never used a service such as this before, consider this primer the only resource you need to maximize your use of this service. We’ll show you what we can take care of, how it will help, and how to prepare to make it the best experience possible.

Would Assistance Help?

Imagine if you could be in two places at once. Sitting at your home office desk addressing holiday cards or thank you notes and at a charity holiday celebration. Shopping for New Year’s Eve dinner and taking your family to a holiday show. While that’s impossible, In Order to Succeed can provide the exact same benefits of being in two places at once thanks to our professional concierge and lifestyle management offerings.

Many clients are surprised to learn how they can use this service to lighten the load.  Many others don’t realize the benefits of assistance.

What Can In Order to Succeed Provide and How Can It Help?

It’s no secret that stress runs high during the holiday season and that there is very little time to relax—especially when balancing work and home. But there are some simple tasks you don’t have to do which frees up time to spend with those you love or take care of yourself.

Reservations

Face it: you don’t have to be the one to spend time online or on the phone booking everything. This can take a substantial amount of time, time better spent on other activities. Take this task off your list, saving a few hours during the holidays, and dedicate that time to something you’d rather do. In Order to Succeed can make reservations for:

  • Transportation including airline, helicopter, and jet flights; and also car services.
  • Lodging
  • Salon, spa and other health-related services
  • Restaurant
  • Tickets for the theatre, sporting events, and concerts

Time Saving Tip: Make a list of all the reservations you need, your seating and class preferences, rewards programs’ numbers, travel/event dates and have it ready for your assistant—this will cut down on considerable time. Keep this list updated on your computer for quick access in the future.

Planning

Get Through the Holiday HustleYou know what you like, and you know what you need.  Allow In Order to Succeed to help take the time out of holiday season tasks by getting these seasonal tasks done for you:

  • Calendar management
  • Party planning
  • Catering and food preparation
  • Access to trusted vendors such as florists and photographers — no time wasted researching vendors and review!

Time Saving Tip: Be sure to prepare a list of preferred vendors, items, colors, and include your budget guidelines.

Communications

Holiday cards are time consuming. Combine our tips for managing your holiday mailing list with a virtual assistant and your cards will be done in no time. Be sure to update your list throughout the year and note any differences such as personal, business, and specific needs such as whether or not you’re sending a different card to a specific group of people.

Time Saving Tip: Keep your spreadsheet available and update it throughout the year as people move or new people need to be added. During holiday card season, immediately enter addresses from those not currently on your list so that you are sure to send to them next year.

Shopping & Errands

You don’t have to spend time online or in brick and mortar stores searching and standing on line – your virtual assistant can provide exceptional shopping services. In Order to Succeed can take on:

  • Shopping and errand running
  • Sourcing of tough to find products
  • Tips for how to better organize tasks

Time Saving Tip: Keep a running list of places you do or do not shop, along with brands, to keep things running smoothly. Including budget guidelines and other item-specific notes also helps!

Deck The Halls

Dining chairs decked out for the holidays. More in this series.While you’ll want to save the tree decorating for yourself, In Order to Succeed can provide help with decorating your house for the season—everything from purchasing to putting up your decorations and setting the holiday season table.

Time Saving Tip: Be sure to have a list that includes any color and style preferences, particular motifs (do you want secular, religious, or a mix), and whether or not you have an item that always comes out (an heirloom menorah, for example).

Benefits

It’s clear: there are many parts of the holiday season that could be passed on to someone else, giving you more time to devote your talents, energy to yourself and others.  Not only will this lighten your own to do list, but In Order to Succeed has experts in everything, meaning things will be done efficiently and to your expectations. Here’s why our concierge service is the best idea for this busy time.  It allows you to:

  • Free up time spent on the phone or online.
  • Say yes to events you’d love to attend but can’t because of other commitments.
  • Leave decision-making to others.
  • Be confident that our vendors are trusted and beloved by other clients.
  • Take the things you don’t enjoy off your plate.

Before You Call

Decorating a Christmas TreeSave even more time by preparing some information before hiring your assistant. Make a list of everything you still need to complete during this holiday season, keeping in mind:

  • last minute travel plans
  • holiday cards
  • party preparations
  • shopping and errands

Next think of everything you need to have to do these things:

  • preferred businesses
  • rewards club numbers
  • dates
  • preferences
  • size and color options
  • budget guidelines

Prioritize what needs to get done when and then contact us. In Order to Succeed will provide the highest quality, intuitive assistance to get you through the holidays with grace, style and without stress.

How to Organize a Holiday Mailing List

In our digital world receiving a holiday card or letter can instantly bring a smile. It’s a classy, old school way of letting people know you’re thinking of them. Addressing and sending those cards, though, well that can feel like you’re receiving a pile of coal. Let this year be the year you tackle the holiday mailing list as we show you how to organize a holiday mailing list.  With a few simple tips on how to organize a holiday mailing list.  you can easily organize mailing list for years to come. Go on, make someone’s day with a holiday card. 

How to Organize a Holiday Mailing List

Address list - How to organize a holiday mailing listFirst things first, commit to the task of mailing holiday cards. Set aside a few hours to tackle your cards in one sitting or set aside a few minutes each day giving yourself a clear deadline. 

Pick a Mailing List Application

Next, and here comes the stressful part, you need to pick your contact “universe.” Most likely you have the addresses of everyone you’re going to send a card to, but they may be scattered between your home and office, possibly half in an address book and half stored in your work contact list, maybe even some on your social networks. Now is the time to consolidate your contacts and their addresses in a single format. Decide between Apple tools like Calendar, iCloud, and Apple Mail or Google tools like Gmail, Google Calendar, or a simple Excel spreadsheet or an online card store. If you’re missing some addresses, a quick email should suffice. Tell your family and friends you’re updating your contacts and would like their latest information.  The most important thing is to pick how you are going to keep your contacts organized and stick with it. Having your contacts spread out amongst a handful of services is an easy way to become disorganized and overwhelmed.

Putting Your Mailing List Altogether 

After you’ve picked your organizing universe, export all of your contact databases. When you export contacts from various places, you will be left with a series of spreadsheets and then you’ll need to import them into your organizing universe of choice. It’s likely you’ll have duplicates and will need to sort through your list to weed them out. Google has an easy way to do this with Find & Merge Duplicates or you can use a spreadsheet tool like Excel to find your duplicates and remove them.

Now it’s time to organize your contacts by type. You’ll want to sort your contacts into friends and business contacts, as the holiday cards you send to those groups will likely be different. After you gather your list and remove duplicates, you are ready to use that list to send your cards. 

Creating Address Labels and Mailing the Cards

Holiday CardDecide how you will address your holiday cards. If you used Excel to organize your addresses you can create address labels from the spreadsheet or if you are using another program you can easily export them into Excel and then create the labels. If you have nice handwriting and not too big of a list consider addressing the cards by hand.

Last Steps

  • Double-check that your return address is correct on the envelopes. 
  • Keep a few extra cards and blank envelopes on hand in case you receive a greeting from someone you left off your list. 
  • Update the address of anyone whose card is returned as non-deliverable.

 These simple steps on how to organize a holiday mailing list will save you time for years to come.