If you're making your own Christmas presents this year, you're probably starting to feel the crunch. Yes, December 1st is still a week away, but as with almost everything, good planning is key to success. Hopefully you've made a list and checked it twice; now that you've decided who's getting what, it's time to decide when you're going to make it all. If you're like me and you work best under deadline, there's something deliciously enticing about the thought of squeaking out the last few stitches just before midnight on Christmas Eve. But I've woken up sandy-eyed and grumpy on one too many Christmas mornings, and this year I'll be taking a hint from a scheduling trick we use here at the magazine to try to ensure that won't happen again this year. It's called a "workback." It's basically a spreadsheet – we start with the most important deadline (the date the magazine hits newsstands) and work backwards to determine the deadlines for every other task that needs to be accomplished. We draw up a workback for every magazine, special publication and book that we publish – that's a lot of schedules. (Hello, Excel!) But the reason we use it again and again? It works. The workback concept can be applied to just about anything, from making dinner to (aha!) making Christmas gifts. Get out your gift list and your calendar and, one at a time, break down each gift into parts and assign each part a deadline. Here's an example from my gift list this year – I'm making Christmas treats and ornaments for my far-away friends, so I need to consider mailing times as well as making times.
- December 11: Packages go in the mail.
- December 10: Everything is boxed, addressed and ready to go.
- December 9: Make caramel corn; package homemade snack mix and caramel corn in bags.
- December 8: Make homemade snack mix. Wrap ornaments; write cards.
- December 7: Pick up groceries for homemade treats. Put finishing touches on ornaments.
- December 5: Assemble ornaments.
- December 4: Purchase supplies for ornaments. Photocopy patterns, cut out pieces, etc.
- December 3: Decide on ornament; write shopping list.