Focus On This Podcast

65. Your Holiday Survival Guide



The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year—but inevitably, the season feels chaotic. It seems impossible to really be present when so much is happening. And being spread thin can undermine your productivity during the most important quarter of the year.

It doesn’t have to feel like the next few weeks are happening to you. We’ve identified four steps to help you thrive this holiday season. When you follow them, you’ll stop being swept away and start being present for what matters most.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How to set and communicate realistic expectations
  • Why you may need to adapt your habits
  • Tips for making sure your most important priorities happen
  • The advantage of resisting FOMO and exercising your “No” muscle
  • A special segment with a guest caller that will leave you looking forward to your quarterly preview

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker. Courtney, Happy Monday.

Courtney: Hey, Verbs. Happy Monday. To all of the people out there, I hope you are loving Mondays again as we enter into the great month of December.

Verbs: Yes. Hoping everybody’s Thanksgiving went well and it was an enjoyable time, though it may have looked different, but I hope it was still enjoyable.

Courtney: That’s right. It definitely looked different for us, but I can look back on that and be grateful. Speaking of December, as of this recording, I obviously have not had a baby yet, but probably pretty soon. Who knows? By the time this comes out, baby may be here or not. Because of that, I kind of feel like this is my episode. Can I take this episode from you, Verbs?

Verbs: Please do. I’m actually excited, because I need to take some notes for some of the practices you actually do that are connected to some of these.

Courtney: Well, honestly, I feel like these are great reminders for myself as I enter into and talk about surviving the holidays. Surviving December 2020, plus the holidays, plus a newborn… It’s like I’ve amped it up to the highest degree of survival. I think this episode is like, “All right,” good reminders for me, as well as everybody listening, of how we can get to January 1 and look back and think, “That was an amazing holiday season.” Anyway, I’m super excited about this episode.

Verbs: It’s going to be good. It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and it seems like every year these next four weeks can feel super chaotic. I wanted to ask you. Do you ever feel like you just get kind of swept away in the holidays? Again, this year is obviously different, but here’s my theory. We’ve gotten Christmas music earlier this year, I think, just because everybody is so excited to make a mad dash for that 2021 year to start.

Courtney: It feels like everything this year started earlier, because we all want the joy of the holidays in our lives. I don’t know about where you live, Verbs, but it was like Christmas lights were going up immediately after Halloween. Honestly, normally, I would be like, “Guys, what’s going on?” This year, I was there for it. I’m like, “Yes! Bring on all of the lights.”

I do feel that tension of us wanting the holidays so badly may make us more exhausted. We may be piling on so much. We’ve made the expectations really high to do all the things, to care all, to do baked goods, to have virtual parties, to make sure we, like every year, have presents, but maybe even more presents than ever before because we have to make up for 2020. It feels like, even though it’s different, we may get caught up in some holiday chaos this year.

Verbs: Christmas chaos.

Courtney: Christmas chaos.

Verbs: A little alliteration there, but I agree. I think that feeling can start to impact our productivity as well. It impacts our relationships and, really, our sense of well-being, but here’s the good news: our holidays don’t have to feel that way. So, we’re going to help you escape the holiday chaos, the Christmas chaos today, and we’re going to get into it.

Courtney: Hold up. Before we get into it, Verbs, I just thought of something else, something we haven’t mentioned that I think can add another stressor, which is we have all of those things, but for a lot of people, in your business, in your career, it’s the fourth quarter of the year. Again, it depends probably on how your financial calendar is set up, but I know for us here at Michael Hyatt & Company, it’s game time. It is when so much is on the line.

So, in addition to all of the things we’ve already mentioned that are just part of the holidays, you need to be performing at your absolute best professionally. That brings a whole other side of things. Hopefully, today’s episode is going to help with all of those.

Verbs: So, Courtney, give us some ideas or some thoughts of how we can actually escape the Christmas chaos that’s coming our way.

Courtney: Well, out of the gate, you can create some structures that help you set the pace for your holiday season. To do that, you have to shift from passively reacting, passively saying yes to all of the things (again, I think there’s that desire that this has to be the most epic Christmas of all Christmases), to actually strategizing. That desire of having a great Christmas is awesome. How are you going to go about strategically doing that? It’s not going to happen by saying yes to everything. Then, at the end of that, you’re going to be able to design how this holiday season goes and how you want to feel on January 1 about the last month.

