Making the Most of Your Holiday Time


The holiday season is usually an exciting time to spend as we please. But this year, the holiday season brings many restrictions on where we can go, what we can do, and who we can see. You may be wondering how to fill your time and make the most of your holiday. To get some ideas, we spoke with Laura Becker-Lewke, Healthy Living instructor of
Time Management for Less Stress and More Joy.

Time is our most precious commodity, not just for task efficiency but also for joy. Most people think time management is about accomplishing more, but it is really about learning to set priorities, attain your objectives, and experience joy in life.

Now, more than ever, many of us are feeling anxious and out of control. When you exercise time management, you gain a sense of control, joy and accomplishment. 

It is common for people to feel they worked long and hard all day without accomplishing their top priorities. For example, someone’s top priorities may be their health and their family, but they may work all day without dedicating time on much else, leading them to feel disempowered and out of control. 

Time management gives you the ability to set and attain your priorities, which helps you develop your sense of autonomy. 

When setting your priorities, it’s important to consider what brings you joy. Perhaps it’s good food, connecting with friends or being outdoors. You can achieve all those things in one day, but you need to plan.

Imagine trying to fit large rocks, small rocks and sand into a glass jar. If you put the large rocks in first, then the small rocks and then pour in the sand to fill the crevices, everything can fit. But if you do it the other way around, starting with the sand, the big rocks won’t fit. This is a great metaphor for setting your priorities — make sure to get your biggest priorities in first.

When managing your time, it is important to be realistic about how long things will take. Becker-Lewke shared a story from years ago when she was a young lawyer in New York City. 

“The partner who was in charge of the associates said, ‘Take the amount of time you think it will take and multiply it by three.’ He was wrong. I should have multiplied by six! I am still multiplying by three several decades later.”

When we underestimate the time for a particular task or activity, we create stress. Multiplying your estimated time by three will help ease up your schedule and may even leave some time open for spontaneity. With a little cushion time, there is more freedom to enjoy life. 

Many people find it difficult to relax, especially after a long time on-the-go. If you’re finding it difficult to unwind during your downtime, you need to ask yourself why. Often it’s because there is something on your mind. Journaling or talking to a friend can help you determine its source. 

Once you know, try your best to compartmentalize. To help yourself compartmentalize, you may want to write down what’s on your mind or mentally tell yourself that you will pick it up again later. If you can remove it from your mind for the time being, you may find that you’re able to relax and enjoy your free time.

Physical exercises can also help you to unwind and enjoy your downtime. Many people find that breathing exercises and physical practices like yoga, running, or walking calm the mind by providing a rhythmic cadence that is naturally calming to the nervous system. 

This holiday season is going to be different. There are many barriers and restrictions that will force our traditions to change. On one hand, it’s a major loss, and on the other hand, it’s a great opportunity for positive change. Consider the following ideas for investing your time this holiday season:

      1. Create new traditions. Try writing down a list of the traditions that you participate in, and ask yourself which ones you would like to keep and which you would like to (or need to) change. You can also consider what new adventures and traditions you would like to create. This is a year that we don’t have to feel bound by tradition and can set new practices. Set your priorities, erect necessary boundaries and get creative with what you want this holiday season.
      2. Record this holiday season. Consider journaling through the holidays starting on Thanksgiving and ending on January 1. Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Journal provides insightful prompts for each day, including what stood out to you, what you are thankful for and what lessons you learned. Giving yourself a constructive way to record your thoughts and emotions may be a particularly helpful strategy this holiday season. This is a historic moment in time, and one day it may be valuable to look back and recall how you spent the holidays this year.
      3. Find a way to serve others. Some of us have sustained many losses during shelter-in-place and we may be dreading the holidays. Serving others can help us lessen our grief and reconnect to humanity. Stanford and local places of worship are a great place to start.
      4. Find a way to make something special. Maybe this is the year you decorate to the nines, or if you hate decorating, this can be the year to forget it. Treat yourself to something special. It has been a tough year, and you deserve it.
      5. Add more light to your life. Our days are growing shorter and the lack of light can play a major impact on your mood. With shorter days can come the onset of additional lethargy, depression and inactivity. Figure out your own reaction to light and dark and come equipped with a strategy this winter. Consider using a candle, putting up a string of electric lights, spending an evening outdoors looking at the stars, or even changing the time in which you go to bed and wake up. It’s important to be proactive and have a strategy for the days being colder, darker and wetter. Try to add something that will literally brighten your days.
      6. Set your priorities just for today. Now more than ever, it is important to take things one day at a time. Don’t worry about what’s behind you or what is yet to come. Your focus is in the present.

