I don’t know how year after year it creeps up on us, but the holidays are around the corner, and there’s a ton to do and prepare. Although this year may look different, many traditions remain the same. Whether it’s a casual gathering or a big family dinner, the holiday season is a time for celebrating with family and friends. Unfortunately, that’s the Hallmark version and you, instead, have stress lurking in the back of your mind, if it hasn’t hit the forefront already.

The good news is there are things we can do now to prepare for the holidays. You’ll have a much better shot at enjoying time spent with family and friends during the season when you’ve gotten a jumpstart on your planning. Here are three ways to keep you and the holiday madness under control.

Enter the holiday season confidently (and calmly!) with these three simple steps.

3 Tips to Stay Sane Before the Holidays

#1: Make your lists and check them thrice.

The most critical step to make your holidays stress-free is to plan the details on paper. Don’t think you can keep it all in your head. There’s no doubt you’ll forget specifics and be scrounging at the last minute for that teacher or coach’s gift or new bedspread for the guest room. Plus, it’s much easier to keep thoughts and to-dos organized with a series of lists all in one place. I suggest a separate notebook or notepad for your many lists. The last thing you need is to be searching for them across a dozen journals, sticky notes and envelope backs.

In this one resource, keep a separate list for each activity for every holiday. Lists might include: guests to invite, meals to cook, gifts to buy, decorations to purchase, travel plans to make, home improvements to start, table settings to organize, etc. Think in detail now and save yourself plenty of stress-filled nights later. Yes, thoughts will continue to come to you at 3 a.m., but knowing you have one place to capture them is the peace of mind you need so you can get back to sleep.

There’s something very cathartic and calming about releasing the anxiety from your head and getting it onto paper. Not only will this help you stay organized, but it will also provide much-needed clarity on what you need to do, where you’ve gone overboard, and where you can call in help and/or delegate. Figuring this out in your head may feel more natural, but it’s a feeding ground for overwhelm and scatteredness. And we don’t need any more of that in 2020! Take the time to write it all down, and continue to update your lists right through the end of the season.

RELATED: 3 Effective Ways to Stop Procrastinating

#2: Work your way backward.

Fill out a centralized, all-encompassing calendar for the weeks leading up to, during, and after the holiday. Include scheduled events and dates, such as travel plans, guest arrival days, school events and work functions.

If you’ve been glazing over this article, stop and read this because this is where I see 90% of holiday planning go awry. Block off time to work on the TASKS from your lists. This is where we tend to underestimate the time and effort it takes to complete important to-dos. Put time on your calendar for all your tasks, working backward from the holiday to today.

That means marking specific days and times for shopping, food prep, house decorating, baking, gift wrapping, changing linens, ordering gifts, tree selection, cooking and everything else on your detailed list. How many days do you need? Where will you make the time in between your already scheduled events? When will you get it done while still giving yourself downtime?

Again, once you see it on paper, you recognize where your ambition may leave you drowning in anxiety. You can easily adjust your expectations and timeframes when you do this ahead of time. You may realize you need to start prepping one, two or three weeks earlier, so you’re not under the gun as usual. Or you may acknowledge there’s simply too much happening and identify ways to scale back and simplify.

On the other hand, you might realize you’ve unnecessarily created overwhelm in your head, and by attaching a date to each task, it’s actually very manageable and doable. Planning backward fills the gap between tasks you have in your mind and the time it takes to do them. Do this step to have a better chance of showing up relaxed and fully present for your family and friends.

RELATED: 6 Easy Steps to an Efficient, Well-Organized Life

#3: Simplify your gift buying.

First things first: Don’t even think about going shopping (online or in-person) without a list of specifics. Create one consolidated list with two columns: Column one with everyone you need to shop for, and column two with the gift(s) to buy for each person.

Then, consolidate your gift buying by grouping similar gifts by type and age. Here’s what I mean: If you’re shopping for four boys between the ages of 5 and 12, get them all Legos. Or shopping for teachers? Get them all gift cards. Or shopping for grandparents? Get them all a photo calendar of your family. You’ll save tremendous time and energy by visiting one aisle in the store or one website to purchase several varieties of the same gift.

If you think this sounds impersonal, relax — it’s not. You can customize gifts, even if they’re similar to others. Buy gift cards based on eating or shopping preferences, use specific pictures by person for your photo project, choose Lego sets by age, or monogram items with tailored initials. You can certainly simplify options without forgoing personalized gifts.

2020 has come with its own set of unique challenges. There’s no need to add more stress to your life. Make your lists, plan ahead and don’t over-complicate. Let’s end the year with joy and relaxation, and bring in 2021 with more of the same.

Mridu is the founder of Life Is Organized and is a Productivity Coach who squashes overwhelm for overstretched women. Get your FREE resource, “21 Killer Hacks To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed,” HERE.

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