Verbs: You may be asking what the best way to start is or what to do first. Step one is set realistic expectations.

Courtney: A lot of times, we feel overwhelmed because we’re trying to do too much. The way we can offset that is to set realistic expectations for ourselves and for those around us. Sometimes we’re really good at setting really high expectations for other people, especially at the holidays. When you’re looking ahead at this holiday season, here are some questions to ask yourself. Did I mention I’m speaking to the choir? I need to go through these exact questions, everybody.

So, what do I need to do? What can I automate, delegate, or eliminate? Frankly, I have to automate some grocery delivery. That is just one tiny thing. But going through those steps is really going to help you. The next is “What is my capacity of social interaction?” That is going to be different for everybody but really important to evaluate. “How much time do I need to set aside to finish accomplishing my Q4 goals?” This is really important. Sometimes a lot of our goals get weighted for the end of the year, especially professionally, but then at the end of the year we have no time to actually check those off.

The next is “What am I willing to give up, and what am I not willing to give up?” That’s a really great question. “What time do I know I’ll need to set aside for work and for family?” And then you really have to set aside the FOMO. You are going to miss out on some things, but if you’re missing out on the right things and it produces that great holiday season, that’s a good thing. At the end of the day, doing less is going to allow you to be more present, which is going to produce you actually enjoying that event or that experience more.

Verbs: I think that’s an instance of voting for quality versus quantity of events. Here are some ways you can help others understand what they can expect from you. In this case, you’re going to have to exercise the “no” muscle. It’s going to have to happen, because if we let them, other people will hijack our holiday schedule, obviously, if it’s friends, if it’s family. People have ideas for you, as well, than your schedule this coming holiday season, but you don’t have to attend everything, so you shouldn’t feel pressured there. Just because you feel like you should doesn’t mean you have to.

In this season, clarity is your friend. That’s why what you just mentioned, Courtney, is important. Just setting aside some time, deciding, “Hey, here’s what I can do. This is what I need to do. All this other stuff can go to the wayside.” You can be clear about what you will and what you won’t do while still being kind and expressing care to others. This year, obviously, COVID has impacted everything, so there are definitely some expectations we need to set.

Courtney: I think this is really important for everybody listening. It’s the very beginning of December when this is airing. If you haven’t done this yet… My concern for myself and everybody listening is you wait too late to readjust what your expectations are for this year, and then you’re devastated. I think now is a great time to sit with “Hey, this is probably going to look different.”

Again, we talked about this in our last episode. If you will look at this with abundance versus scarcity, it will really help you. You can look at this year and be like, “This is going to be the worst; this is going to be terrible,” or you could look at it and say, “Hey, what is this going to make possible for us this year?” I think it can be a great holiday season, but, again, setting these expectations is going to be really important.

Verbs: I may or may not say that lockdowns may be helping some people right now when it comes to family and friends, possibly. Feel free to edit that out, Nick, but I had to state it.

That was step one: set realistic expectations. Moving on to step two: adapt your rituals. Courtney, I would assume this is very important, just because, again, with the activity of the holiday season, some of those rituals we have set for ourselves may not happen as we would normally do them throughout the rest of the year.

Courtney: It’s totally okay for your habits to change with the season. Part of this is setting those realistic expectations, but this is important enough to get its own point. As a matter of fact, you should tailor your habits to the season in order to keep them relevant. What happens so often is things become stressful and we throw out the things we really need to cling to, which is our habits. If we don’t keep our habits realistic, they’re out the window. In this season, you may not be able to get your hour-long run in every day. You may have to switch your habit to be a 20-minute run, but, again, shifting that habit allows you still to hold the habit without totally throwing it out the window.

Verbs: That’s good. I think it’s important to say we can be okay with that happening given the change of the season, but it also helps make room for the other things that are important to us.

Courtney: Exactly. Again, guys, this episode is for me, because I’m about to have to redo all of my rituals. I’m probably not going to get… Well, I was going to say “luxurious.” I don’t know if that’s how I would describe my morning ritual always, but that’s going to look really different. I’m going to have to say I still want to exercise in the morning, but that may be a really abbreviated activity for a little while. Same with date nights. All of that has to be reframed, but they’re important. I want to hold on to them. I don’t want to lose them completely, so I have to be proactive about evaluating them.

