I remember the days when I owned my own business and was trying to get our two sons to practices and games on time with knots in my stomach. Then the holidays hit. How to survive without a nervous breakdown?
I'm a list maker. It helps me stay organized, which is the only way to balance a personal life (career, husband) with kids' athletics. I guess you could say that list-making is in my genes, and my sister's, too. My calendar has an 8 1/2 x 11" page for every three days, and they are FILLED! I list the phone calls I have to make each day, the stops in the car, the correspondence, the writing I have to get done. When the kids were growing up, their activities and times were at the top of the date, and arrangements for carpools were right there beside the activity.
The only thing I don't put in there is the grocery list. I have a separate sheet for that. I guess you can tell I don't bother with a Blackberry - it would take me way too long to enter the items and I couldn't read three days all at once. Of course, it's pretty essential that you know where you put your lists, or this exercise is futile! I keep the calendar next to my purse (or in it) and the grocery list in a pouch on the side of my purse.
Now the trick is not only to list what you are doing throughout the day, but to put them in an order that will allow you the shortest distance if you are driving. Sometimes phone calls I can make quickly I put right at the top of each date. It's like going to a grocery store where I know the location of each item versus going to one where I march up and down the aisles searching. The stress of the holidays doesn't allow extra time to find uncut ginger, when I don't have a clue if the grocery store even has it!
A long time ago I began to keep an open notebook for lists of things that pop into my head. Sometimes I write down a great-sounding phrase (I'm a writer), or a page reference for a really unique idea that I just read. Sometimes I jump up in the middle of the night and creep into the kitchen to jot things down. I don't turn on any lights till I get there, so I won't wake my husband. When we're on trips, I record the restaurants where we had a great meal, or where we should return to a hotel, or even where we might go on our next trip!
My list-making turned into journal-keeping. That's how my first book got published, MINOR LEAGUE MOM. I kept journals of everything that happened to our two sons while they were playing pro ball with the Red Sox farm teams, as well as to Charley and me. Now that MINOR LEAGUE MOM is in print, I'll begin writing my next one about my elderly parents: all the funny, idiosyncratic things they did and the great relationship we had until I became their caregiver (and our roles reversed). All of those stories are in journals waiting to be put into a framework.
Believe it or not, I have also got a journal with some ideas about our grandchildren. Art Linkletter used to say, "You never know what will come out of the mouths of babes!" Each stage of their development gives me more material. I have also started a journal about the tennis team I am on in South Florida. We play interclub matches from late September till the middle of May. If I ever produce a book on that subject, it could be a soap opera! Some of my teammates are now feeding me material.
I digress. The point is, it's easier for me to have a starting point for the day from lists than to begin from a blank slate, just as writing from journals is easier for me than from a blank slate. I know that when I leave the computer after writing for a number of hours (or a job, when I owned my own company), I will spend the least time necessary getting things done. That includes getting kids where they had to be, or Christmas gift shopping in an organized route, or allocating spare time for wrapping, etc.
Here's another point, and it is a problem. I become obsessed with checking off the items on the list! That means I want to see the tasks on the lists through to conclusion, whether it's picking up one extra gift or staying up way too late to bake or wrap. Now in the case of writing, self-discipline is a good thing. To a point. I write till I get too hungry or too tired. Sometimes my husband comes into the room where I write and says, "Let's go to a movie tomorrow night!" Not possible, I'm afraid, during the holiday season. The kids' practices and games were our mechanism for de-stressing in the old days. These days, I don't tell him I've got another list started in my head!