The Spreadsheet of Joy

There’s been lots of questions about “the spreadsheet” and how I use it to keep track of Christmas, and get the whole thing off the ground.  I wrote about why I use a spreadsheet here, and you don’t have to go read it – I can tell you that I love Christmas, and I love it to be a certain way, and that for years I’ve searched for the proper balance between the things I love to do this time of year (gingerbread, knitting, gatherings with friends and family, beautiful tables full of good food, a big tree, gifts people love opening) and the things I don’t love so much. (Shopping, cleaning, wrapping… to give you the short list.) For me, the answer has been to organize the crap out of it.  Spread out everything to make sure I don’t get stuck wrapping at midnight on Christmas Eve (when I should be sitting by the glow of a tree, glass of excellent whiskey in hand.)  So, it all goes on a spreadsheet, and a bunch of you have asked what’s on it, and what it does, and so – for better or for worse, and I hope it helps, here’s what I do:

It’s a simple sheet, with two tables.  One for gifts, and one for tasks.  The tasks one is pretty straightforward.  It lists things that need doing by Christmas, what I need to do them, and when I need to do it.  The tasks run down the side under “To Do”  and then the columns read: Purchase what?, Zone, Begin, and By when?  All of those should be pretty clear.  “Purchase what” lists all the things I don’t have on hand that I need to complete the task, “Zone” lists where that thing comes from, and who gets it. (Me vs Joe) “Begin” is when the task needs to be started, and “By When” well, you can figure that one out. Everything I need to do is on this list. Bake cookies, make ice lanterns, menu for Christmas Brunch… everything.

As an example, the first task is “Put up Tree”, and following that task along, it says “2 strings white LEDs” “Canadian Tire” “December 5th”.  The part about buying lights was keyed to a reminder in my calendar, so that it got done while the store still had a selection of lights, so that I didn’t leave it so late that all was left were the multicoloured flashing ones. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s pretty much the opposite of what I want.)  The reminder popped up in mid-November, and the next time Joe said he was going to Canadian tire, boom.  Done.

The second table is a little more complex.  The names of people run down the side – everyone I need to do something for, even if it’s just drop a card at their house, or bring a bottle of wine to their party.  The columns read like this:

Idea – this is what I’m planning on doing for them. What I’m going to buy, what they’ve dropped hints about, etc.  I colour it green when it’s a solid decision.

Knitting: This one should be clear. It’s what I’m going to knit for them, and how many hours I think it might take.  I pad this pretty generously, because of LIFE. So, that column might say “Hat – worsted, 10 hours.” I colour the box yellow when I change it to the specific pattern name, and put a link to the pattern in there – so “Hat – Linga – 10 hours.” I colour it green when It’s finished.  (Finished also means blocked.)

Stocking: This is where I list everything I have to buy for their stocking.  I colour things green as I buy them. (Or add them as I find them, and colour them green.) At a glance, I can see what I’ve got for each person.  It really, really helps me from going overboard. I can see it all in one spot.  (As an aside, I also put the stocking stuff into individual bags, one labeled for each person, as I go along. Then it’s all sorted when it’s time to help Santa.) I don’t delete things as I get them for this, just colour the text green.  I want to see what’s there.

Shopping: This is an important column.  It lists everything I need to buy – including yarn and groceries.  I delete things as I get them.  I can scan the column and see what it is that I need.

Zone: This again. This is one of the most helpful things on there.  I list the place (or zone – like “the mall” or “grocery store” or “village”) in that square. Then if Joe calls and says he’s going to the grocery store, do I need anything, I scan that list, and give it to him.  It also means that if I go to the village, I go ONCE, picking up everything on the list. I also list “order on line” in that box if I’m going that way, and change it to “Ordered” when I do it,  along with the expected date of delivery. Helps me remember what’s coming in the mail, and when. (If a job has been delegated, or belongs to someone else, I write their name in the Zone.  Then I know who’s doing what, and that it’s not me, but it’s still getting done.)

Deadline: This column is easy.  It’s when it needs doing by.  We celebrate with different people on different days, and it’s easiest for me when I list all that.  As we make our holiday plans to gather with people, I plug in the day I’ll be seeing them so that I can prioritize, and avoid that wrapping at midnight thing.

Wrapped: I do this one for two reasons.  First, I can’t colour in the square until it’s wrapped, which sort of motivates me to get it done, and because a few years ago I searched the house for a book I’d bought my sister for 45 minutes, sobbing because I’d lost it, and the whole time it was wrapped under the tree.  I don’t want to live that way. Now, I know where things are, and what that package is.

For every cell, I colour it green as it’s completed – and I also colour a cell red if it’s a problem. (For example, I ordered something, and it’s not going to arrive on time, and I need to do something about that.) When the whole thing is green, bob’s yer uncle. Christmas is ready.  I get up every morning, and while I drink my coffee, I consult the spreadsheet (and calendar) and ask if there’s anything I can do on it that day to make things better.  There’s always something that can move me towards a green square.

