Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.
As we move into the first official weekend on this busy month of December, I’m going to hazard a guess that your To-Do List is as long as mine. I’m scribbling on notepads, wipe-off boards, and sticky notes just to try to keep up with everything on my holiday to-do list—and that doesn’t even include my online tracking devices—or my day job. But no matter how organized I am or how many lists I make, I still feel incredibly behind at this time of year.
And with good reason . . . I AM behind. My front staircase still remains half-decorated since Saturday, with the hours of each day quickly running out—well into the wee small hours of the morning. And half is clearly an exaggeration; I’m nowhere near halfway done. Last night, thanks to running a retail start-up at holiday season, I hit the pillow after 3. Each time I walk by those steps, I think, “Now? Can I squeeze this in now? I HAVE to finish this soon or I shouldn’t bother!”
I look for options of when to finish decorating, a total misnomer for me because even I know that I continue to decorate until just before it’s time to de-construct right after New Year’s Day. I sigh. The house is finally quiet. “Hmmm. Now?” I tell myself that it’s really not practical to be on my hands and knees arranging little garland reindeer on each step of the staircase at 2 in the morning, trying to see by flashlight to avoid turning on the lights. But truth be told, I almost considered that option—to get it all done and let the rest of my family get some sleep!
I even consoled myself that I was making progress just by getting the bins out of the garage. Candidly though, I don’t want progress. Like so many of us, I want true Samantha-Stevens-wrinkle-my-nose-perfection. I want those little reindeer to simply skip up the staircase and surround themselves with the bags and bags of fake snow waiting like sentry behind the living room chair. These photos are evidence of both my meager progress and major anxiety about my To-Do List. (I really should design a new list called a Still-To-Do List, a potentially depressing and yet equally lucrative product idea.)
As I sat down to craft this post instead of playing Reindeer Roulette, I realized that the Teacher Peach PeachQuotes Studio freebie design of the Seth Godin quote below is a “perfect” reminder. At this time of year, we all need to keep this message in our line of vision. Knowing me though, I’d want to frame it and decorate it. A lower labor-intensive solution is to use it as a screen saver, which hopefully will appeal to many of you.
Given how close to home this topic of Progress, Not Perfection feels to me right now, I paused to think about why. (It wasn’t a true pause; I was choosing clothes for today and brushing my teeth at the time.) I’ve decided that part of why we get so focused on perfection is that we “see visions” of perfection practically everywhere at this time of year. The people on TV, in ads, in videos, and so forth always seem to be perfectly thin, perfectly happy, and perfectly coordinated (in perfectly matching sweaters that somehow look way better on them than anything I’ve ever tried to pull off).
Because we’re so filled with these images, I think we construct often-unreasonable expectations of ourselves. Many of us push way too hard to try to achieve our own definitions of holiday perfection. It’s easy to get lost in details that end up not mattering so much at all. Between stunning pins we add to boards, great articles and videos we peruse, and other glimpses into a perception of holiday bliss and perfection, visions of perfect holiday festivities can cloud even the most rational person’s perspective.
At this time of year, I’m not sure the descriptor rational person even remotely applies to me. On top of everything else on my dance card, I’ve been feeling so blue since Thanksgiving and so missing of my mom that I took a page from her book and decided to simply, “Have a Holidays Party!” Rational? I think not. Exciting and exactly what I want for my family and friends? Absolutely. So party, we shall.
Besides, as we all know, there is no better way to get one’s literal house in order than to have a firm party deadline. My husband, of course, is simply shaking his head, mumbling, “I know this makes sense to you, but really? Your ‘just 20 people’ is never that. I know this thing is going to grow and grow.” (Yup, big guy, it is—just like your basic ugly holiday sweater. The sleeves on this one are sure to drag—and I can’t wait.)
The Pressure of Perfect
I know that I need to “do” this differently this year, though. I can tell you from experience, my husband is right and my expectations—OF MYSELF—have to stay in line—or at least nearer to the line. From my quest for crisp corners on every package to just the right sprinkles on every cookie, many holiday actions seem to drive towards “perfect.” Yet, both perfect and crooked corners will be unwrapped equally rapidly in our house—and seem only to matter to one person—me.
