How I’m getting it together — for the holidays and beyond

LifePlanner

I know, I know: the “H” word.

For every delighted person out there reaching for their carol book and favorite Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, there are the folks who just want to burrow back in bed and pretend the whole season just isn’t happening. Yet.

For the most part, I’m in the former category . . . and this year, I’m starting early.

No scrambling through Target three days before Christmas, looking for something — anything — for that hard-to-buy-for relative . . . and miraculously coming up with something that fits the bill, but not without a great deal of stress.

I’m also not blowing a ton of cash in a desperate attempt to “just be done” with my holiday shopping already, as I’m wont to do when exasperated.

Now that I have an infant, I feel especially compelled to take care of huge, pressing matters — like the extravaganza that is Christmas — as efficiently as possible.

So I started. The Great Holiday Gift Spreadsheet 2015 has been created, and the first gifts are on their way.

I know it seems crazy to talk about this now on the cusp of a golden October. Thinking about Santa with a pumpkin spice latte in my hand feels off, but I don’t want anything sneaking up on me this year.

I’m 30 now — time to get my stuff together.

I considered making this “spreadsheet” just a physical group of notes I could carry around in my purse, but decided that would too easily fall into the wrong hands (my husband’s), revealing all of Santa’s top-secret machinations, or just get lost in my bottomless bag.

So. It’s definitely digital. But I did make a big non-digital change in September.

In a desperate attempt to stop feeling like a crazy person who is constantly two steps behind, I broke down and ordered an Erin Condren LifePlanner*. I’ve officially returned to the world of paper planning. I still use Google Calendar daily for appointments, birthdays, trips, etc., but I’ve started using the ECLP to track day-to-day tasks and things I need to accomplish.

Bills to pay.
Calls to return.
Birthdays I can’t forget.
Meals for the week.

All the stuff that my cluttered, tired brain can’t hold anymore.

Returning to a paper planner for the first time since college has been . . . interesting. In our digital world, I’m so used to tapping everything into my iPhone that it felt strange at first: a miniature time warp.

But using a physical planner has been hugely beneficial for my mental health, friends. I’m cool with preaching the Gospel of the Planner.

The literal act of writing something down makes a huge difference in whether I actually remember to do it, for one. Just as taking notes in class once helped to commit concepts to memory, scrawling out a reminder to bake cupcakes for a coworker’s birthday means I may actually do that. You know: before her next one.

I don’t want to blame it all on that sweet baby, y’all — but the hard truth is that I have less energy and mental storage than I did six months ago. Work is challenging, too, and I’m a mom who comes home to care for a child, make dinner with her husband and figure out something reasonably unwrinkled to wear to work before getting up at 5 a.m. to do it all over again.

I was forgetting things — silly things — and, honestly, I’ve just been extremely stressed out.

Something had to give.

I’m going on three weeks of meticulous note-taking now. Though initially it felt like writing in the LifePlanner was just something else to do, I’ve definitely gotten used to it and really enjoy having everything I want to do in a single place. My anxiety has dropped, no doubt.

Beyond the planner, I took some time last week to set up a few spreadsheets to get me through the next few months. With so many celebrations, birthdays and holidays through January, I knew I needed a way to keep track of gifts, cards, etc.

I take these things very seriously.

If you’ll pardon a moment of gender-based generalization, I typically find women are responsible for a great deal of anything that falls under the category of “Holidays, Celebrations Thereof.”

Gift buying.
Tree trimming.
Baking.
Cooking.
Party hosting.
Card-sending.
Stocking stuffing.
Thank-you-note writing.

You get the drift.

I hope the gentlemen reading this aren’t offended. I don’t mean to imply you’re not interested at all or don’t help . . but women do tend to take the lead in these matters.

And that’s okay! I’m not complaining. I love traditions, and I love to do those things.

But . . . it’s a lot. Lots to take care of, keep track of. I know you can do as little or as much as you want (for any occasion), but our family has always liked to do it up big — and I don’t want to overlook a detail or forget someone. I’m afraid of something . . . coming up short.

That’s a personal issue. But this is only my second married Christmas, and my first as a mom, so . . . yeah. Oliver’s first Christmas? This is major.

Enter the spreadsheet.