Verbs: Yeah. It’s true that your rituals provide rhythm for your life, so to keep them from getting thrown out of the window, you need to make them work for you right now in the space you’re currently in or the season we’re going into. So, make adjustments accordingly. All right. That was step two: adapt your rituals. Step three is schedule your priorities. I think you said it, Courtney. This is going to be the game changer and the lifesaver for this holiday season.

Courtney: Yeah. We say it all the time, and we believe it deeply. What gets scheduled gets done. If there is something you’re like, “I 100 percent want this to happen this season…” That may be a tradition or a dinner or a movie or something special. It is really important now to get that on the calendar. The same with the activities it takes to pull off that thing, that that gets scheduled on your calendar. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh yeah, we want to do this special night,” but we don’t schedule the things that have to happen before that special night.

So, go ahead and put those on your calendar. The key here is if you will do that ahead of time and do that now, the most important things are going to be there. So, when it comes time to say yes or no to other opportunities, it’s really easy, because you can see what’s already scheduled. Again, flexing that “no” muscle, which is a great muscle to flex all year round, gets some exercise.

Verbs: It’s pretty much like budgeting. You can change your mind and change your schedule later, but then you’ll know exactly what you’re giving up and be able to count the cost from there.

Courtney: So, what you’re saying is it’s okay if I steal some money from the grocery budget to go out dining, but I have to know I’m giving up that special recipe I was wanting to cook.

Verbs: That extra bag of brussels sprouts.

Courtney: Exactly.

Verbs: So, that was step three: schedule your priorities. Step four is protect your boundaries, also another critical step here.

Courtney: What’s really key here with boundaries is once you’ve envisioned where you want to be January 1 and what it’s going to take to get there, it’s important not to throw that out the window every five seconds. For example, you may have said, “Hey, to feel really great on January 1 about the holidays, I need to be home at 9:00 every night, and I need to get sleep,” or you may have decided you’re only going to have one event each weekend.

Whatever you have decided, don’t throw that out the window. Give yourself the ability to protect those boundaries, those decisions you’ve made. At the end, again, it’s going to allow you to be present for the moments that are really important to you and have an incredible Christmas in 2020.

Verbs: Okay. Courtney, I’m going to share one of my plans that I want to accomplish during the holiday, and I know I need to schedule it in, because it has to happen in between some work hours as well as some other activities. There’s a quote from the great poet Winnie the Pooh. He says, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”

For me, I just enjoy having nothing scheduled, nothing planned, where I can just be present with my family, whether it’s making food, whether it’s watching a movie. A lot of times, just doing that nothing often leads to the very best of something. So, that’s what I’m looking forward to this holiday season.

Courtney: I love that.

Verbs: Once again, the truth is you don’t have to get swept away in this holiday season or this Christmas chaos. You can actually thrive these next four weeks by setting realistic expectations, adapting your rituals, scheduling your priorities, and protecting your boundaries.

All right, Courtney, here we go. We have a chance again to answer a listener question, which I know you look forward to as much as I do. Today, we are speaking with Daniel from Brownsville, Texas. Daniel, welcome to Focus on This. How are you, sir?

Daniel: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me today.

Verbs: Absolutely. Welcome to the show.

Courtney: Daniel, you’re calling from Texas. What do you happen to do in Texas?

Daniel: I work at a church. It’s a local church here. My official job is a receptionist, but I dabble in different areas. I help with the worship. I help with the student ministry…just about anything.

Courtney: Listen, Daniel. If there’s one thing I know, it’s about church work, because my husband is also on a church staff. You never have just one role. That’s what I’ve learned in 20 years of knowing him.

Verbs: Somehow you become the utility guy.

Courtney: I want to tell everybody out there, if you ever have the chance to hire somebody who has worked at a church before, you know you’re getting somebody who can do all the things, because they most likely have done all the things, including checking on the restrooms.

Daniel: Yeah, a little bit of everything.

Courtney: Filling in in preschool…all the things.

Verbs: So, Daniel, we heard you had a question for us today.

