Creating a Life Free From Chaos

7 Ways to Simplify Christmas This Year

7 Ways to Simplify Christmas This YearThe holiday season is upon us! Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s time to get in the spirit of Christmas! The holidays are a lot more fun and a lot less stressful with a little planning and the intention to keep things simple. Here are seven ideas for simplifying Christmas and enjoying this month of celebration.

Create a holiday notebook

Photocopy your favorite holiday recipes and keep them together in a notebook, so you don’t have to scramble each year looking for those special family dishes. You can also keep a copy of your gift list in your notebook, as well as to-do lists, directions to holiday parties, and your plans for cookie swaps and homemade gift-making.

Christmas Simplicity Tip: Photocopy your favorite holiday recipes and keep them together in a notebook so you don't scramble for them later. Click To Tweet

Create a gift spreadsheet

One of my lifesavers is a spreadsheet I use every year to track and organize my gifts. I create a new worksheet each year (all in the same document), and I list who I want to get gifts for down the left side. I have columns across the top for my budget, what to give, whether I’ve bought/ordered/made it, how much it actually cost, whether it’s been wrapped or shipped, and a space to write notes to myself. The budget and actual cost columns add themselves up automatically using the SUM function, so I can always glance down and see how I’m doing. I’ve been doing this since 2003, so I can look back and see what I got someone for the last several years, ensuring I don’t duplicate myself! You can download my spreadsheet right here!

Keep your calendar current

While it’s always good to keep your calendar up to date, it’s even more important during the busy holiday season. Special events, holiday parties, cookie swaps, kids’ parties — it all adds up fast. Record upcoming events as they come in so you don’t double book yourself. If requested, make sure you RSVP as well!

You can also use your calendar to track your gift giving. Mark your calendar now for your gift purchasing deadline and your mailing deadline, if you have to ship gifts. Planning ahead saves you from costly last-minute binge-buying and excessive postage fees, and it ensures your gifts arrive on time.

Christmas Simplicity Tip: Jot down upcoming events in your calendar as they come in so you don't double book yourself. You can also use your calendar to track gift orders and shipping dates! Click To Tweet

Online shopping for the win

If you do any of your shopping online or by catalog, it’s time to get going. Keep in mind shipping time and charges, and give yourself some leeway in case your items are canceled or on backorder. Keep track of what you ordered in your gift spreadsheet and mark off items as they arrive.

Wrap as you go

Instead of saving all the gift wrapping until the last minute, set aside a few evenings here and there to wrap some gifts. Keep your wrapping paper, bags, tissue paper, scissors, tape, ribbons, and gift tags organized together in a box or other container so you can find what you need easily.

Christmas Simplicity Tip: Instead of saving all the gift wrapping until the last minute, set aside a few evenings here and there to wrap some gifts. Click To Tweet

Stock your supplies for entertaining

Stock up on easy entertaining supplies for last-minute guests. Tidy up your guest room, keep the bathroom clean and stocked, and fill your pantry with easy appetizers like chips and salsa, crackers and summer sausage, hot cocoa and ciders. There are also some yummy snacks and appetizers that can be kept in your freezer and heated up as needed.

Enjoy yourself

Simplify the holidays where you can, organize the rest, and vow to have fun with friends and family this year.

For more ideas for an easygoing holiday, check out my book, Simply Christmas, with 101 ways to simplify the holidays. 

7 Ways to Simplify Christmas This Year

How to Make a To-Do List That Actually Works

How to Make a To-Do List That Actually WorksDo you make to-do lists that keep getting longer instead of shorter? Do you lose the lists, or tackle every task you can think of except the ones on your list? It’s time to create a to-do list that actually works for you.

Making a to-do list that actually works not only means putting all your to-do’s in writing in one place, but it also requires prioritizing which tasks are the most important versus what tasks you would just like to do (you know, the easy ones).

