Three days and then it’s finally Christmas! You have all your gifts ready, all invitations for your parties are sent out, you said yes to exactly what you needed most, you said no to all nonesense. Your work is already finished, you’ve done a thorough review and you know exactly everything you won’t be doing during the Christmas holidays. Am I right?

No? Oh.. You mean, this time is no different than last year ? Festive Burnout has gotten you?

For many, the Christmas holidays generate a lot of anxiety, overwhelm, and overload because everything they haven’t gotten to during the year needs to get done before the end. On top of that comes everything that is necessary for the best Christmas ever: The gifts, parties to plan, parties to attend, activities for the kids, friends and families to see. And what about quiet time?

If we are anything alike, we have both stumbled into the holiday season last minute more than once. Is it possible to smoothly sail into the Holidays, feeling relaxed and having most of the things that have our attention under control?

Christmas is on the same date every year, yet year after year it comes as a surprise: “What? Christmas already?” With courage, strength, and hope we master that period and come out of it as victors, promising ourselves : “Next time will be different!”

It is said that Albert Einstein posited that doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. I hope I am not insane, but what I think is fair to say is that the above experience describes something which is not occuring: Learning.

Learning as a process is vastly dependent on feedback. Given the quantity of feedback I get each year (higher blood pressure, elevated stress, weight gained, fewer sleep hours), one might indeed wonder if I wasn’t “Einstein Insane”. According to Söhnke Ahrens, a sociology professor who explained elegantly in his book “How to take smart Notes”, I was missing a crucial component for learning to occur. Learning, he explains, requires both feedback (got that) and a system (a what?) within which the feedback-loops can occur.

To put it differently, when feedback we receive lands nowhere but in our brains, a magical transformation process gets started that metamorphoses a statement like “That’s it. No more. Next time will be different!” into an alternative, softener: “It wasn’t that bad. I managed it pretty well afterall!” This is called rationalization and it temporarily feels really good, but doesn’t help very much when it comes to learning.

Thus, what would a system look like in which learning can occur? Let’s build it together.

First off, we need to be kind to ourselves and focus on something we can actually control, because there is enough space, time and resources: Christmas 2023! (bear with me)

Clarifying what we really want, what we value most and what areas most need our attention is a great start to reducing the anxiety. Those familiar with Getting Things Done® will know how we get that clarity rather quickly: The Natural Planning Model.

Take 15 minutes, no more, and go through the 5 phases:

Purpose and Principles: Why are you planning Christmas now, for next year? Why is it important to you? If you were to delegate the planning of next years’ Christmas to someone else, what would they need to make sure does or does not happen?

Vision: If next year’s Christmas was a total success, what would it look like? What would it feel like? Describe it as if you’re back at work in January 2024. What would you tell your colleagues, your friends, your therapist? It doesn’t have to be 100% realistic, just 51% doable if everything aligns.

Brainstorm: Now that you have a clearer and more motivating picture of what it is you want, what are all the ideas you can think of that would make it reality? Write out the obvious and go beyond! Go nuts. Go crazy. That inner critic will have to wait, he’s unqualified for this step of the process.

Organize: Now look at your brainstorm. What patterns do you see? What will you do? What will you start with? Are there any milestones? Any priorities? This is where you’ll flesh out your plan by making distinctive decisions about each moving part.

Next actions: Now what? What is your next action? I’ll tell you :

  • Block out an hour after the holidays in your calendar and save your work close by.
  • For the holiday period, I want you to take 3 minutes a day to answer the Holiday Experience Questions (see Getting Christmas Done: Cheat Sheet)
  • On the said hour after the holiday, pull out the records of your 2022 holiday. Now is the time to learn from your experience! Consider your notes and ask yourself the Holiday Reflection Question (see Getting Christmas Done: Cheat Sheet)
  • All the answers to these questions are the raw material for your learning. If you leave it there, I am sure you’ll have learned something. But let’s go further.
  • Use the raw material to improve your Natural Planning Model you did prior to Christmas with your learnings.

Doing this exercise coming out of the holidays is paramount because the information is fresh. Leverage the clarity you have then to decide what you’ll do by when so that your future self will only have to execute.

One last thing

  • Write your future self a letter. Copy paste the letter and add it to your calendar on October 1st 2023. (see Getting Christmas Done: Cheat Sheet)

This year’s holiday will be different. Not because you’ll have it all planned out, but because with this exercise you’ll be the cause of your (future) holidays, not the effect.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

P.S : How do you think this exercise will affect this years’ holiday ? We’d love to hear about it!

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