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Using Lists to Get Organized and Actually De-stress During the Holidays

Every year the holidays seem to sneak up on us, don’t they? Come December many of us are surprised – and overwhelmed – by the extra responsibilities, extra tasks and extra events. We start to panic and wonder how the heck everything is going to get done. And all this stress only takes away from the meaning and beauty of the holidays.

The reality is that a lot of our stress is self-afflicted, said Paula Rizzo, a senior health producer and author of the book Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed. That’s because many of us wait until the last minute to take care of holiday-related tasks. Rizzo can relate. “I’m a huge procrastinator,” she said. But people wouldn’t know it, because she works hard at overriding her procrastinating ways.

For the holidays, Rizzo stressed the importance of preparation. This is where lists can help. For starters, simply jotting tasks down on paper and getting them out of your mind reduces stress, she said. That’s because you don’t have to remember to remember what you need to do. You also might find that when you make your list, you actually don’t have that many tasks to tackle, she said.

Rizzo, who pens the blog, shared the below tips for creating lists during the holidays.

Make your list manageable. Just like you wouldn’t put “write a book on your list,” don’t include tasks that take multiple steps, Rizzo said. That is, break down big tasks into bite-sized tasks.

For instance, if you’re sending holiday cards, you’d jot down: 1) identify the individuals receiving cards; 2) buy the cards; 3) print out address labels; 4) write out the cards; and 5) mail them.

Completing each step also is motivating and keeps you moving forward. It’s like a small win, she said.

Batch tasks. That is, perform similar tasks at the same time. As Rizzo said, “you wouldn’t do laundry one sock at a time.” For instance, carve out 30 to 45 minutes to buy all your gifts on Amazon. Spend one hour wrapping gifts as fast as you can, she said. (You can even set a timer.)

Create a timeline. As a TV producer, Rizzo thinks about the beginning, middle and end of each segment. We can do the same thing when we’re hosting a holiday party. That is, run through your entire event. Map it out. Then work backwards to create a timeline of everything you need to do to prepare for it. (Again, be sure to break down tasks into small steps.)

For instance, you might decide right now what you’ll be eating; go grocery shopping a week before the event; and cook the food and set the table the day before.

Planning ahead helps you enjoy yourself, instead of frantically shopping the night before and putting out fires the day of your party.

Outsource. “We think we have to do everything. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it,” Rizzo said. In Listful Thinking Rizzo includes tips for making the most of outsourcing. For instance, she suggests creating a list of everything you can delegate, making sure to be very specific. If you’re creating a checklist for someone else, be crystal clear about what each task entails.

If you’re hiring out, Rizzo recommended checking out, a site that helps you cross off all sorts of tasks from your to-do list — from cleaning to shopping to assembling furniture. Another company makes shipping easy. Couriers will come to your house, take your items, package them and mail them out. (Unfortunately, many of the services aren’t available in every city just yet.)

Shop early. Very early. This tip is for next year when you can plan months ahead. Rizzo starts her holiday shopping in August and tries to be done by Thanksgiving. She keeps a separate folder in Evernote where she adds ideas throughout the year. Maybe a friend mentions that she needs a new iPad cover or her favorite color is blue. Maybe Rizzo spots good upcoming sales on a website or sees great gift ideas in a magazine. In this blog post Rizzo lays out her month-by-month guide for holiday shopping.

Ultimately, getting organized and planning ahead are vital because they help us focus on what really matters during the holiday season — whatever that might be for you.


You’ll find more tips from Rizzo on creating lists in this piece on Psych Central.

Making a list photo available from Shutterstock

Using Lists to Get Organized and Actually De-stress During the Holidays

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Using Lists to Get Organized and Actually De-stress During the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.