There’s an art to making an effective to-do list, but it’s an art that can be learned pretty easily. Click To Tweet

So many of us make lists and then never get through them, but making an effective list and learning how to use it can buy you a lot more free time, thanks to all those checkmarks hitting your list regularly. There’s an art to making an effective to-do list, but it’s an art that can be learned pretty easily.

Pick your method.

You can make a task list on paper, or you can use an app on your phone. The important thing is to pick a method and stick with it. I’ve bounced back and forth between electronic and paper, depending on the season of life I was in. I’m back to electronic now, but choose the method that works best for you.

Create your list.

Each week, spend a few minutes writing down as many tasks for the whole week that you can think of. I like to do this on Sundays as I prepare for the week ahead. Check your calendar and note any tasks associated with events for the week.

Now go through the list and cross off anything you actually don’t need to do. Cut the fluff. Maybe there are little tasks you feel like you should do, but don’t really need to do. Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off for ages. If it’s been procrastinated on that long, perhaps it’s not actually necessary. Consider dropping it. Now you’ve got a working master task list for the week.

Learn to say no.

The use of the word “no” is key because you can’t keep adding tasks to your to-do list without pushing other tasks off. If you say yes to everything everyone asks you to do, you will never be able to get to the things that are most important for you. Use the word “no” to make sure that your to-do list actually reflects your goals, not someone else’s.

If you say yes to everything everyone asks you to do, you will never get to the things that are most important to you. Click To Tweet


Once you have your master task list drafted, go back and prioritize which tasks need to be done on which day, so you can determine what your daily big rocks are.

Each night, go through your to-do list for the next day and note which tasks are most important. Choose a maximum of three tasks that you absolutely must do the next day. These most important tasks are your “big rocks,” and you’ll be more efficient in tackling these tasks first before you get sidetracked doing other things.

Highlight which tasks are your big rocks for the day by putting a star by the task or using a highlighter to make the task pop off the page. If you use a digital to-do list, you can bold the task or put a star on the item, if your app has that feature.

We often have a habit of filling our mornings with easy little tasks that don’t really move the needle toward our goals, but for our to-do lists to truly work, we need to prioritize our tasks and hit them first thing.

Ask yourself:

  • If I only get these three things done today, will I feel satisfied?
  • Are these the three most important things I need to do to consider my day a success?

How do you choose what to make a priority?

There are two types of tasks that should pop to the top of your to-do list:

  • Tasks with a deadline. Maybe you have a meeting you need to prepare for, or there’s a party at your kids’ school that you are attending. Maybe you have an assignment due at work, or there’s a baseball tournament this weekend. Any task with a deadline will need to be prioritized according to its due date.
  • Tasks that move you closer to your goals. Dividing up big goals into smaller chunks is the best way to make sure you reach your goals. Scheduling these chunks as tasks can help move you toward your goal, so those should be a priority as well.

Schedule them.

Part of creating a to-do list that actually works is scheduling when you’re going to do those tasks. You’re not only looking at when these tasks need to be done but also at your calendar so that these things you’re saying are important to you are actually scheduled to get done. You can’t finish something if you don’t make time to work on it. Be intentional with how you schedule your time.

You can’t finish something if you don’t make time to work on it. Click To Tweet

Be prepared.

You’re not going to have a very effective to-do list if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing or what supplies you need to do it.

Let’s say you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment for your child. You’ve got a sticky note with the doctor’s phone number and your insurance information, but you lost the note. Pick a spot to store this information all in one place, so you know exactly where to look. Random sticky notes and little scraps of paper are bound to get misplaced, but having a single place to store that information, whether in a small notebook or a notes app in your phone, ensures you have what you need when you need it.

The same principle applies to items needed for specific tasks. If you have library books to drop off, put them together in a bag by the door or in your car. If you need to pick up groceries, put all the items on one list on your phone so you don’t forget the list back on the kitchen counter. We now use Alexa for our grocery list, since we can just “tell” her what we need and she records it, then we can access the list via the Alexa app on our phones. If you need to pick up dry cleaning, put the claim receipt in your wallet. You don’t want to head out to knock a task off your to-do list only to discover you don’t have what you need.

