9 My scarf is nearing completion, for the simple reason that I am running out of yarn.

The lists are made for the HGP. I do the HGP every year, so I think that by now I don’t really bother to explain it. And maybe I should, since it is possible that there are new people reading this, who are wondering what I’m talking about.

The HGP is the Holiday Grand Plan. Here in Hamburger-a-go-go-land, we have a way of celebrating the winter holidays that involves starting in October and going straight through till New Year’s, overeating, overspending, and generally getting stressed out. Moms take on the equivalent, studies show, of a second fulltime job in the months of November and December, and get so overstressed trying to orchestrate a perfect holiday that the completely normal failure of the family to a) appreciate their work and b) become perfect for the occasion is like a slap in the face. Kids get so overexcited that Christmas is a disappointment, and often the culmination of weeks of maddening emotional meltdowns brought on by the holiday frenzy. Single people compare their lives to those of the people in ads and magazines and become deeply depressed.

This is not how it’s supposed to be.

Every year, back when I worked in a book and toy store, I’d see the happy October shoppers, and the slightly grim November shoppers, and the December shoppers wavering on the edge of a complete meltdown, and I could tell that advance preparation was the key to enjoying the holidays.

You might think that cutting back and celebrating in a more sane manner is the key to enjoying the holidays, and I’d go along with that. However, cutting back also requires advance planning. Otherwise, you just get stressed by having nothing to wear to the office party, the sudden need to buy presents for people who give you gifts even though you had decided not to give them anything, and the realization that all the decisions about how to celebrate the holidays this year are being made by someone else.

But I for one don’t like to think about winter holidays for months. I like to celebrate the seasons in order. I don’t want to have Christmas on my mind so long that I’m tired of it. I like to enjoy the autumn, and Advent, too. 9

So my solution is the HGP. I do what the website tells me (they used to send a message by email, but I can still just go over and have a look on Sunday, add a few tasks to my planner for the week, and be ready) and it generally works out well. In my retail days, I was the one feeling calm and cheery while the women around me were commiserating with one another on how unlikely it was that they would ever be ready in time for the holidays.

I tried not to be smug.

Anyway, if you are doing the HGP, then this is the week for cleaning your living room and deciding how you want to celebrate this year.

I read a book by Peter Walsh a couple of weeks ago. He is, I believe, a reality TV host of some kind. His book wasn’t filled with earth-shattering new revelations. However, I find that phrases and ideas from the book keep coming back to my mind. If you’re not on top of things at home, where you have almost complete control, he said, then how can you expect to be on top of things in other areas of your life?

So I’m not trying to scare you or anything, but here are before pictures of my living room.

9 Actually, it was fairly tidy yesterday. Then we folded laundry, played guitar, lifted weights, and stuff, and left everything sitting around.

This shows two things: first, that we are inclined to leave things sitting around, and second, that we don’t have our systems sufficiently in order that it is simple to put things away. Also, this room needs dusting and other actual cleaning as well as tidying.

Personally, I’d like to have the TV and all other electronic gear tucked away neatly in an armoire, but my husband chose the current arrangement, and I have accepted it. Until I actually look at it. Then I want to do something about it.

Today I have a phone conference with a prospective client several states away, work for Client #4, and papers to grade. This evening I have a rehearsal for the Faure Requiem. In and among those things, I need to do GTD processing and I think I can also get some work done on cleaning the living room. 9

There’s my work space. Bad enough that it’s actually in the living room, but that’s not really a space you can work in, is it?

I’m also going to get to the gym today. I haven’t been managing it much lately, but once again Peter Walsh’s words come to my mind. Think about your ideal life, he said, and what the difference is between that and your current life. Going to the gym is definitely part of my ideal life. And he also said, if you are so busy that you can’t work exercise into your life, then you have to ask yourself why you’re so overextended and fix that.

One thing that I’m trying to do, in light of the unevenness of the amount of work I have, is to recognize that I can actually work less than fulltime and still have enough income. Not that I want to work less than fulltime, but if I remember that I can, then I will be able to spend time on seeking more work, organizing my workspace, and improving my skills without becoming stressed because I have some moments that I can’t bill anyone for. I can also go to the gym regularly, because work that doesn’t get done when I have lots of assignments could be done when I have fewer, thus evening out my workload instead of alternating between overwork and worrying about not having enough work to do. Doesn’t that sound smart?

I also applied for four more jobs at oDesk. I was feeling all smug about finishing the writing audition there last week in two hours, and being pretty confident that the buyer would hire me for the long term, but I discovered that he had also auditioned someone else. She is a lot cheaper than I am per hour, and got it done in 50 minutes. Of course, I haven’t read her stuff, so I don’t know about the quality, but if it’s reasonably good, then she is going to be the winner in this competition. So I have gone back to the “apply for a bunch of stuff and see what happens” mindset rather than the “oh! I’d  better not overcommit myself, since they are actually going to hire me” one.

I figure that with time I’ll settle down at the right spot along this continuum.