Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Filling the Advent Calendar: A Metaphor For Managing a Busy Life

3 years ago, I bought an adorable Advent Calendar from Pottery Barn. 

Paul opening the first drawer in 2020.

It was a way to add some more excitement to the season of Advent. Each drawer is filled with 3 m&ms, and then every 1-3 days there is a slip of paper in the drawer that says "pick a present." The presents are a Christmas-themed book. 

December 1st came very fast this year. Last weekend was filled to the brim with activities, and last week was a very busy week with several evening commitments. I got home for book club at 9:30 on Wednesday. As a reminder, I usually turn my lights off at 9:30. So getting home at 9:30 is like getting home as 11pm for a more normal person who doesn't keep the hours of a senior citizen. 

The thought of filling the whole Advent calendar was so unappealing. So what did I do? I just filled the drawer for day 1. I did not need to fill the whole calendar because those drawers won't be opened for some time. The next day was busy, too, so I filled day 2 on the night of day 1. Luckily, I had wrapped all the presents 2 weekends ago so the biggest tasks was already done.  

It made me think - how often are we putting pressure on ourselves to do the equivalent of filling an Advent Calendar in one fell swoop, when we can just tackle a day at a time? I think many of us do this quite often. Or we think about alll the tasks that need to be done over a span of a month - like the busy winter holiday season - but much of the tasks don't need to be done at the same time or on one day.

This is the mindset I'm taking as we enter the busy holiday season. December is kind of nutty for us. I travel Tues-Thur of this week, have book club Friday, and then we drive the boys to my parents lake home on Saturday. We'll spend the night there, come back on Sunday, and fly to Mexico on Monday morning. We get back from Mexico on Friday, go to the lake on Saturday, have an early Christmas with my parents, and come back on Sunday. I have surgery on Tuesday, December 20th, and then we'll celebrate Christmas days later. 

That's a lot of coming and going and disruption to schedules. But I'm living life one week at a time, just as I filled the Advent calendar a day at a time - until I had time to fill more drawers on a quiet Friday afternoon. I'm not reading/absorbing the pre-op instructions for my surgery on the 20th. That can wait until Monday, December 19th. I'm not thinking too much about what I'll serve for our small family gathering on Christmas Day or what I'll buy for the dice game we play on Christmas. I'm trusting that my future self will figure it out - my present self doesn't need to worry about it now. 

What do you think? Do you have a tendency to let the cumulation of multiple tasks/commitments in the future get to you when it's not today's problem to solve? I am very much a planner, so this can happen for me but I'm learning to not look so far into the future! 


Nicole said...

Lisa! I have much to say. First, I don't think I have ever filled the entire Advent calendar in one swoop. A couple of years I did an "activity" every day, but I never filled it until the day before or of, even if I had a rough plan of the activity.
Second, getting home at 9:30, whew, I feel your exhaustion.
Third, your December sounds so busy. You are always so busy but this is over the top! I mean, it will be fun - Mexico! Lake! Etc - but wow, that's busy.
I am totally on board with taking things as they come and not getting too mired in details for things in the future.
Fourth (or fifth) I didn't know you were having surgery and I hope you are okay and that you recover quickly. xo

coco said...

fully agree with you. I tend to overwhelm myself unnecessary, so this year I've decided we won't do the advent calendar thing with the excuse that our shipment is not here yet so I don't have the box. Yet, I decided to get a Christmas tree, 5 years later, because the girls really want to have it to pile up the gifts. Fortunately the only I had to do is to order it online, then they built it.
hope you get through the December craziness smoothly. I do feel rushed over the holidays to finish work to start the break while trying to enjoy the festivities too.

Jeanie said...

Uhh. Surgery? Sending loads of love and hope it's something routine and all will be well.

I am forced to take it more gently this year. I'm trying to prioritize -- gifts to be mailed first, then cards. Decorating a bit at a time. Maybe not as many cookies. If there is a mess in the corner, it just might stay there. But I will try my best to do what it takes to stay on an even keel this year. We shall see.

Elisabeth said...

Yes I fall into the all-or-nothing trap regularly, but have definitely gotten better at doing little bits at a time. I like to finish tasks, but picking away at things over a few days...well, that can work too!

