Today is the day when holiday stress is often at its peak: the last few days before vacation, and your last chance to do anything you need to do in 2010. My kids’ vacation begins at 1 p.m. tomorrow, so today is literally my last full day to plow through as much work stuff as possible. Yet amazingly I find myself relatively serene. Why?

Well, the first reason is that a kind publisher extended a December 21 deadline to January 2. But the second is that I realized the source of much of my stress at year’s end comes from expectations I put upon myself – or tradition puts upon me. The nonessential task I decided to drop before the holiday break, and that disproportionally removed stress, was sending client cards and gifts before Christmas. WHAT? How could I consider client cards and gifts nonessential? It’s not that client cards & gifts are nonessential – I look forward to them, actually – but I realized that their arriving before Christmas was. This did two things: first, it relieved the pressure on my schedule, so I could focus on completing clients’ projects on time. Second, it reminded me of the things I am in control over, which was the biggest benefit. Because so much stress comes from our believing we’re not in control of our lives and our schedules. The key is to find what we can control, and to take control.

So I will meet my deadlines today without too much heroic effort, and I will serenely write Happy New Year cards to each client, focusing on new energy and new initiatives, taking all the time I want to take to reconnect with clients who have become friends. Because the most important part of connecting with friends, family, and clients at the holidays – to me, at least – is not the timing, but the quality. I hope I’ll send my gifts out in time next year. But I’m relieved to know that I’ve found one more item in my life that I can adjust where needed – instead of feeling trapped in an either-or scenario where I send cards & gifts by Christmas, or I don’t send them at all.

What either-or scenario do you find yourself trapped in, as you’re scrambling to finish everything by the holiday break (if you take one)? Can you identify the true value of the task, and then adjust either the timing or the scope so you can still achieve the value but perhaps under revised circumstances? Bear in mind that everyone is busier than ever right now, and your adjustment may relieve and inspire someone else – if you’re still fully providing the value you need to provide, that is. What nonessential task will you drop today, so you have energy to meet the real priorities of your business – and the season?