Planning is an essential element in time management, but we all occasionally struggle with resisting our own plans. We may struggle to follow through with activities due to a general lack of motivation or because the activity is no longer important to us. 

The first step is determining the reason for the resistance. If the activity is important to you, but you’re lacking energy or motivation, it may be helpful to use a strategy to help you follow through.

      1. Allow for rewards. Celebrate upon completing your task with a delicious treat, a short walk or an episode of your favorite TV show. Identifying the reward ahead of time can provide you with motivation for action.
      2. Make a commitment to someone. Committing to another person can provide the extra incentive to follow through with plans. For example, you may want to reserve time every day for healthy habits like walking, but when it comes time, you find yourself too tired and unmotivated to go. Try committing to the task with another person. You may find that the commitment is the push you need to do what you want.
      3. Pay for what you value. A lot of us show up when we pay for something, as to not lose out on the money we invested. If you want to invest time in your professional development and growth, pay (or use your STAP funds) for a class that you think will benefit you. If you want to commit to your fitness, pay for online classes or a virtual trainer. Putting money into your interests shows that you value them, and this can motivate you to follow through on your intention.
      4. Be flexible with your schedule. If you find that the activity is not important at this time, give yourself permission to reschedule. For example, if you have a project that you’re avoiding, allow yourself to analyze the resistance. Maybe the task was important when it came up, but things have shifted and it is no longer a priority. Rescheduling is not the same as flaking. As long as you are thoughtful and strategic, it can actually lead to a much better outcome than just pushing through.
      5. Consider if you can let it go entirely. Maybe there is something on your list that is no longer important to you — that’s OK! Things change. This is a time to extend grace and mercy toward yourself. It is a challenging and unnerving time filled with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of loss. Extend compassion toward yourself by letting go of the tasks that you don’t need to do. Now is a great time to reflect on the way you’ve previously spent time. You may decide to eliminate some tasks to increase your joy.

Time management is a skill. As you get better at managing your time, it may become challenging to plan and engage with someone without the same skills, but it is still possible.

If you’re seeking to initiate time management skills, and find yourself in a relationship with someone who is not, it is important to have a conversation about it. After communicating where you’re coming from, you can much more comfortably stick with your priorities and time frame. Sometimes the person you’re working with or living with will adapt and change, and sometimes they won’t. What’s most important is that you also honor your own values and priorities.

If you find yourself exhausted, you may need to take a closer look at how you’re spending your time. Consider all the activities you engage in that leave you feeling drained and consider eliminating one. You can give up the news, social media or something else that is depleting you. 

Analyze your time to see which tasks restore you and which leave you drained. Take action where you can to eliminate what drains you and try to add activities that fill you up. A simple change like this can make a huge difference in your life.

Routine helps you manage your time consistently and regulate your life without too much thought or effort. It’s not impossible to manage your time without a routine, but it is difficult. 

Time management requires some structure, but too much structure can feel restrictive. Only you can assess how much structure (or routine) you need in a day. Some people, especially now, are adding extra activities to keep busy, while others are letting go of hobbies and tasks due to need or discouragement. Effective time management requires experimentation to see what works for you.

Routines work best with frequent adjustments to ensure they continue to fit as we grow and change. Think of routine like trying on a jacket. If it looks good and fits well, wear it. If it no longer fits in the future, it may be time to take it off. 

When it comes to time management, don’t worry about tomorrow, and don’t worry about yesterday. Just for today, set your priorities, celebrate your successes and extend forgiveness for when you don’t accomplish everything you’d like to in a day. Even on an imperfect day, the sun still rises in the east, and sets in the west. 

”Today is a blank canvas, what will you create?” – Michael Hyatt