I've started doing this with laundry. I HATE putting away laundry and often grit my teeth and try to do it all at once. But it's okay to just grab a few items every time I pass by the basket filled with clean laundry and put those away. And then a few hours later do a few more. It's much more pleasant this way!

What a busy month ahead. I'm wishing you AMAZING health the whole time, wonderful weather, and just lots of great memories.

And all the best with your surgery + recovery <3

Grateful Kae said...

Funny you wrote this today- I was just thinking this morning about how my motto lately has kind of become the oldie but goodie "work smarter, not harder". I feel like sometimes I run myself in circles, instead of thinking about how I can make things just... simpler. Or easier. Or batch things. Or skip things! Etc. I've also been trying to return to doing more time blocking, of sorts. I had fallen into the trap lately of sort of approaching my days in too much of a lackadaisical way, and then feeling frustrated that I'm not getting certain things done, or my day feels all over the place. I've been really trying to look at my days more closely in the morning and thinking, ok, when am I going to workout? When am I going to carve out an hour to work on swim meet stuff? When should I sit down and order a few more gifts? etc. It's only been a couple days but I already feel more at peace and more organized. I think it's actually similar to what you're saying- just focus on the thing I need to do now, and then go from there. I don't have to "plan" my entire week out, but just adding a bit more structure to my actual days again has been helpful. It sort of allows me to just not worry about all the other stuff, because I know I'll get to that stuff another time- just not right now. :)

NGS said...

Oh, boy! You are speaking my language. I'm definitely a chunker and do every project in small bites. The last big project I tackled was holiday cards and it took me four days. One day, I just did the recipients' addresses, the second writing messages on the cards, the third putting on return addresses and stamps and the fourth sealing and putting on stickers. I could never have done that in one day. LOL.

I LOVE that you do this, though. It's such a sweet thing. My husband still talks about the advent calendar at his house (there were five kids and they had to share one!), so hopefully your boys will have great memories.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

This is why I make a monthly list (like biiiig things that have an end date) and a daily list. I check on the monthly on a weekly basis and keep breaking down tasks on the daily. Very helpful.

Suzanne said...

This is very good advice. I often panic, thinking that I'll run out of time so I have to do everything now! now! now! But... that's really not always the case. Or the stress I put on myself to do something right away simply paves the way for me to pack more stress into my life. LOL.

This is a VERY busy December, and I'm so glad you have Mexico in there as a space to (hopefully) slow down and relax a bit before surgery and the hubbub of the holiday.

I hope your surgery goes very well, and that the recovery is smooth and that it relieves or gives information or whatever it is intended to do.

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

Great post. I think that it really depends on the task, you know? Some of them, it does not really help to get things done early or matter if you do. Your parents lake trip will be fine; it doesn't matter if you buy the dice thing today or in two weeks as long as it is before the game.

I think for me some of the angst comes from feeling like I would not either be efficient or save money. For example, I should make a list early and buy gifts on Black Friday or Cyber Monday as I will get a better deal than I would if I bought at the last minute. And paying an extra $5, $10, $20 makes me feel disappointed (?) in myself. But I need to get over that sometimes, or at least worry only if it is a big enough amount of money that it actually does make a difference.

J said...

You’re going to be super busy! I am a slacker mom, and have never gotten my daughter an advent calendar. She’s 26 now, do you think she’d want one now? Probably not. Gosh, surgery. I hope it goes well and that you have an easy recovery. I’m a big chicken, have never had surgery. Enjoy your vacation and your parents!

San said...

Your holiday season sounds very busy, but I think the key is: it's all planned out, so you don't have to worry about things until they happen. You got all the prep-work in advance so hopefully, you can just take it one day at a time and enjoy this season (minus the surgery).

Stephany said...

I love this approach! I am definitely someone who does things in chunks - it's just easier for my brain to say "you only have to wash 10 dishes" rather than looking at everything I need to wash in the sink, lol.

I also think there are so many more expectations on parents these days than there ever were before when it comes to holidays. I remember seeing a blogger talk about this big surprise she threw for her kids on St Patrick's Day and I was like, "WHAAAT? Parents have to do something for St. Patrick's Day now?!?!" No, thank you! I think an advent calendar is a sweet tradition (and I love the way you have made it so perfect for your family!) and I love that you have taken some of the pressure off yourself with this tradition.