The more I look back at this past year, the more I realize how much internalizing the maxim, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” has helped me make better choices and accomplish more.
Gretchen Rubin highlighted this aphorism (borrowed from Voltaire) in her books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, both of which are helpful tools in establishing good goal setting for a new year. As I’ve given thought to working toward my goals for 2013, I’ve also realized that I don’t want to let a perfect Christmas ruin a good Christmas.
Don’t let a perfect Christmas ruin your best Christmas.
1. Ask yourself, “What is my ultimate goal here, and is this [activity, event, project, etc...] helping be accomplish it, or hindering me from it?”
Is your goal to attend all the Christmas parties possible, or is it to spend time with friends? Will saying “yes” to all the party invitations make your worn down and unable to enjoy the time with anyone? Does your desire to say “yes” to everyone lead to a miserable time with all? Or does saying “yes” to some and “no” to most allow you to better invest your time and energy where it is best and most needed?
Is your ultimate goal to keep in touch with everyone? Does your desire (the “perfect”) to make handmade Christmas cards with a 3-page letter mean you end up with a pile of unused cards, and a stack of printed family updates each January–cards and updates that never get sent? Would it be better if you just do something simple (the “good”), and realize you’ll get it sent out by Christmas, even if no 3-page letter is attached?
Use your true, underlying goals to help make decisions, rather than an arbitrary perfectionist ideal of what a “perfect Christmas” might look like.
2. When your ideal is important, plan ahead and work ahead as much as possible: get things done early.
This year, my goal was to have the tree decorated, cards ordered and mailed, and the presents purchased and wrapped by December 2, which was the first day/Sunday of Advent, following the liturgical calendar. I reached most of my goal two days late, which is still fine with me. But I collected presents throughout the year, made a few last-minute purchases, and said “done” once December arrived.
If your ideal is to sew Christmas dresses for your daughters, work ahead to make that happen before you know you “need” them. There’s nothing like being irritable and pushing aside the very people for whom you are spending time and energy because you put it off until the last minute.
3. Plan for margin, regardless of how busy you think you might be able to be.
We always need margin, but especially so during the busy seasons. Margin is the space we allow ourselves for the unexpected and interruptions, and the padding we place in our calendars in spite of the fact we may think we can “handle more.”
(To illustrate the concept of margin, I first began to realize the need for this when we moved into a neighborhood with specific intentions of building up that community and “having a ministry” there. Only we were simultaneously so busy in church programs, school, and work that when neighbors asked us to give them a ride, eat supper with us, or help with an emergency, we could not because we already had every hour booked in our schedules.)
There will always be last-minute requests, unexpected sickness, and other interruptions during the holiday season. Death and birth don’t follow schedules. Sometimes we’ll need to say “no” to due to unmoveable obligations or to set healthy boundaries, but having margin gives us room to be much more flexible, to enjoy being sporadic, as well as take time to rest.
4. Don’t just dream of the ideal holiday season in the distant future. Instead, do what you can to make your ideals into real life now.
Figure out what is important, and pursue that. Have past goals left you in a frenzy, or left you with lofty ideals that were never accomplished? If so, evaluate what you can scale back on and what you can do to keep from having to have the frenetic, frantic rush to “do all the stuff.”
Not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good” doesn’t mean we become lazy and pursue whatever takes the least effort; rather, it’s a matter of recognizing (or discovering) our priorities and pursuing them.
5. Remember that people are more important than projects.
It’s easy to get distracted when we’re busy. And thus, it’s easy to forget about people, especially the littlest people in our lives. When we take our children to five stores in one morning to check off another thing on our agenda, we must remember that these little people are putting up with a big disruption in their lives and going to noisy, bright, overstimulating stores they might not enjoy, and maybe missing some sleep and nutrition in the process. The people we normally have time to stop and chat with might get overlooked if we aren’t careful, or allow our frustrations with the frenzy to flow over into relationships.
There are, of course, dichotomies in the above illustrations that will not always hold true and are far less simplistic in real life. We all go through various seasons of life, and are able to do different things, can participate in more or less activities, and are able to sometimes spread ourselves thin, while other times not at all.
Yet, when I hear statements like, “just hoping to survive another Christmas season” and “it’s the busiest month of the year,” I wonder if we really want to pat ourselves on the back for having filled this season with so much. This is the season for slowing down, for stepping back, and rejoicing. Perhaps the real crisis of Christmas has nothing to do with how we spell the word, but more to do with the reality that we’ve filled it with so much of everything else that we barely notice it’s happened.