Daniel: Yeah. I put on the Facebook community I had been struggling sometimes to choose my next Big 3. Sometimes I really don’t know what’s next. This past month, I was telling my friend, because we’re all planner enthusiasts together here… I was like, “I just don’t know what my next Big 3 are.” He gave me some advice.

But what I have been doing is I take the LifeScore Assessment by Michael Hyatt at the end of each quarter, and basically, whatever I score low on, that’s what I set a goal for. It just started to feel like I’m saving whatever is about to burn in my face, and it feels reactive rather than intentional. So, I figured there must be a better way to connect your goals and Big 3 to a bigger picture.

Courtney: Well, first, I commend you on using the LifeScore Assessment. That’s a really great tool, because it does highlight areas you may be lacking in or need some extra focus. I think a lot of times it’s much easier for us to focus on the life domains we’re kind of crushing and ignore those ones that actually need some work. So, if you’re listening and you’ve never taken it, you can take that at It’s really easy. It’s a great tool to help you identify the different life domains you’re doing great at and maybe some you need to focus on.

So, Daniel, I thought it was really interesting when you were asking your question. Do you wait to set your annual goals…? Are you kind of setting not really annual goals but quarterly goals? Is that how you’re structuring them?

Daniel: This is my first full year using the planner. In the beginning of this year in January, I kind of brainstormed some ideas on a direction I’d like to go. I didn’t make all of them. I just started with a good five. I ended up doing those, so these past few months I’m like, “Okay. What’s next?” So, what should I set for myself? I already set what I was going to, if that makes sense.

Courtney: So, you started off with five, and then you knocked those out. You crushed them. Then you were like, “I guess I need some more goals.”

Daniel: Yeah. Basically.

Courtney: That’s awesome. So, you’re kind of just working on what’s burning. Right?

Daniel: Yeah. I feel like I’m putting out fires. My physical one is down. “Oh, okay. I need to add a vitamin. I need to go to the gym.” That’s what I’m doing right now. That’s one of my Big 3, because I found my physical very low. Same for reading. I needed to read more books, so, okay, now that’s my goal.

Verbs: The domains you feel like are kind of crashing and burning, and then the goals you’re setting to correspond with those… Are you excited about those goals or do you feel like it’s like, “Oh no. I don’t want to be caught in the house when it crashes down. I need to do something”? Is there excitement around those goals?

Daniel: Honestly, right now, they are exciting me, but in the last quarter I felt like I needed to pay more attention to my finances, so I set some finance goals, and I was not looking forward to them at all. I hated doing some side jobs just to earn more cash. So, yeah, that’s where I stand on that.

Courtney: That’s such a good question, because a lot of times, when we get goals that are, you know, “the house is on fire” type goals, we’re not actually excited about those. Usually those things… I would put those more in the project category, because you really want to save goals to be things you’re excited and passionate about, because you’re going to need that.

A goal should be like it takes an extra little oomph. It takes your extra focus to achieve, and if you don’t have the passion for it, you’re just setting yourself up for drudgery, and nobody wants that, especially in 2020. I think as we’re approaching 2021, I would encourage you to go through… Have you ever heard of our course called Your Best Year Ever?

Daniel: Yes. That was my first book.

Courtney: Awesome. Actually, we will give you access to the course, and it’s brand new for 2020. That will help you set up not just five goals. It’ll help you set all of your goals for 2021 and make sure you’re looking at all life domains so you don’t get in that cycle of “I’m just focusing on the burning things over and over again.” Again, even if you do find that you can somehow figure out a way to get passionate about one that’s burning down, that’s probably not the best way to go about it for the whole year.

Sometimes that seems overwhelming, like, “Oh, I have to set all of the goals for the year,” but part of that Quarterly Preview is going to be evaluating “Is this the right goal? Do I need to tweak this goal or delete this goal?” There is some freedom there, but even if you delete a goal, usually we recommend you replace it with something in the same life domain. So, again, if you can start that practice of looking at it annually, then you’re going to set yourself up where you don’t fall into that trap of “The house is on fire. I’ve got to get to the gym.”

Daniel: Yeah, exactly. It’s funny you bring that up. Honestly, one of my weakest areas in the planner is the Quarterly Preview. I haven’t really been doing that the past three quarters.