If the tasks you have to do involve some sort of materials, things you need to take with you, even a specific way you need to dress, make a note next to the task on your list so you don’t forget. When I go to a PTA meeting, I make a note on the calendar to-do that I need to have my committee binder with me. My son’s piano lessons require a certain music book. Scout functions need complete uniforms, water bottles, and sometimes books or paperwork. There are too many details that can get lost in the chaos — better to make a note so you don’t forget.

Batch similar tasks.

Batching related tasks together on your to-do list can also save you time and energy. Take errands for example. I know I need to stop by the pet store and pick up flea treatment for my cats. I need to drop off library books. And I need to stop by my PO Box to pick up the mail.

These are not things I want to do on three different days or even three different times on the same day. It’s so much more efficient to batch those errands together and do them all on one trip out if possible. Not does it help you not forget anything, but you’ll be saving time, saving energy, saving gas, and you’re being the most efficient you can be with getting those tasks done.

You can also batch phone calls, paying bills, or responding to emails. Make time to do them all at once instead of randomly throughout the day.

At the end of the day, you want to feel that you are making progress towards your goals and making good use of your time. Be intentional with your schedule. By planning out in advance which things are the most important, you can prioritize completing those tasks and you can feel good about the choices you made with your time.

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How to Make a To-Do List That Actually Works

10 Bad Habits That Are Killing Your Productivity

10 Bad Habits That Are Killing Your ProductivityWe all have a few bad habits that make themselves known in the amount of work we get done each day, whether we are stay-at-home moms, retired and loving it, or working for cash from home or outside of the house. We all have these little bad habits that are killing our productivity and keeping us from getting our best stuff done. Before we can change these habits, we need to recognize them for what they are.

I’ve narrowed it down to just 10 common bad habits that are absolutely killing your productivity. And not just your productivity at work, but your productivity in your everyday life, in the little tasks and projects you do every day.

Not having a morning routine

Not having a morning routine means that you’re starting your day off already behind. It means you may not know what you’re going to wear, what your kids are going to wear. You don’t know what you’re having for lunch, you don’t know what your kids are having for lunch. You didn’t check your calendar the night before so you probably don’t know what activities are planned for the day — what if your child needs to take something special into school? I have missed my fair share of crazy sock days, the “I needed a sack lunch for the field trip” days, and even the “it’s potluck day at work, weren’t you going to bring a pie?” days.

These situations can be avoided if you make it a habit to check your schedule as part of your morning routine (and ideally the night before as well). You also need to check the weather so you can dress appropriately and take that umbrella or gloves if you need them. Planning out your breakfast in advance or setting the coffee maker ahead of time on a timer means you don’t have to think about these things — they are part of your routine. I also use the alarm clock feature on my phone to set timers for when things need to happen in the morning, such as what time each kid needs to be at his respective school bus stop. It’s part of the routine — the kids hear the alarm go off and know it’s time to head to the bus. Everybody will make it to school and work on time.

Everything is simpler and a lot less stressful when everybody knows the order of events in the morning — they know what to expect. Starting off the morning as a mess can kill your productivity for the entire day. Start the day off right if you want to be ready to have a productive day.

Doing the easy stuff first

By doing the easy stuff first, you’re essentially procrastinating, which kills your productivity. You’re taking the hard stuff, which is probably the most important stuff, “your big rocks,” and putting them off until later, and the stuff that gets put off until “later” often doesn’t get done at all.

When I say easy stuff, I mean things like checking your email, checking social media, maybe even been doing the dishes or running a load of laundry. Yes, those things may be important, but they’re not your “big rocks” for the day. When you make your to-do list, it’s important to note which things are the most important and make them priority items. Then start your day by working on those items.

