There are just a few weeks left before Thanksgiving, and many people are already beginning to feel the stress of wondering how to get everything “done” before the 27th. For a holiday that is supposed to be all about nurturing thankfulness, and sharing happy times with family and friends, it can all too easily lead to migraines and irritability. As author and motivational speaker Dave Saunders says, "Many dread these holidays because they expect chaos. They expect strife."

We all know the feeling of being out-of-control of our schedules, with too much to do and not enough time to pack it all in. Saunders advises, "Make a plan with a goal and make it more than to survive this Thanksgiving." This year, instead of falling into a frenzy the week of Thanksgiving, how about approaching it smoothly, confidently and in control? The following time management tips can help you not only gain a few precious hours, but help you be able to relax and enjoy the holiday as intended.

  1. Make a list (or lists!). Take some time to think about all the things that need to be done, and write them down. As Stephanie Winston writes in her best-selling book Getting Organized, "The effective use of lists is critical to any well-organized time-management system." Note where the kids can get involved. The simple task of putting things on paper instead of trying to keep them all in mind can automatically help to lower your stress level.
  2. Prioritize. Think about what kind of a holiday you want to have, and organize your to-do list with that goal firmly in mind. Says Saunders, "The first thing necessary is to decide what experience you actually want. Is that to have a blissful, easy going holiday? The benefit is to get what you actually want this holiday season." Setting priorities may mean that some things simply have to be dropped (or delegated!) from the list (do you really need to make a Turkey piñata?) – but you'll have the satisfaction of identifying what's most important to you and getting those things done.
  3. Find out where you're wasting time. Take a little time to think about it – did you spend two hours reading unimportant emails, browsing the Internet, or doing something else that could have been shortened or avoided altogether? Technology can easily become a time-gobbling monster. We can create time for more important things just by setting limits on these activities. Winston suggests, "Keep emails under control by reserving one or two times a day for checking them." Delete, save or respond, and then – on to the next thing.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time. We've all experienced the frustration of wasting a lot of time just by getting continually distracted. Is planning the Thanksgiving menu at the top of your list? Focus and take the time to plan and write out when the grocery shopping needs to be done, how far in advance the turkey has to start thawing, and when to call Aunt Sue to remind her to bring the pecan pie. Saunders adds, "In the end, all the time management tips in the world won't do you one bit of good if you don't go into it to win." Be disciplined when it comes to completing the task at hand.
  5. Plan time to relax and enjoy. This is really what Thanksgiving is about, isn't it? When the day arrives, if all the essential items on your list are taken care of, don't worry about the non-essentials. Nobody will care if the homemade cranberry sauce didn't get done, and you opened a can. Take time to share and enjoy time with family and friends, and reflect on the many things we have to be thankful for.