Courtney: Listen, Daniel. I think that’s really common, and honestly, I did not start doing a Quarterly Preview until, I guess, a year and a half ago. I actually made it a goal for me. It was a habit goal for the year to do the Quarterly Preview, and I paired it with doing a day of fun things with it. So, I would set aside time to do my Quarterly Preview, and then, for me, personally, I like to go to the spa or go on a hike by myself. I would pair it. It was almost like a little event. I really looked forward to doing it, and I never missed it. I always got my Quarterly Preview done because of the way I framed it.

Daniel: Gotcha. That’s pretty smart.

Verbs: That may be beneficial to you, Daniel, to think about that, just from how you describe the way you’re setting your goals now on a quarterly basis. That might change in the new year coming to where you do it at the beginning of the year, but at least you’re giving yourself space by saying, “All right. I’m going to do a Quarterly Preview,” and then giving yourself some time to think through those goals you’re setting for the quarter and making sure they’re the right goals that you actually are excited about, something you can get a good goal mix between the super-passionate goal and “Hey, I want to be in a different spot financially. I’m not excited about the process, but I’m excited about where this goal will take me if I can accomplish it.”

Daniel: That’s good. Thank you, guys.

Nick: Can somebody speak to…? Courtney, maybe this is for you. This is partially for you, Daniel. It’s partially just for the listeners. You mentioned that that’s common, the Quarterly Preview. I just did my Quarterly Preview for the fourth quarter last weekend a month late. Part of that was just how busy my life is in this moment, but it’s also a little bit like “This is so daunting.” Can you talk a little bit perhaps about how people can emotionally approach the quarter? Daniel, I think perhaps there’s some work there that’s happening that’s keeping people from doing it.

Courtney: I mentioned earlier that I think a lot of people start using the planner and wait to do a Quarterly Preview until they’ve been using it for a little while. One thing that might help… Obviously, I mentioned you can make that a goal, and that’s a great way to get that installed. The other way is to be really intentional about going ahead and scheduling those.

Right now, we happen to be closing out a year and looking to 2021. Go ahead and plot when those Quarterly Preview times are going to be for you. We say all the time, “What gets scheduled gets done.” Go ahead and be proactive with that. In addition, the Quarterly Preview is this… Magical may be too strong of a word, but there is something mentally…

Verbs: Enchanting.

Courtney: Yes. Mentally refreshing. It’s like a little bit of a restart, like a clean slate, where you get to look back and evaluate what worked, what didn’t, what your wins were, but also say, “Okay. What’s this next quarter going to look like? What do I want it to be? Have I chosen the right goals?” Again, it’s like this little session that brings clarity. It has been really good for me, so I’m excited for you to get to try that, and if you do, we’d love to hear how that goes for you.

Daniel: Sure. Yeah. I’m looking forward to it now.

Verbs: And a thing to consider, Daniel… I know you mentioned some of your colleagues are planner enthusiasts as well. Just for an accountability factor… It’s like, “Hey, guys, this is what I’m planning to do. I’m presetting my Quarterly Previews.” Invite them into that process, but at least you know, “Hey, I have to get this done. I can’t let it slide or wiggle around on the calendar, because there are other people I’ve invited into this process.” That could be helpful for them too. Something to try out.

Courtney: That’s a great idea. You could actually make it where it’s like everybody does their Quarterly Preview on the same day, and then you meet up for dinner or something that evening. That would be really fun. That’s awesome. Well, Daniel, thanks for your question. That’s such a good one. Thanks for the work you do and for being with us today.

Daniel: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Verbs: Thanks, Daniel. Courtney, do you have any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Courtney: Yes. I just want to reiterate your mindset as you approach this Christmas. This really can be a great Christmas. Remember to ask yourself, “What does this make possible?” It’s probably different than other years, but I think if you’ll reframe that it still can be an amazing… It could be your best Christmas ever. That mindset is going to be a game changer for you as you walk through these steps of surviving Christmas.

Verbs: Fantastic. Thank you all for joining us on Focus on This.

Courtney: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Use #focusonthispodcast.

Verbs: And, Courtney, depending on whether or not you are with child next week, we’ll still be here with another great episode. So, until then…

Courtney & Verbs: Stay focused.