By tackling the most important stuff, the hard stuff, first, the rest of the day will be so much easier. You’re left with the smaller, easier tasks to fill in the rest of your day, and you can tackle those with the confidence and satisfaction that comes from crossing off those monster tasks early in the day.

Keeping your phone with you all the time

Keeping your phone with you all the time means that you’re probably being distracted by it, and that can kill your productivity. Even if your phone is on silent or vibrate, you’re probably still being distracted by it, because it’s hard to have your phone with you and not look at it to see if you’ve got a new message or if there’s that little notification icon on one of your apps.

It is OK to set your phone aside to get your work done. It is OK to set yourself phone aside so you can have quality time with your family. I keep my phone nearby while my kids are at school or if I’m away from my family, so I can be reached in an emergency. However when I’m working on deep work or I’m with my family, my phone tends to be on silent, often left in some other room for a while so I’m not tempted to look at it.

It is OK to set your phone aside to get your work done. It is OK to set yourself phone aside so you can have quality time with your family. Click To Tweet

In this day and age, it’s far too easy to be distracted by your phone without even realizing you’re doing it. Being distracted by your phone will not only kill your productivity but can pull your attention away from your family and friends and distract you from the work you’re trying to do. It’s too easy to be distracted by the little screen that goes with us everywhere, so make sure you have some boundaries so it doesn’t kill your productivity and steal your happiness and relationships.

Mindless browsing on the Internet or social media

Another bad habit that kills your productivity is mindless browsing on the Internet and social media, on your phone, on your tablet, and on your computer. Whether you’re at work, out and about, or at home, it’s way too easy to get in the habit of sitting around mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, flipping through Pinterest, perusing the images on Instagram, or randomly clicking links all over the Internet just “surfing the net” as we used to say.

But is this keeping you from doing more important work? It probably is. Surfing the Internet is one of the prime candidates for killing your productivity because it’s such an easy distraction when you’re sitting at your computer trying to get work done. It’s easy to open that next little browser tab or click just one more link. It’s imperative that you either learn how to keep the tabs closed or you can turn off your Internet connection completely to get your stuff done.

There are apps available where you can set times that will block off certain websites, such as Facebook or Twitter, until you’ve completed a certain amount of work or a specified amount of time. They can also completely block certain websites within certain hours so you can’t be tempted to go play on the Internet while you’re supposed to be working.

I think it’s best to train yourself to not be distracted, even though it is incredibly hard. However, this mindless browsing is what is keeping you from being your best productive self so you can spend more time doing the things you really want to do.


There was a time when we thought multitasking was the key to being productive — but we were wrong. It turns out that our brains are just not wired for multitasking, and when we try to do more than one thing at a time, our attention is divided too much. We can do one activity at a time very well, or we can do multiple activities at once only “kind of OK.”

There was a time when we thought multitasking was the key to being productive — but we were wrong. Click To Tweet

It is much faster, much better, and therefore more productive to actually do one thing at a time and give that task your full attention. I’m not talking about running a load of laundry while you’re also trying to write an article. That’s different because you’re not actually scrubbing the laundry on a rock in a river. It’s fine to do something like that where you’re starting a load of laundry in the machine or running the dishwasher while you are working on a computer in the other room. You’re not actually doing these things manually at the same time.

It is not possible to concentrate on listening to an audio course while also writing an article that is due for a client while also helping your child with his math homework. You’ll end up not doing any of those things very well. So take the time to actually concentrate on one item at a time so that you can do it the best of your ability. You’ll do it faster, you’ll do it better, and you’ll be more productive while you’re doing it.

Not prioritizing your to-do list

We spoke a little bit about this when we talked about doing the easy stuff first, but it warrants its own mention here. By not prioritizing your to-do list, you are killing your productivity. Not everything you need to do is of the same importance — the tasks on your list have different degrees of importance and urgency.

In Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about dividing your tasks by their order of importance and urgency. You can also keep it even simpler than that: by writing out your to-do list each night and starring or highlighting the items that are the most important that you must take care of the next day.

