Use the 5 Ds for a purposeful and peaceful holiday season

by Lisa Byrne

Lisa is the bestselling author of Replenish and founder of WellGrounded Life. She's got a big-hearted vision of a world where moms are fully equipped to live calm, healthy, and vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, and 110 pound yellow lab.

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.

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  1. Great post, thank you.

    I will surely try most of those.

    As for today, a simple long-term to-do list works awesome. We got some house interior work left, so I pinned two large sheets of paper with Task/Priority columns. This way it is all written down without any worries of being forgotten. Second, the growing list of completed tasks encourage to move on. Third, it allows more accurate money planning for these tasks.

  2. Oh I like this approach. A few years ago I realized that I needed to streamline my world before the holidays. That all that I felt I “should do” was not really creating the atmosphere that I wanted for my kids to remember. I didn’t want them growing up remembering the holidays as a big to do list of things we must do, with a detached attitude and rush-rush feeling. I so started eliminating things, and replacing them with either more down time as a family or more family related activites. And instead of stressing over gifts and budgets, we spend more time together, plotting about homemade gifts, and banding together to give to each other and others. It’s allowed us to regain sanity and create wonderful holiday memories, as well as cultivate a spirit more reflective of the season.

  3. I will be using ‘delete’! It’s lovely to establish or keep traditions for our families, but they aren’t an end in themselves. Some seasons call for simplicity. My priority for this festive season (our summer) is to rest and recharge for 2011. Lots of swimming and eating of mangoes and less of the mad rush to buy, see or do.

    Thank you for this pithy way of thinking of it all!

  4. Oh, I could use all of the above. I never would have thought that having a baby right in the midst of the holiday season would be so…crazy! I want to make Christmas special for my 3-year-old, but we will have to keep things SIMPLE since we will be adjusting to life with TWO! Thanks for your post.

  5. Lisa, I so needed this. I hate that I’m already inwardly feeling tension over the approaching holidays. This article reminded me that now is the time become mindful and intentional about the weeks ahead. Thank you, thank you!

  6. Every year I think “this time I will really enjoy the holiday season to the fullest”, but then it always turns out to be a very busy and stressful period. If i’m truly honest, sometimes I’m even glad it is over. Shame on me?

  7. Wow. These steps are almost the same as the one’s in the time management workshop at Simplify 101! Great advice, of course, and they work for your everyday life too! :)

  8. This is good stuff Lisa. My favorite one of these of course is to delete. Over the years as my kids have gotten older we have greatly simplified the holidays because really peace and time together is what I value most during this season.

  9. Ah…peace…I love it! Thanks for the pep talk on managing all the things that are not necessarily “musts” for the holidays (and anytime of the year, really!). Paring down to the truly important stuff…bliss!

  10. I’ve been thinking of Christmas too! people are starting to buy, buy, buy

    Read my post from Tuesday- it might interest you :)

  11. I’ve been thinking of Christmas, too- now is the time when people start to buy, buy, buy

    read my post from this Tuesday if your interested- it is on this subject

  12. Oh, how I love this! We’re not even out of October yet, and I’m already being barraged by relatives about gift ideas for my kids (including birthday gift ideas for my son’s November b-day). I’ve been chanting “serenity now, serenity now” for the past week and then your lovely post comes along. I will be making this post my bible, thank you.

  13. Hi, thank you for this list. I am currently stressing myself on what and what not to do this coming holidays. I will follow this steps and hoping to come up with the best to do list.

  14. The holiday season has never been hectic for us, even with four kids. We opt out of any of it that doesn’t really add to our life together. It’s very nice this way. :)

  15. Fabulous post… everyone needs to hear this!!! We have been hitting delete for a number years and we plot and plan our calendar way in advance, with huge chunks marked busy so that nobody fills them in. But actually we are busy doing nothing!!! Nothing like hanging out doing nothing to pull a family nice and close together!!!

    • Absolutely LOVE it– write in BUSY for your “nothing, down times” Pullin’ a family nice and close times. Just wonderful!

    • Love this! Last year we decided on the events that we absolutely wanted to do (certain friend’s annual party, Living Christmas Tree, etc.) and declined the rest. It was wonderful having time free to really enjoy the season and not get stressed out.

  16. Ohhh… definitely “diminish”! Which I will be doing this year as well since I, too, have a new baby in tow. The good thing is that I don’t think my family and friends expect too much since they know that. Low expectations always helps. :)

  17. great ideas! Thanks for some really helpful tools to tackling the season and making it more enjoyable. :)

  18. Thank for this reminder and for a pro-active way to rid myself of potential stresses this holiday!

  19. We will be traveling “home” to be with the grandparents this Christmas. I’m already stressing a bit about the long length of time (2.5 weeks) away from home and the differing foods/routine/all the new people for my 3 year old. I’ve been mentally reviewing some of the local parks in my head so we can have an outside/quiet escape route for a hour or so here and there if needed.

  20. I am trying my best to prepare and simplify for this holiday season! Thanks for sharing your tips! We have ended up hosting all the holidays on my mom’s side of the family. We don’t mind though, as you mentioned we have everyone make a dish. I don’t really prepare anymore than I would going to someone else’s place. :)

  21. What a great post, and perfect timing too! Once Halloween was over, I was able to get a little break, but now Thanksgiving is coming up and my to-do list is overwhelming!

  22. Very timely advice. The festivities are just around the corner and am starting to feel overwhelmed already with what needs to be done before then.
    I’ll go with more diminishing and delegating this year I believe, get others to particpate as well in the planning and putting together some of the events. Its actually a far much better idea as it fosters spending quality time with others and building realtionships.

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