Now, I know this approach isn’t for everyone. (Joe, for example, hates the spreadsheet. He’s a fly by the seat of your pants guy, and enjoys that.) It’s meant a world of difference to me though. Makes me feel like I’ve got it all in one place, and I can see what’s happening. For me, it’s reduced work, and shopping and rushing around, and made the whole holiday season totally do-able without tears, which is the whole goal, right? You’re supposed to enjoy this time of year, and around here, if Mama ain’t’ happy, ain’t nobody happy.  It’s also had a really amazing side effect. It’s improved my ability to accept help. It used to be that I was so overwhelmed and all of the jobs were so disconnected, that if someone tried to help me, I honestly couldn’t think of what they could do to get me out of trouble.  I’d refuse the help, because sorting that out seemed so complicated.  Now? Now if someone asks what they can do – I take a look at the spreadsheet and I can see what exactly needs doing.  I can see if they have time to pick up one of the things on the list, or if what I really need is time to do something that only I can do, I can give them the task I had for that day.  Sam can’t knit socks for my brother, but she can totally wrap a few finished things while I knit. Joe can’t bake cookies to save his life, but dude can stop at the drug store on the way home for stocking stuffers and more tape. It’s made things a lot better for us, and somehow made it so that we work together better.  I really like it.

That’s it. The whole approach.  Take it, and do what you will with it.

(PS. I start the next year’s spreadsheet in December of this year. That way I can remember what didn’t work, and change it for next year. That’s totally how I remembered to get the tree lights in time. Last year I was a deranged person in the dollar store at closing time.)

What’s Luis Hanging today?

My favourite.  The toque.

tinyhat1 2014-12-15

I can guess that it’s not Lou’s favourite, since he’s waited this long to hang it, but what else could I expect? (If I was 2 3/4, my auntie making me a toque would be low on the list.) This morning, Carlos texted and said Lou picked “el gorro” which I guess is Spanish for “toque” because I swear to you I though that “hat” was sombrero. Live and learn.  I knit this hat from the pattern, pretty much exactly (except on 2mm needles to make it small enough) and really the hardest part was making the tiny pom-pom.

I couldn’t figure it out, until I remembered Denny making a gagillion tiny pop-poms one year out of Kid Silk Haze, and I remembered that she did it on the end of a pencil. That worked, and although the tiny pom-pom is incredibly satisfying, I don’t need to make any more.  (If I do, I’ll call Denny. She got a lot of joy out of that.  I think she made hundreds.) I love this ornament.  I think it’s one of the most charming ones on the tree.  It’s even more charming in a picture that shows how small it is. That’s a quarter. (Canadian and US quarters are about the same size, that’s the same as 5p.)

tinyhatmaking1 2014-12-15

Gift for knitters, Day 15.

Dear Non-Knitter who loves a knitter,

You know what’s hard? Counting.  I know that’s disappointing to hear, what with the way you non-knitters think that it’s easy, but knitters have to do it all the time, and we’re not great at it.  (It doesn’t help that you keep talking to us while we do it. Here’s a good way to give a gift to a knitter, if you see them with their fingers on their stitches, and you say something to them, and they reply with “32, 33, 34…” they’re counting. Shut up for a minute.  Here’s another tip, you know what’s not funny? Saying other numbers while they’re counting. That’s little brother crap from when we were all kids. Don’t do it.)  Your knitter (even if you stop messing with them) probably needs some help counting stuff. Buying them something to help with that could make up for some of the times you were the reason they unsuccessfully counted to three four times in a row.   There’s a lot of ways to help them – I love these Ablets.  It’s a knitting abacus, and it’s very charming, and a great way to rock counting old school.  (Heck if it was good enough for Demosthenes, it’s good enough for a knitter.)  These bracelet versions are a good option too… and like the Ablet, look like jewelry.  There’s more modern ones too, like this kind you click (it’s got a cord that goes round your neck) or this digital one that goes on a finger or thumb. For complex counting missions (counting more than one thing happening different numbers of times, like rows, increases and repeats, all at once – your knitter is a genius by the way, they do that all the time) this Sirka Counter is just about the coolest ever.  I have this app that I use sometimes, but it really drains your battery, and the batteries on the Sirka never run out.

If all else fails, buy your knitter a bag of Smarties (or in the US, I guess it would be M&Ms – I mean the candy covered chocolates, not those things that American’s call smarties that are Rockets here in Canada – although those would work too, if your knitter likes them) and tell them that they can set out how ever many they need.  If you’ve got twenty decreases, put out twenty, and eat one every time you do a decrease.  When they’re gone,  you’re done.  (Note: this only works if you don’t eat your knitter’s candy while they’re in the loo.  Don’t be a jerk.)