Post-Holiday Debriefing: Get Organized for Next Christmas

It's over for another year!

Wild and woolly or sane and sedate, we've passed through the holiday season and into a new year. Breath caught, it's time to debrief.

You know debriefing, right? The astronauts do it, spies do it, pilots do it: a measured after-the fact evaluation of the mission or flight.

Smart holiday planners should do it, too--because taking time now to note what worked, what didn't will be a road map to a more organized Christmas next year.

Find a quiet spot sometime within the next week. Play that new educational video for the kiddies, and pour a hot cup of tea. Grab your Christmas notebook and a copy of our debriefing worksheet to record your thoughts.

Then address these questions:

1. What worked this holiday season?

Start with your strengths--it'll give you the motivation to tackle your weaknesses. Large or small, list the things that went right this year.

Was this the first year your family broke away from Christmas-at-Grandma's (complete with cranky kidlets and a 6-hour drive on icy road)--and you loved it, intergenerational flak notwithstanding? Did you buy a new gift wrap organizer that made wrapping a breeze? Was your freezer stocked with easy-prep meals, making the evening crush much calmer?

Whatever worked for you, write it down. It'll remind you of what went right when next year's holiday madness approaches.

2. What was the worst aspect of holiday prep this year? How can you avoid the trap in the future?

Were you wrapping gifts at 3 a.m.? Baking while watching the 11 p.m. news? Were the ornaments buried in a dark attic, or were they all but destroyed by a lousy packing job?

Pick the worst element of your holiday planning, and decide how to lick the problem next year. Write it down for future reference.

3. Were you satisfied with your level of giving? What did you give: time, money, self, talents? Did you include your children in giving?

Perhaps it's having lived with a Rocket Scientist child with an infallible Do-As-I-Say detector, but I don't think it's possible to teach children about giving if it doesn't start with you. All that women's magazine nicey-nice tradition stuff won't dent those little psyches unless you are on board--so were you?

Think about bringing some of that Christmas spirit into the other eleven months of the year. Evaluate your level and kind of giving, and make notes

4. How well did your household run this holiday season? Were you calm and cozy or stressed and strung out? What one improvement could you make in your planning for next year?

Whether it's wardrobe or food prep, shopping or storage, zero in on your holiday systems, and look for ways to improve. Write 'em down.

5. Honesty time. How did your holiday go? Not the children, not the spouse, not the extended family members or the church or the shelter--you.

Yes, you. Did you experience the expectancy, the magic, the sparkle of this season?

Great holiday? Write down the grace notes that got you in the ho-ho-holiday mood and kept you there. Did you play more Christmas music or spend special time with each loved one? Remind yourself--and write it down.

Nobody wants to admit it out loud, but many of us felt a little bit flat at one time or another this year. Spare a thought to the reasons--because they'll point the way to needed changes next year.

Were you worn out from all the brou-ha-ha-ha? Too many parties, with an overload of that jolly old depressant, Demon Alcohol? Groaning under the load of Christmas Tradition--and shouldering that burden alone?

Home managers deserve a holiday, too! If the season got to you this year, figure out one or two things to do differently. Perhaps you'll ask the family for help, or pare down outgrown traditions. Maybe you'll plan to make quiet, reflective time a priority during these hectic weeks. Record your conclusions; they'll guide you next year.

For home managers, the holiday season represents a hefty amount of time, energy and money, and we deserve to treat that expenditure seriously. Yes, we love the holidays. Yes, we enjoy most of the tasks necessary to bring them to birth, but don't let sentiment blind you to the real work involved. Like all work, this too has dignity, and deserves efficiency and respect.

Don't let this holiday season slip into the photo album until you've made a record of the triumphs and the trying times. Slip into something comfortable, put on a pot of tea, and think like an astronaut.

Finished? Take your written record and file it in the Christmas planner. Next year, it'll be the first reminder you see--and will be your guide to a more organized, more joyous holiday season.