This past August, a friend of mine called me on her drive home from her standard Sunday grocery store run. Appearing to have somehow absorbed stress from thin air, she anxiously recounted her observations of parents rushing through the store “dangerously swerving their buggies” frantically grabbing groceries on the eve of back-to-school Monday. “I could see the pain in the faces,” she said breathlessly. “I could feel the panic.” No doubt I could feel her panic in that moment, too. So in addition to suggesting she avoid BTS Sunday grocery shopping in the future, I made a mental note to cover survival mode — because that’s what my grocery shopping friend witnessed — in a future blog post. And with the holiday season fast approaching, this topic feels apropos.

Planning and Time Management are the Antithesis of Survival Mode

It’s no doubt a good thing we’re equipped to do survival mode. It can come in handy if we’re, say, stranded in the forest or stuck on a deserted island. But we’re better off saving this approach for times when it’s really needed. Productive mode is the better option; it typically delivers far greater returns, and definitely makes life more enjoyable.

If you’re wondering what productive mode is going to cost you, you’ll be pleased to learn it’s quite affordable. It simply requires some upfront thought and a bit of your time. If we engage in planning and time management we operate in productive mode. Best of all, the payoff is solid.

Survival Mode Will Dampen Your Holiday Season

Thoughtful planning and proactive time management allow us to get done what we need to get done. It enables us to enjoy not simply endure.  The concept translates effectively for all occasions and seasons, including the average Monday. To illustrate the concept, today we’re going to apply it to the upcoming holiday season.


Be proactive with your planning. Get an aerial view of your holiday season so you know what’s on your plate. When are you taking off? When are the kids off? Who do you want to see? Who do you plan to gift? What do you want to host or attend? You need a realistic lay of the land so you can adequately gauge your resource requirements.

As you consider the final months of the year, remember to remain realistic with your goal setting. Revisit the goals you made earlier in the year and tweak your path to fulfillment accordingly. For professional endeavors, keep in mind that there is usually an increase in vacation scheduling this time of year and acknowledge the existence of non-negotiable year-end deadlines.

Time Management

Like the diminishing hours of daylight, time seems to become a scarce resource as we enter the last two months of the calendar year. We face end-of-year reporting, increased social obligations, and a seemingly endless list of festivity preparation obligations. So first order of business: I encourage you to prioritize the time and energy necessary to calendar this season effectively.

Engage in time blocking to ensure you have the time to accomplish what you desire to do. This might include:

  • Getting year-end performance reviews on the calendar now
  • Cordoning off time to ensure you continue working on a project/activity you’ve prioritized
  • Designating an afternoon for holiday shopping
  • Scheduling time to produce your holiday card(s)
  • Picking a date for your holiday party
  • Ensuring you protect your downtime to optimize your personal energy level and effectively manage your stress

Be prepared to hold firm on the boundaries you set with your calendaring. Politely say “no” to the party you really don’t want to attend. Don’t accept invitations out of a sense of obligation and avoid waiting until the last minute to decline. Even stressing about declining an invitation can put a drag on your overall productivity.

Tips to Get You Beyond Survival and Into Productive Mode

To support your holiday planning and execution, you might:

  1. Capitalize on readily available technology
    • Use a photo/greeting card platform to produce (and address!) your holiday cards
    • Set up an Evernote folder to house your gift list and to capture gift ideas
    • Use the free app Doodle to poll family members or colleagues on their availability for a holiday gathering
    • Send personalized party invitations via a digital platform like Evite or Punchbowl
    • Place recipes for your holiday meal(s) in a folder or store them digitally in Evernote
  2. Pull in people to help
    • What can/should you delegate at work or at home?
    • What can you outsource to make life easier? Catering? Shopping?
    • Can a child or relative prepare a side dish for a meal you’re hosting?
  3. Do Some Financial Planning
    • If you don’t already have one, I encourage you to set a holiday budget. Spending more than you want or need to spend during the holidays will set you back in January, and beyond.
    • Pay attention to what you’re spending to better inform next year’s budget.
    • Remember that a good gift doesn’t have to be expensive. More thoughts on this topic here.
  4. Develop Some Contingency Plans
    • Be prepared for last minute gifts by buying a few extra things for hostess gifts, teachers, co-workers, etc.
    • I personally am someone who cringes at the “surprise” gift from someone unexpected, but I feel better if I have something to give in return. 
    • Remember that life happens for everyone. Avoid rigid thinking. Plans must sometimes inevitably change.

Say No to Survival Mode This Holiday Season

Maybe you were one of those frantic parents at the grocery this past August. And perhaps you pulled it all off. But couldn’t it have gone better for everyone if you’d been in productive mode? How much stress can you avoid if you plan ahead for the upcoming holidays? The great news is, you’ve got the time to ensure you do this holiday season in productive mode. Take some time this month to firm up your goals and plot out your time. You’ll thank me, come December.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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