The key part is that you need to choose just one or two items on your to-do list that are the biggest priority on your list, so you know what you need to start the day with. Ask yourself, “what is the most important thing that I need to accomplish today so that I know my day was a success?” You will kill your productivity if you treat all tasks as being equal.

Need a new way to organize your to-do list? Download my free printable one here.

You will kill your productivity if you treat all tasks as being equal. Click To Tweet


I love to plan — planners are one of my favorite things. I love to sit down with a fresh planner and new pens and start mapping out my week, making to-do lists, and figuring out how I’m going to divide up tasks in the big projects that I’m working on. I’m a master at Google Calendar, and it’s a running joke that I live and die by my calendar. However, when it comes down to it, over planning can actually kill your productivity.

When you start planning every task down to the very last detail, it can actually stop you in your tracks. You get to the point where you have planned so much and gotten everything so detailed that it actually makes it hard for you to even start — the whole process becomes too overwhelming. There needs to be room within your planning for spontaneity and changes. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, and by over planning, you’re killing your productivity since you’re not allowing for those little changes, the little things that may go wrong, and instead, you’re holding yourself to a level of perfection that is simply not possible.

When you start planning every task down to the very last detail, it can actually stop you in your tracks. The whole process becomes too overwhelming. Click To Tweet

When you over plan, you’re killing your productivity before you even start. So yes, it is great to have an outline and a general idea of where you’re going and a plan of how you’re going to get there, but don’t take it too far and plan it down to the last detail.


I briefly touched on this when we talked about over planning, but I want to highlight it because it is such a big obstacle to productivity. Perfectionism will kill your productivity. I cannot stress that enough. Perfectionism is the biggest killer of productivity. Trust me — I’m a recovering perfectionist.

We are not perfect, we never will be, and trying to be perfect is going to make things come to a screeching halt. If you try to make everything exactly perfect, you will get nowhere.

I mentioned before that I love to plan, and I love planners. One of the things about my paper planner though, and I know other people have the same problem, is that I’m always afraid of “messing it up.” I don’t like having to mark out something in my planner, scribble something out because I made a mistake, anything like that. I have been so afraid of my planner not looking perfect that I’ve been known to stall on even using it. If I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, I didn’t want to write it down for fear of having a mistake in my planner that would make it not perfect.

But we’re not perfect, and part of the process of getting your stuff done is making allowances for the things that come up that make life the way it is. You can’t be so afraid of making mistakes that you don’t even start. There will be mistakes, and you have to be willing to scratch them off and start again. Perfectionism can kill your productivity if you let it, so just grab the White Out and get to work. Or do what I did, and buy erasable pens.

Saying yes all the time

By saying yes all the time, it means you may be saying no to things that are actually most important to you. Saying yes means you’re not taking into account the things that you are most interested in and the things that are most important to you. To live your best, most intentional life, you have to learn to say no. No has to become one of the most used words in your vocabulary.

No is the word that is going to keep your schedule the most streamlined, productive, and the most fulfilling that it can be.


To live your most productive life, you have to leave the bad habit of self-doubt at the door. Self-doubt is killing your productivity because it’s making you procrastinate and delay your decisions. By not feeling confident in yourself, you’re delaying taking action on any kind of plans that you want to make. Whether it’s going back to school to get your degree, buying a new home, making that move across the country, or even just painting your bedroom, you have to be confident that you can make the right decisions to get rid of that self-doubt. You can’t let self-doubt keep you behind.

Self-doubt is killing your productivity because it’s making you procrastinate and delay your decisions. Click To Tweet

Your best, most intentional life is only going to come about when you feel confident that you are making the best decisions for yourself in the now, no matter what the outcome is in the future. None of us know the future. None of us are perfect, but we’re all doing the best we can. Don’t let self-doubt kill your productivity and keep you from getting the stuff done that you really want to do.

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