Mine is nothing fancy, but I’m happy to share the ol’ tools of the Meg trade with you. If you’re interested in creating your own, spreadsheets through Google Drive is basically where I store the contents of my caffeine-addled brain.

While signed into your Google account, start by accessing Drive. Click that handy-dandy red “New” button at the top left in the sidebar. Select “Google Sheets.” A fresh, blank spreadsheet should open.


Xmas spreadsheet


In the “A” column, I put the names of everyone I need to shop for: husband, son, parents, grandparents, friends, etc. Everyone has their own color, just ’cause it’s pretty and helpful when scrolling.

The “B” column is for presents. Black text means it’s already purchased; red text means it’s just a gift idea, and has not yet been ordered or brought home.

That red text? Super important. Whenever I think of a cool gift for those folks who seem to have everything, I tap it in there so I won’t forget. As soon as the gift is purchased, it’s changed to black text and I go on my merry way.

The “C” column has been getting more use in the past few years: cost. The price of each item goes there. After a bracing glass of eggnog (or four), you can click the top of the “C” column for a fast, Google-calculated sum of everything you’ve spent.

The “D” column may seem a little redundant at first, but that’s where I keep track of everything spent on each individual. I just add up the cost of each present and tally it there as I go, which helps me stay on budget.

And I am on budget.

That’s the other reason I’m starting so far in advance, friends: money. Shopping in September and October allows me to spread out the payments before the mad post-Thanksgiving rush, though I’m sure I will still be gathering up odds and ends in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

But my goal this year is to have most presents purchased and wrapped by Thanksgiving, so I can really relax and soak up the season. No mad dashes, frantic Amazon scrolling or anxious running through the mall on my lunch break.

Which leaves more time for hot chocolate sipping, “Home Alone” watching, party throwing — and photo shoots featuring Oliver as an elf or reindeer, of course.

Definitely scheduling that in the planner.


*Affiliate link. I will earn referral credit if you click through and make a purchase,
but I only ever discuss products I love!


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Book wishlists: A real fine place to start?

booksSitting in the living room last night, my sister fixed me with a stare over the textbook she was studying. Feeling her green eyes boring into the side of my face, I eventually glanced up from the novel I was reading.

“If someone wanted to buy you books for Christmas,” Katie asked, “. . . how would they possibly know where to start?”

The question came out of left field, sure, but that’s nothing new with my sister — a woman known for her inquisitive nature, rapid-fire thought processes and huge leaps in conversations. One minute we’re talking about Christmas shopping, and the next? Celebrity gossip. Or reenacting a scene from a movie. Or laughing about something crazy that happened in high school. I guess that’s just how sisters roll; I roll with it.

So the book question? Not taken aback. I got that knowing grin my face — the coy, heart-melting one that seems to coo, “Oh my, presents for me? Really? Well, if you insist.” (Katie has the same one, so don’t go feeling sympathetic that I unleashed that on her, the poor little lamb.)

I started thinking about how I keep track of the books I purchase — and the books I want. I know some folks compile actual wishlists on Amazon and, from what I understand, they can be pretty detailed. At some point or other, I’m sure I started my own; however, I’ve found the absolute best way for me to keep track of the novels I haven’t yet gotten in my hot little hands is through BookMooch. It does double duty: my wishlist on the site obviously tracks whether a book I want becomes available and lets me “mooch” it, but it also serves as a running list of everything I’ve heard about and definitely want to obtain.

Like the supremely helpful and considerate person I am, I told Katie I would send her the link. You know, to my massive wishlist — only 133 books. (Which pales in comparison to other folks’ lists, I’m sure.)

But all of this got me thinking: how do other people keep track of the novels they want to spend time with? Spreadsheets? Notebooks? Journals? Scraps of paper? Tattered napkins covered with scribbles and left at the bottom of purses or wallets? Because I like my BookMooch method, but I’m wondering if there’s something better out there. Or something that will better allow me to put my OCD toward list-making and other organizational tools to better use.

So I’m curious. Tell me if I should change my methods and, if I listen to you, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you changed the mind of one of the most hard-headed people on the planet. I could make you a button or something . . . and it might be kind of awesome.

And while I’m on the subject? I should mention how great it would be if we were all buying books for the holidays! Literacy = fun. Novels = exciting. And there’s a whole website dedicated to this movement!