The holiday season is fast-approaching (if you’re a parent of a trick-or-treater, it’s just nearly here!), and that means stress levels on the rise. But there are some fairly simple practices that you can start now so that when the holidays get here, you don’t lose your head! (Not to mention, they’ll help you the whole year round!)

A figure of speech
The way we talk about our to-do list impacts the way that it stresses us out. Most everyone talks about their list in terms of “things I have to do today”. But what if you said instead, “things I COULD do today”? The fact is that many things we load in to our to-do lists don’t actually HAVE to be done today – we want them to, or we think they have to be done, or someone else wants them from us, or whatever else. But how often have you pressured yourself to accomplish something only to find out later that it wasn’t actually what you wanted, it wasn’t actually required, or the person who asked for it changed their mind? Or, some other emergency thing came up and pushed everything else off the list – apparently those things didn’t actually need to be done on this day! (or perhaps someone else was able to do some of them for you)
Keeping those experiences in mind, tell yourself that your to-do list is a COULD-do list: these things COULD be done today!

Once you try that, you are ready for step two: at the end of the day, instead of feeling guilty about all the things you “had” to do that did not in fact get done, you can feel happy about all the things that you COULD get done today. And if that number of things is less than you expected, you can simply acknowledge “well, that’s the number of things that COULD get done on a day like today”. Perhaps on some other day, some other number of things could get done, but on this particular day, what could actually get done is what got done. That’s all there is to it!

Half Off!
Often we load our daily list up with things that don’t actually NEED to be done. Oh, they’d be nice, certainly. Some of them probably should get done eventually. But today, it’s not truly requisite. So in the morning when you’ve written your list, take another look: what can you remove? Could you do the shopping another day? Could you buy some cookies for the class party, instead of baking them? (Or better yet, buy some fruit!) Could you get the oil changed on the weekend instead of today?
Maybe some of the things must be done – but do you have to do them? Could the kids take care of it for you? Even if you can’t afford to splurge on an occasional house cleaner, there are services that will pickup your laundry and return it clean and folded, and maybe something like that could make your life easier. Or perhaps you could trade with friends or family – if one is going grocery shopping, perhaps they could also pickup the groceries for you, while you could do some other task for them.

What’s really most important to you today? I don’t mean what is most important to your boss, your kids, your spouse, your friends. What’s most important to YOU? Today, for example, what’s truthfully most important to me is to spend some time practicing bodhrán and to take Amber to the library. There are some other things I need to do; emails to write, articles and handouts to write, laundry to do and oh my goodness, the kitchen… But what’s actually most important, down inside, are those two things.
So admit what’s most important to you, and then put those things on the top of the list! At the end of the day, you’re not going to finish your list anyway, most likely. But if every day, you finish someone else’s priorities and never finish your own, you’ll feel cruddy, burn out, get depressed – so make sure that you’re doing what’s important to YOU.
That may mean that instead of a fancy dinner, you pick up some ready-made food. That might mean that instead of hand-making fancy costumes for the kids, you go shopping – I recommend thrift stores! That might mean fewer and less elaborate holiday gifts: well, that’s probably better anyway – everyone has too much stuff.

These tricks are not easy: they go against everything society is telling us. Commercials and media are constantly telling you to do more, more, MORE! But the reality is, we just can’t actually do that much – and that’s ok! Practicing being aware of these things as you think about what you will do in a day can provide a needed reality check. So pick the things that are really important to you, and focus on those – and make sure that “guilt trip” is one thing that never makes it to your COULD-do list!


  1. mary on 5 November, 2012 at 5:40 am

    This was really helpful – with nine councilors always wanting their items, I can get easily distracted. I try to follow this advice every day at work, and leave the weekends for what WE want to do!thanks!

  2. Chen-Yu on 8 July, 2014 at 10:14 am

    It’s really helpful to me. I always like to add lots of things to my to-do list, and then feel guilty at night if I was not able to finish them. Even though I have worked or studied all day, I still feel stressful for the un-do stuff. I’ll try to do a could-do list next time!

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