The winter holidays are an exhausting time on all counts. There are dinners and parties and family visits to organize, gifts to make and buy, food to prepare. It can all get a little overwhelming. I can’t take items off your to-do list, unfortunately, but what I can do is help you get that to-do list a little more organized – beyond simply using seventeen sheets of loose-leaf paper or the notes app on your phone.
I’ve tried so many different organizational systems since high school that I don’t think I could list them all. My top 4 are laid out below, with the hopes that you can use them not only to mitigate the holiday stress, but to keep your life a little more streamlined throughout the rest of the year.
This is my current system of choice. I’ve used traditional planners extensively in the past, but I always struggled with one question: Should I list to-do items alongside events on the date they’re due, or on the date I received or planned to accomplish them? Some people work fine with traditional planners, but they’re not for me. The Passion Planner is made for long-term projects but works just as well as a daily planner. It includes space for two to-do lists (one personal, one work) as well as a monthly and daily calendar for events.
My favorite thing about the Passion Planner is the holistic approach it helps me take to my life. Every weekly page has a box where you can fill in a focus for the week; mine range from “prayer and self-care” to “hit word count goal in story.” There is also a space to list good things that happen during the week, which is an important part of my personal gratitude journey, as well as monthly reflection questions and encouraging quotes (that don’t feel like platitudes!).
The Passion Planner can look a little overwhelming, and I admit, there are weeks (like this one) that I leave it completely blank because it feels easier. These tend to be the weeks on which I lay on my bed every evening and cry from sheer exhaustion. When I really use it, the structure is a lifesaver. I highly recommend making use of it – and color coding social events, work projects, family engagements, and so forth – this holiday season.
My feelings on bullet journaling are mixed, but while I didn’t have much success with it, I think it works well for people who need more control over their own structure. While the Passion Planner is set up for you, bullet journaling can be done in any blank notebook and modified to fit your needs.
The best thing about bullet journaling is that you rewrite your to-do list every day. This seems like a huge chore, but the idea is that rewriting your tasks forces you to reconsider whether or not they’re truly necessary. I found that once I rewrote a task two or three times, I would either realize that it wasn’t important or get it done just so I wouldn’t have to write it again.
I modified my journal by using colored stickers on the edge of pages to mark their topic (writing, schoolwork, household, personal, and so forth). I also used it to keep lists of things I’d done: articles I’d written, presents I’d bought, events I’d committed to or already attended. If you like your scheduling a little more freeform, I really encourage taking a look at bullet journaling.
In my sophomore year of college, I had the genuine pleasure of introducing one of my professors to sticky notes – not paper Post-Its, mind, but the computer program. If your preference is not to use old-school paper and pen to organize your life, Sticky Notes is a really excellent program. It will generally just take the form of multiple different to-do lists, but there are several benefits.
First of all, it automatically saves. You never have to remember to save your lists before turning your computer off; Sticky Notes does it for you. Second, it’s simple. If you prefer a plain old to-do list without lots of fancy structure around it, this is perfect. And finally – my personal priority, as I’m sure you can tell – it’s easy to color code! You can make notes one of 6 different colors, allowing you to keep your groceries separate from your party invites, and your flight information separate from your gift lists.
The one downside to Sticky Notes is that it’s a program on your hard drive, not in the cloud, so you only have access to it when you have your personal computer on hand. In the interest of full disclosure, I prefer to use Sticky Notes for inspirational quotes rather than for to-do lists, but I have used it as such, and while it wasn’t right for me, it just may be for you.
If you have a Gmail account, Google Keep is your new best friend. It works very similarly to Sticky Notes, save for the fact that it’s connected to your Google account and therefore available to access from anywhere with an internet connection.
Notes on Keep can be one of two types: lists and plain notes. Lists can be checked off; completed items are struck through and moved to the bottom of the list, but not deleted. On my Keep, I have a list of gift ideas for my girlfriend that I’ve been adding to over the last eleven months, which makes my holiday shopping a breeze. Lists and notes can be color coded (hurrah!) and even tagged with labels you create yourself, like “personal” or “inspirational.”
My Keep has some strange things, including a list of my credit score on different dates and some lipsticks I’ve been meaning to try, but it’s nonetheless useful in much the same way Sticky Notes is, with the added bonus of being accessible online.
Whatever your winter holidays of choice, may they be joyful, peaceful, and color-coded!