Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The December Time Suck

Conventional Wisdom tells us that the month of December is stressful for many people because of the additional work the end of the year holidays entail. I thought I'd cover that issue now, while the time burden of the most recent holiday season is still fresh in our minds.

Over the course of writing eight books, I was frequently under contract during the holidays. One year I even had an early January deadline, meaning I was under a lot of work pressure while shopping for stocking stuffers. Boo-hoo. Lots of people have to work during December.

However, there is a difference between writers and people employed in traditional eight-hour-a-day jobs. And that is that the people in eight-hour-a-day-jobs are in a workplace for eight hours a day. It's much easier for them to control the boundary between home/holidays and work. I'm not saying it's fun for them. I'm saying that they're not tempted to try to bake while performing an appendectomy, designing a parking lot, or laying carpet because their kitchen is miles away from their work site. People who work out of their homes have an unfortunate tendency to think, What the hell. How long can making one batch of chocolate covered nut clusters take?

I am constantly trying to conserve time in December, not so I'll have more to use wrapping presents or decorating, but so I'll have more for work. Attempts to date:

1. Several years ago the Gauthier extended family cut back from buying numerous gifts for one another to just one. Quite honestly, this was due to the fact that our wanton materialism had become revolting--at least to me, and I managed to impose my will on everyone else. (I recognize that. I'm a Christmas witch.) The savings in shopping and wrapping time was a side benefit.

2. I spent the better part of a day returning gifts one year. That is when I learned about gift receipts. They haven't been the great time saver I'd hoped, because I often lose them. (Keep reading.)

3. I am no longer interested in mass quantities of gifts under my tree for myself or anyone else. In addition to being revolting (see above), wanton materialism is also time consuming. So I bundle things if I can. If you have the bad luck to receive two shirts from me, they will probably come in the same box. One box seems less materialistic than two, and it uses fewer resources. And wrapping the thing takes less time for me.

4. Last year I read in some kind of magazine advertising insert about something called an "Inspirational Holiday Sparkbook." (You can create sparkbooks for anything, presumably.) The idea was that throughout the year as you thought of ideas for entertaining and decorating, you would collect them, and when the holidays come, you would be primed to go.

I have kept all kinds of journals, and a sparkbook seemed like one more kind of journal to me. So I was attracted to it. My poor social skills are legendary in these parts, so I didn't care so much about the entertaining portion of this plan. But I immediately wondered if there was some way that a holiday planner could help me be more organized and, therefore, end up with more time during the Advent season.

So I went out and bought one of those three subject portfolios with dividers that include pockets so I could plan and organize for Christmas futures. The section on food ended up with almost nothing in it, and I think that whatever the section on decorating had ended up being ignored. It was the section on gift ideas for others that I pinned my hopes on. That was where I thought I could really save some time. I made a list of things not to buy, and a chart where I could keep track of gift ideas for family members.

Having had a year to work the kinks out of this system, I can tell you that it has potential. There were a couple of family members whose gifts I was able to take care of right away because I'd thought of something for them months ago and written it down so I wouldn't forget. One of the better things I did with it this year was to make an additional chart of gifts I bought for immediate family members. I have tended to lose those in the past. (Hunting for them or making others--time consuming.) However, I've learned you really have to be careful to remember to look at the sparkbook before you start Christmas shopping. Also, next year I'll use one of those pockets to store the gift receipts I keep losing before I can wrap them with a gift.

With the sparkbook--and some healthier family members--I may be able to do a little working next December.

Writers--How do you manage to work during the December holidays? Or do you?


Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

You're so right about the temptation to bake cookies, etc. when your "office" is lterally in the kitchen (that's where my desk is, although I'm contemplating taking over a spare bedroom). I think the paring down approach you describe works really well, too--this year I thought about which of our Christmas traditions I loved best, and only did those (so no gingerbread houses, but plenty of paperwhite bulbs). No one missed the rest.

MotherReader said...

I can't imagine getting much writing done in December. Even if I can carve out the time, I can't get a clear head to write much. My daughters are teens now, so we've been able to scale back a bit on the holiday hoopala. They are also helpful in the holiday stuff we do - like decorating, shopping, and wrapping - so it's getting more manageable each year. Even so on the blog, I do a lot of rerun posts or easy stuff because that's all I can manage.

My biggest time saver is Amazon shopping. I barely spent any time shopping in stores this season, and was glad for it. Amazon lets you make wish lists and they can include non-Amazon items - like stuff from Etsy or Abercrombie or Think Geek. My girls loved making wish lists and it saved me some guesswork.

Gail Gauthier said...

I did an enormous amount of shopping through Amazon this year, too.

I think the Amazon Wish Lists are a timesaver, too. The wish lists also enable family members to "keep in touch"--you can keep up on what your adult children are interested in. We even got my brother-in-law's family into doing them, and we exchange. I wouldn't know their interests in music otherwise. My sister-in-law and daughter-in-law can see that they share a particular craft interest because of the Wish Lists.

Gail Gauthier said...

Another thing I meant to mention in the post:

I've known people who use their dining rooms as a sort of "staging area" for gift work. That kind of chaos is very time consuming--trying to live with the disorder and cleaning it up afterward. I used to use my laundry room. I couldn't get to the sewing machine or ironing board for weeks.

We have a spare bedroom now. I hate to waste an entire room on a guest room that's only used every other month or so, so I have a gift closet in there. We shoved an old dresser in the closet and keep gift wrap and associated mess in it. In December the mess spills out into the bedroom and has to be cleaned up before family members arrive for Christmas, but at least we can use the rest of the house during the month of December. And that's a time saver.