By Kathryn Weber

A gilded red orchid gives an ordinary silk plant festive holiday appeal

A gilded red orchid gives an ordinary silk plant festive holiday appeal

For most people, the month of December is short on time and long on the list of to-do's. With some planning and strategic use of these time helpers, you'll get your holiday chores done and arrive at the New Year less frazzled:

1. Set time limits.

We set such limits at work but often leave our personal commitments open-ended. Whether it's gift wrapping, shopping or baking, set a time limit for each activity and stick to it. You'll be surprised at how much you can get done when the clock is ticking.

2. Set personal limits.

We put too much emphasis on the perfect gift or cooking the perfect meal. Aim for good instead. Good is good enough, so take the pressure off yourself.

3. Schedule time.

We schedule our workdays and activities but often don't schedule personal commitments. Put shopping, wrapping and baking on the calendar, and be sure to schedule fun and free time, too.

4. Hire help.

Put away your red cape and hire yard help and housekeepers. Consider a personal assistant; they aren't just for movie stars. Hire a college student or a mom who needs extra money. Have your assistant pick up dry cleaning, decorate and drop off gifts. Don't think of it as shirking your holiday duties. Think of it as creating a job.

5. Keep lists.

Santa has one, and so should you. Having a master list of gifts and activities will keep you on track and prevent over-buying. Try using neon-colored 4-by-6 note cards to track purchases and commitments. You can see them easily and find them quickly in your purse.

6. Use what you have.

Make it a decorating rule to use what you already have around the house. It cuts down on time spent shopping for decorations. Look for branches that can be spray painted gold or silver. Greenery from the yard can be upgraded easily with pinecones or lights.

7. Try pick-y decorating.

Buy armfuls of pretty holiday flowers once they go on sale, allowing you to create beautiful arrangements quickly. Christmas picks can be paired with silk plants to give them a holiday flair. Buy in groups of a dozen or more to be the most effective. Better still, they disassemble quickly.

8. Cook fast.

This is the month to have a few crockpot recipes ready so you can make a good meal quickly. A stew or a pot of baked potato soup with some crusty bread and salad makes an easy meal. Make a holiday meal plan so everyone can eat together without putting a crimp on your time.

9. Wrap and roll.

Rather than customizing each gift, buy jumbo rolls of the same paper, bows and ribbon, and wrap every gift the same. They'll look oh so elegant -- with less cluttered -- around the tree.

10. Bake ahead.

Get a jump start on holiday baking by mixing and refrigerating rolls of gingerbread-, molasses- and sugar-cookie dough. Then, when you're ready to bake and decorate, the dough is ready, too.


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