Nov. 20, 2018
It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many of us, the holidays are an avalanche of obligations, overspending, guessing-games, travel nightmares, and time-management woes. While technology might be lagging behind on ways to make your holiday companions more palatable, there are some ways to use it that keep your blood pressure in check and your bank account in the black.
Let’s start with the workplace. The holidays can add extra stress around the office as gift exchanges and holiday cards – technically tokens of gratitude – wreak havoc on your time and budget.
A few tech hacks can help you cope with holiday stress. Photo credit: Getty
Automate your gift exchange
Office gift exchanges are a major culprit when it comes to holiday stress. Whether it’s Secret Santa or deciding which colleagues you feel obligated to buy a gift for, wracking your brain for ideas and staying within your budget take their toll. But there are a few ways to automate these tasks that keep you from indulging in holiday waste (whether it’s adding to landfills, buying gifts that no one wants or needs, or overthinking it all).
Eliminate the overthinking and overspending of workplace gift exchanges by automating this year’s Secret Santa. Photo credit: Getty
If your colleagues do a gift exchange, it might be time to suggest tools like Elfster or Draw Names. These tools allow you to randomly generate gift pairings while ensuring you don’t draw yourself or someone you have a tough relationship with (or your spouse, if you happen to work together). You can set up a gift exchange page in minutes and include RSVP dates, maximum gift value amounts, and automate reminders so that everyone is in the know.
The best part about these sites is that many allow you to upload a wish list. And while for some that might take the thoughtfulness out of the endeavor, it keeps participants from wasting money on generic gifts that get trashed or re-gifted (by some estimates, Americans spend $16 billion a year on gifts that end up in the trash). You might as well get someone something they want if you’re going to spend the money.
Hire out your holiday cards
Maybe grandma will know that’s not your handwriting, but when it comes to your clients, it might be worth it to farm out those hand-written holiday cards. Websites like MailLift, The Handwritten Card, and Sent Well will save you (or your assistant) hours of work that is likely to be tossed in the recycling bin after a few days anyway.
Sites like this let you set a template, download addresses, and let someone else hand-write your cards. They’ll even self-address and send them for you. And if you have the kind of recipients who can parse a card American Psycho-style, you can even pay MailLift extra for fine stationery or to have your letter-writer use a Montblanc pen.
For those who don’t have to worry about office holiday obligations, the last two months of the year still pose a host of challenges. Luckily, some of it can be tempered by technology.
Be a holiday travel disaster prepper
Snow, freezing rain, clueless people in line for security – there are some things you just can’t control, even with the best technology. But what you can do is prepare for the worst by loading up your smartphone with apps that make it easier to react to being stranded in the airport.
Prepare for holiday travel delays by downloading apps to your phone that let you maintain control over your situation. Photo credit: Getty
If you’re not a frequent traveler, let’s start with the basics. You should always download your airline’s app to your phone before heading off to the airport. Even if you purchased your ticket from a third-party site, the airline’s app will let you keep track of any delays. Most, like the Delta app, will also let you change seats up until the last minute, track your bags, and even reschedule delayed or canceled flights without having to stand in line at the desk.
Plenty of people still don’t know that the airline owes you almost nothing if a flight is delayed or canceled due to weather, but that won’t stop people from clogging up the lines at the desk insisting that the airline put them up for the night. Don’t fall into this trap and waste hours of your life listening to other people argue. If you’re stuck in a city where you don’t know anyone (for example, if you’re on a layover), download and pre-register yourself on an app like Hotel Tonight – that way, if you need to grab your luggage and come back the next day, you can save yourself as much money as possible on a last-minute hotel room. The people in line are going to have to do that same thing, but you’ll have snagged the best room and price by the time they’re done with their futile lobbying.
Augment your shopping with online inventory tracking
Some people love the bustle of the mall during the holidays. The rest of us require pharmaceutical intervention by the third time we hear “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” as we rifle through the racks and shelves looking for what we came for.
If you need a gift right away or are otherwise stuck shopping IRL, see if you can grab a gift at a store that uses online inventory tracking.
Stores like Target, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, Walmart, and Best Buy all have real-time tracking that can tell you if what you’re looking for is currently in stock in the correct size and color. Some will even give you the aisle number, so you don’t have to wander around.
While some stores have ”buy online” and “pick up in store” features that attempt to help you skip the lines, you should still plan on an extra few minutes, as those features may still require you to deal with misplaced items and people who forgot to bring the right documentation to pick up their items.
There’s still no tech that can make the people around you more bearable. As you go about your shopping or get stuck in that traffic jam near the mall, it might be a good idea to download some apps to your phone that can help you cope.
Don’t let the bright lights and blaring music wreak havoc on your mood while shopping. Bring your headphones and use your phone to play some calming music or guided meditations. Photo credit: Getty
We know that music can help reduce stress. Download a few different playlists to your phone – one to hype you up for the grind and a few to calm you down when you’re white-knuckling the steering wheel or shopping cart. If you’re out and about, throw some headphones into your bag so you can access these on public transportation or in the store.
While you may not be able to sit down in lotus pose in the middle of your holiday grocery shopping, it’s worth looking into apps like Headspace, Binaural, Simple Habit, or Inscape, just to name a few.
Not into people telling you how to relax when you’re already stressed out? Perhaps you’re better off with the Calm app, which also carries a library of bedtime stories read by soothing voices. While the goal is not to fall asleep in the store, anything that chills you out could be worth a try.
Apps like MyMoodTracker and Daylio can’t intervene, but they at least give you an outlet to record how stressed you feel in the moment. If you’re lucky they might send you a reminder to record your mood while the person in front of you insists on using a pile of expired coupons? Hit that red face and take it out on your phone. And when a loved one asks you to run back out to the store to grab just one more thing, you’ll have evidence of just how that makes you feel.
Away-messages for your texts
Granted, you might not want to miss a text telling you what to pick up while you’re still at the store, but if your phone is vibrating non-stop from friends wanting to share their drama while you need to get things done, go retro with an AIM away message-style auto response to your texts. You can use Safest Text Auto Reply and Away Messages to let your friends and family know that you’re busy and will get back to them (though these apps won’t automatically send messages for you-you’ll still need to click send).
You can also pre-program auto-replies on your phone if you just can’t mute your life for an hour or two.
If you want a kind, gentle way to do it you might pre-program a message to say “Auto-reply: I’m just trying to finish up a couple little things and turned off my messages – be back with everyone in just a bit.” It’s nicer than anything you’re thinking in the moment.
Expense-tracking and budgeting
The holiday hangover is real and it’s not just from all that feasting. Thinking of all the gifts you’ve been given that you really didn’t need or want gives you some good perspective on how to rein in your budget during the holidays. While you don’t necessarily need technology to help you set a budget and stick to it, it can help you avoid those last-minute urges to run out to the store one last time.
Photographing receipts and downloading apps to help you organize them can give you a much better indication of where you are with your budget than simply winging it. If you really want to know how much the holidays are costing you, you might take advantage of the kind of expense apps that you use in the workplace. These can help you track everything from the mileage and gas used on those last-minute shopping trips to that $10 smoothie you needed to fuel you through the mall.
By January the holidays feel like a blur to everyone and it’s entirely possible that all your hard work and money is already a distant memory to those you regaled with gifts and cards.
Avoid overextending yourself and your budget by letting technology make things just a bit easier. In a perfect world, the holidays would be all about thoughtfulness and thankfulness, but in the real world, there’s only so much of you to go around and something’s got to give.