I’ll admit it: I wasn’t always a fan of online shopping—especially when it came to gifts. I preferred choosing items in the flesh, from mom and pop stores.
Although I’m still partial to supporting small, local businesses, I’ve definitely done a 180 on the whole holiday shopping thing, and now I happily order most items from the comfort of my couch, or, as my busy lifestyle would have it, from my perch on the office chair. I do this without missing deadlines or pissing off my boss.
And I’m here to tell you how you can do the same (assuming you can spare one hour a day—and before you say no, think about if it’s possible if you skip coffee and Facebook breaks). Lunch-hour shopping has everything to do with maximizing your time, practicing productivity, and being more organized than usual. Instead of reading recaps of The Affair and all 900+ comments, use any down time you have to allow yourself to tackle one of the holiday’s most stressful tasks.
Even if you’re waiting for your next paycheck to clear, you can get started now.
Day One: Make a List—and a Budget
You can’t do anything without a good list. Who are you responsible for buying for? Is there a price limit? What do you want to get for your dad, the cousin whose name you selected from the annual family drawing, your best friend? Once you have a solid list of people and price points, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Day Two: Search for Ideas
Unless you’re a gifting wizard, this is where the challenge lies. Thanks to handy step one, you now know who to buy for, but do you know what? Thank God for gift guides! There’s literally one for every person and scenario you can dream up.
For example, your secret santa, your boss, your super-organized sister, your job searching brother, and so on. Really—just type “gift for [type of person here]” on Google and something’s almost guaranteed to come up.
When you come across items you like, simply copy and paste the links to a document, jotting down where it can be purchased. (Gift hack: Always Google the item because it might be listed as being sold in one local boutique store on one gift guide, but is actually available on Amazon, too.)
Now the trick here is to make thoughtful choices, but semi-fast ones. If you’re the kind of person who likes to find the exact perfect gift, you might want to do this step at home, on your couch, with a glass of wine—and no time limit.
Day Three: Go on a Field Trip
I said that I tend to do most of my holiday shopping online, but most isn’t all, and every year, there are always a few items that I prefer to purchase in person. Are there any gifts on your list that are a short trip away, things you’d prefer to see and touch before pulling the trigger? Set aside one lunch hour to get out of the office.
Just be smart about it—for example, if you’re running to the mall, know the layout first so you can park where it’s the most convenient.
Day Four: Buy Everything Else
Close your email and the 45 other tabs you’ve got open and spend an hour buying everything that you can online. Don’t forget to check delivery dates, and if there’s any question that something won’t arrive in time, consider picking it up over the weekend. Traveling? Send your gifts there—with a note to your mother-in-law or brother that you’ll be opening (and wrapping) them when you arrive. This method saves you both time and baggage.
Day Five: Take Care of Last-Minute Gifts
Just when you think everything’s all set, you may remember you have to buy your co-worker a gift. And your sister’s new boyfriend (after all, he’s joining you for the holidays this year). Oh, and your grandmother. If you’re out of time—go easy on yourself and send virtual gift cards.
While far from being “personal” and “very thought-out,” people will still appreciate the gesture. After all, no one’s every gotten a gift card in their inbox and been utterly confused as to how they will spend it. With so many stores offering this option now, don’t discount it if time is of the essence. (But if time is not quite of the essence, opt for the real gift card—you can purchase several different kinds at almost any drugstore.)
Instead of viewing the season with impending dread at all of the things you have to do and wondering how you’ll ever find time to do them, figure out how to tackle the things you can (like holiday shopping!) without missing a beat at work and without losing all of the weekends in December. As with most daunting projects, if you can break it up into pieces, it’ll be easier to start and finish.
Photo of woman holiday shopping courtesy of Eva-Katalin/Getty Images.