A priority of mine is to celebrate the winter holidays (Christmas in particular) in a meaningful, calm, and enjoyable way, where I can reflect the season’s purpose.

This was never challenging until I began having children.

Families that experience the winter months with purpose and peace (not to mention with health and happiness) create and follow a clear, intentional road map.

The 5 D strategy is effective when there are numerous opportunities competing for limited time, and you therefore run the danger of losing the purpose, pleasure, or peace of your days to an over-committed calendar.

What are the five Ds?

The five Ds are: Do, Diminish, Delegate, Defer, and Delete.   And there’s a simple, three-step process for using them.

1. Inventory everything that vies for your time.

Write in detail all of the tasks, opportunities, obligations, to-do list items — everything that you can possibly think of that will fill your time for the next three months (in this case, spanning from today to perhaps mid-January).

2. What is your gut reaction?

For each item on your list, identify your gut reaction.  Is this something you truly enjoy doing, that uplifts you?  Or do you feel weighted down, overwhelmed, or stressed?   You could indicate this with a smiley face, a frown face or maybe the letter B (indicating you feel a little of both worlds).

3. What are your real priorities?

Get clear about your true priorities for the holiday season.  These are your deep, personal priorities, not Hallmark’s priorities or your great-aunt’s priorities.

I highly suggest you narrow down your opportunities to three top priorities.

Photo by Jennifer Donely

4. Now use the five Ds to prioritize.

Go through each task and assign it to one of the following Ds.


If you have a smiley face next to a task that aligns well with your holiday’s priorities, then it’s a good fit for this category.  These “do” tasks get first dibs on the calendar for the next couple of months.


If there’s a task that received a B (both enjoyable and stressful), then find ways to diminish it in order to fit better into your current lifestyle, preferences and priorities.

An example: Every year, I love making homemade pumpkin bread and bringing loaves to all my neighbors.  But this year, with another baby in tow, I’ve started feeling overwhelmed with the idea of spending the time to make all those loaves.  But I also don’t want to miss out on the chance to connect with my neighbors.

So as this task sat in my “diminish” list, it occurred to me that I could go to a local bakery, purchase some lovely baked goods, breads, or muffins, wrap them up, and deliver them with my children, just as I have in years past.

This immediately moved the task into the Do list.

Keep the essential meaningful element that fits your priorities, and diminish the part that feels overwhelming.


Some obligations are best deferred until after the major holidays, when you can better enjoy them.  I know families that now do get-togethers, send out cards (with the chance to actually hand-write a little note on each one), or exchange gifts in mid-January or February.


There are some tasks that you want or need to do, but they don’t necessarily need to be done by you. It may be hard to see through this one at first, especially if you tend towards taking on everything yourself. But here’s your chance to get creative.

Do you host Thanksgiving dinner?  Could you offer others the opportunity to bring something for the meal?

Do you want a beautifully decorated house?  Could you offer others in your family the chance to contribute and do the decorating for you?

Delegating can be as much an opportunity for others to participate more fully in the season as it is for you to find some relief.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg


Finally, there is simply delete. Yes — really, truly, there is a delete button here. You do not need to do everything.

In fact, doing everything is the surest way to hardly enjoy anything at all.

When we take things off our plate, we create some much needed “white space” in our lives, and this white space is essential to our being able to appreciate the spaces that are filled. It elevates them, and gives us an opportunity to deeply appreciate the things on our plate. We can better reflect and process life as it happens.

The delete option, perhaps, is our true key to establishing a plan for peace and meaning this holiday season.

Which of the D’s do you think you could use most this holiday season?

This was first published on October 27, 2010.