When high expectations lead the way, I know disappointment is often one step behind. With all there is to do, and all we tend to think has to get done, getting cookies baked at all can be a major feat. I’ve been known to consider break-apart cookie dough cubes as homemade. (I did make them AT HOME and it was my cookie sheet.) I’ve also decided to give myself extra credit for putting my store-bought wonders in those sweet little paper cupcake holders. Even most frozen or store-bought cookies pass the homemade test when well displayed.
Shifting from perfection to progress can reduce many pressures. Remembering that cookies truly do taste just as delicious without perfectly placed sprinkles—especially when decorating becomes a creative, team effort—pressure can shift to pride—or so they tell me.
Perfect Holiday Standards
The moment school and work obligations end, the holiday ones rev up to max capacity for all of us. It’s easy to think there will be enough time to get it all done—that is, until the too-long holiday to-do lists keep growing longer still. To-do lists are much like lesson plans; they can easily reflect a determination that most teachers possess—to hit self-defined and extremely high (holiday) standards of perfection. If this tendency sounds familiar, why not catch yourself this year? I know I’m going to try to do this. This time off from school is called Winter BREAK for a reason: everyone needs a break from hitting high standards—especially teachers striving to meet and exceed high standards every day.
Pick Just Three “Perfects”
This year, I’m taking my cue from the teachers who constantly teach me how to do things differently through their engagement with Teacher Peach. These teachers achieve such incredible results for students. They’re even applying their educational expertise to the holidays. I’m going to try to as well. When you wear your teacher hat and help your students tackle something in a new and better way, chances are you coach your kids not to expect perfection. Chances are also you reward progress instead. We deserve the same!
This year, instead of striving for perfection in every aspect of your holiday plans, choose just three things that really matter to you. These may be a special tradition, a new recipe, or creating an extremely special gift for someone equally special to you. If “doing the tree up right” holds a special importance to you, that’s an ideal place to spend your energy; then, take lots of pictures to capture the memory—and remind you of your successful outcome.
The Top Three Choices ARE Yours
In each of your three chosen areas, work towards your personal definition of perfection—but do this only in those three important areas. (Are you listening, Randi?) As for the rest of the activities on your list, just as you’d do at school, aim for progress instead.
- You might try gift bags instead of wrapping gifts. (OK, so that one’s not happening, but I’ll use ready-made gift bows this year.)
- You might consider trading cookies with friends or making your gatherings ones where everyone brings a dish. (This one’s a possibility since my friends are very tolerant of my culinary garnishing with flair; they may wonder what’s become of “the real Randi” since not doing it all myself will be a very new experience for everyone.)
- You might create an assembly line to get wrapping done before dawn. One person might put boxes together and load tissue. The next could fold garments and fill the boxes, others could wrap, and finally, an inspector could add bows and gift tags. Even if gift tag stickers are a little bit crooked and corners aren’t folded with military precision, it’s about family and community. Include a sticky that travels with the gift through the line, “Andy’s scarf” so you know what’s in each wrapped box to write the gift tag. (We’ve done assembly lines; with holiday music, it’s quite enjoyable.) You just might discover a few new traditions, teach your kids how to wrap, and make a new memory or two. Now, that is progress!
My “Planning for Progress” Plan
As for the rest of tonight, the reindeer will need to wait. I’m taking a brand new set of Planning Notepads from our new collection with a marker I love. I’m going to plot out the rest of this month, then each week, and make my daily to-do lists for the next few days. You might want to check out these Planning Organizer Notepads. I use them all the time, which is incidentally how we started to carry them at Teacher Peach. I’d designed these for myself and when people kept borrowing them and teachers loved them, we created the whole Planning System. Teachers tell us these are excellent executive functioning support tools for students. They help planners at every age to plan from macro-to-micro.
Teacher Peach is a great place to exchange ideas with other teachers, so if you have suggestions for ways to focus on progress during the holidays, please share them here. Let’s all aim for progress to better enjoy the time before Winter Break. Treasure evidence of the progress in not-so-perfect sprinkles. As for me, by the weekend I hope the staircase will be off my to-do list because I’ll be off the staircase itself by then. If not, perhaps I can inspire those little reindeer to hitch up their sleigh to give me a ride right up to bed!
Step right this way, progress. According to Seth, there’s no waiting. We hope you’ll share how you plan to make progress during this holiday season. More soon.