Life can appear to be set on fast forward at the end of the year as you juggle school, work, social and family engagements.
Decisions about where to spend Christmas, whether to buy presents, and how much to spend may create stress. Throw in exhaustion at the end of a hard year's work and this seasonal cocktail can be quite a toxic mix.
My chief message for this time of year is: Decide what is important about Christmas for you and keep that in perspective.
Feel the freedom of living in New Zealand in 2012. Religious observances aside, we don't need to celebrate Christmas in any particular way.
For me, it's about being with family and having a treat. Since my children have grown up, my family celebrate Christmas with a restaurant meal. We get a taxi and we invite friends who are on their own that year. It's a lot of fun, and no-one has to do the dishes.
Take 10 minutes out of your busy day to clarify your priorities.
You might find the Big Rocks model useful. I usually introduce this model to clients who feel over-committed to help them work out what's important in their lives, or what needs to be achieved in a working day.
Let's narrow the focus to a Christmas theme.
Start by imagining a big glass vase. You're going to fill it with metaphorical big rocks, pebbles, sand and water so it's full to the brim. Rocks are the things that are most important to you and will make a difference to you personally if they do or don't happen. Too often we rush around looking after the little things, the sand or the water in the vase, and neglect the most important things. What are the rocks of Christmas to you? The pebbles, sand and water represent priorities in descending order.
Next, create memories.
When we celebrate Christmas with children we help establish their memories of childhood Christmases. You might like to organise some of the things you loved or longed for as a child. Take a few moments to think about your favourite Christmas memories. Ask the children what they love about Christmas so you know what they're looking forward to the most (they won't always answer presents!).
Keep in mind that organised activities such as a family game of cricket, or a homemade waterslide can be more than fun; they engage children and adults in something that is different, active and healthy.
I'm a big fan of allowing occasional treats but if you are wanting to avoid drinking too much you might like a rule I used when I was working as a financial adviser and found myself frequently at social functions - drink at the weekend and not during the week.
If you've had a tough year, perhaps you've lost a loved one or for whatever reason find yourself alone this Christmas, I suggest you make an active choice about how you want to spend the day.
We introverts might be happy spending much of the day on our own; extroverts will need an invitation.
Whatever you do, make an active choice so when the day arrives you don't feel sorry for yourself.
It's also useful to prepare yourself with responses to questions such as "What did you do for Christmas?" Well-intended ice breakers may make you feel emotional, and are easier to deal with if you have a prepared answer.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas.
This column will resume in the New Year to help you set and keep your New Year's resolutions.
TOOLS TO HELP
Time management tools which may help you get through the rush:
Tool one: Here's a wee mental trick you can play on yourself to work out your priorities.
Imagine you only have two hours before you have to catch a plane to go on holiday. Then look at your list of things to do and decide again what is the most important.
What needs to be done or can be done in the time available to me? The rest will have to be deferred to another day.
I carry a notebook in my handbag and find it useful to take time out to have a coffee and look over my list to make that decision.
Tool two: If you don't feel like you're making any progress, decide at the beginning of the day, what is the ONE thing I am going to accomplish today? Just one thing.
You'll feel like you've achieved something and regained some control.
Tool three: We talked about this in the time management column, but I'll remind you about the Do it, Delegate it, Defer it, Dump it model.
What are the things you can do now?
What can you delegate?
Remember to set a specific date for the things you defer.
The good news is Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, so you can defer some shopping until the weekend before, if that suits you.
Dump it says it all really. I've got a friend who lives for Christmas, down to colour-co-ordinating the gift wrapping, but if you are not one of those people don't feel hooked into that.
- The Marlborough Express