The holiday season is a festive and frantic time for many. With so much that we have to, want to, or just think we should do, those same 24-hour days we normally try to get everything done in seem even shorter.

But this year, you can take a new approach with one question you can ask yourself in so many situations. This holiday season, use these five words – How much do I need? — every day and see the impact they have on saving you time, money, stress, and even a few pounds.

Here are a few ways to get you started with this question.

Manage the Holiday Budget

With your budget, asking “How much do I need?” seems pretty silly. Well, unlimited cash and time would be nice, of course, but the question begs you to reconsider how much you need to spend to feel like you are giving without breaking your own bank or your spirit. Limiting your budget often makes people very creative and that can free them to be more expressive and personal than any expensive gift card they could give. Make gifts like bath bombs or your best chocolate sauce. Sure they take time, but honestly by the time you get to a mall or a store, park, grab a coffee or a dinner, shop, wait in line, and get home, you’ll come out even.

Figure Out Your Holiday Eating Plan

Groaning buffet tables, holiday parties with fantastic food, and cookies that stretch from here to the moon tempt even those with the strongest willpower. Everything is delicious, you’re probably hungry from all the running around, and it makes you feel special to eat something you didn’t have to cook. But if you ask yourself, “How much do I need?” it frees you to enjoy everything in a way that makes you mindful of what you are eating. Do you really need a whole piece of chocolate madness cake or will half a piece satisfy your cravings? Will another plateful of turkey dinner fill your hunger or just stuff your stomach?

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Map Out Fitness

How much do I need?” also lets you go easy on yourself sometimes. While it might help you limit your food intake, it also works in reverse, too. Can’t fit in an hour on the treadmill? How much do you need? If any amount of activity is better than nothing (it is) then take a short stroll and feel how refreshed you are. Don’t have the energy to power through a whole yoga class? If you consider how much do you need right now, you might be okay with a few really deep stretches, some relaxing breathing, a handful of push ups and squats, and the reassurance that you will make time tomorrow.

Opting Out Is Not Being Lazy

How can the magic question help here? Well, how much do you need to make your schedule feel full (and you happy) and not crammed (and you crabby)? How many parties and events can you attend without feeling obligated, overtired, and over the whole season? Find your balance so you can go to the events that are especially meaningful, particularly fun, or involve people you love being around. Saying yes to some and no to others can help you figure out what you need to make the holiday magic present in your life and not just another thing to check off the list. If you can say no to an obligation (that awful neighbor’s overdone show of glitz) so that it gives you time to do something that fills your soul (serving dinner at a soup kitchen or visiting an elderly shut in with your kids), then the trade off is worth it.

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Don’t Forget Sleep

Of course, we know this holiday season is short and sometimes you sacrifice sleep for fun. That’s fine, if it’s fine for you and your body. But, realistically, how much do you need? Will four days of staying up late take a toll on your mood, your productivity, and your peace of mind? Are you up late catching up on everything that isn’t getting done in the holiday rush? See where you can cut back. Have eggs, toast, and fruit for dinner – the family will adjust. Don’t worry if you only make one batch of your favorite holiday cookies or if you bring the easiest appetizer in the world to your neighbor’s party (for example, a block of cream cheese, a jar of pepper jelly, and crackers). Getting the rest you need makes the whole season brighter.

Is There Too Much or Not Enough Family Togetherness?

Some of the funniest movies are made about unhappy families at holiday time. If your family time looks like that, then it’s worthwhile to ask yourself how much family togetherness do you need? How much is really good for your soul? On the other hand, you might also crave more time with your family to make the holidays seem complete. If you feel you need more time with your family, see how you can make that happen. Even small ways to connect can make you feel closer, more involved, and more in the spirit of the season.

What are other holiday situations where you can use the question “How much do I need?”

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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