With all the cleaning and cooking for Passover, it’s easy to lose sight of the inner meaning of this holy time. So, this year, let’s take steps to arrive at the Seder relaxed and inspired.

Two to Four Weeks Prior:

1) Plan a Serene Passover

Give yourself the priceless gift of sanity this year. Take some time to sit down and visualize your serene house on the day Passover begins. Write down all that needs to be done ahead of time to get there. Plan out your menu. The first two days and the last two days of Passover are holidays, plus there will be at least one Shabbat. Rather than creating multiple meal plans, just create one menu for the first few holiday meals and tweak it a bit for the last days. Throw in some things the children like for the intermediate days, and you’re done. Put the notes on a pretty clipboard in a designated spot, or post them on a corkboard.

2) De-clutter

It will be easier to do your Passover cleaning if you don’t have to clean around piles of clutter. This doesn’t mean that you should idly spring clean and get lost in nostalgia for an hour as you go through old photos. Now is the time to be brutal. As you go through your home cleaning for Passover, feel free to throw out or give away items that are just taking up space. Either you really love it or it’s really useful; no “just because” or “just in case” items. For example, if your youngest is eight years old, resist keeping an extra stroller “just in case,” when you could pass it on to someone who could use it, freeing up space for you.

3) Make a “Perhaps” List

You might want to consider making a “perhaps” list. Your “perhaps” list is strictly for items that would be nice to do . . . perhaps. Before Passover, we get inspired to do things we never thought of before. Why else would we consider finally going through all the toy cars and throwing out the broken ones? What is happening to us? It’s quite simple—our minds are trying to protect us. Our minds are very resourceful, and when we are faced with challenging (a.k.a. stressful) work like true Passover cleaning, our mind finds creative ways to stall us.

That’s why we are suddenly inspired to organize the doll clothes rather than scrub down the toy area and clean the toys. That’s why the glove compartment looks so appealing to organize when faced with the alternative—cleaning the Cheerio-infested car seat.

Clearly define what your priorities are, and put them on a definitive to-do list. Then choose your extra credit choices and put them on your “perhaps” list. Yes, you can cheat once in a while, but make sure that whatever has to get done for Passover gets done.

4) Apply the 80/20 Rule

Now that you’ve conquered your menus and organized your lists, it’s time to learn a classic time-management rule that will help you with your pre-Passover preparation and beyond.

It's the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto principle. It states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So, let’s say you’re in front of your teenager’s closet and you see 10 skirts; she will probably wear only 20% (i.e., 2) of them 80% of the time. (The same is probably true about your closet, but I won’t tell your teen.) Think of all the friends you have: 80% of your time chatting on the phone will be with 20% of them.

So, how does this relate to Passover? The classic question to ask yourself is: what 20% of your effort yields 80% of your productivity? And conversely, what 80% of your time will yield 20% of your productivity? In other words, what tasks can you focus on now that will yield big dividends later on? Cleaning entire rooms ahead of time? Yes. Turning over the kitchen 3 days early? Yes. Calling multiple friends to find out how to best clean behind your oven? No! Spending the entire evening a week before Passover looking for the perfect shoes for your six-year-old? No.

So, by identifying what 20% of Passover gives you 80% of your stress, you know where the bulk of your proactive work lies. Whether your personal stress comes from the cleaning, the cooking, the exhaustion, the hostessing, or all of the above, you at least know where the answer to reducing stress lies. Generally speaking, it’s the tasks that yield that 80% of stress that we tend to postpone. So, take a look at your to-do list and make sure that you have included some high-productivity items. You will thank yourself in two weeks, and so will your husband and children.

One to Two Weeks Prior:

5) Make a To-Don’t List

Keep your focus on the goal. By deciding ahead what you really need to get done, you will also come to see what you won’t have the time and energy for . . . and that’s what your to-don’t list is for.

By actively choosing how you want to spend your time and energy, you remain empowered and productive. Think ahead to your Passover: What do you for sure want to do? What do you want someone else to do? Our lists will all be different. As the holiday approaches, you will notice that many things on your “perhaps” list will wind up on your to-don’t list.

6) Be Specific

Now is a crucial time in the Pre-Passover Prep world. By getting the right tasks done now, you will be ahead of the game and closer to your goal of reducing pre-Passover stress.

Take a few minutes today to plan specific goals for the week, and give each goal a time slot on your calendar. Replace overly optimistic (unrealistic) goals with specific and attainable goals. It is better to write “Spend one hour cleaning girls’ closets” than writing “Clean girls’ room.”

Here are some examples of tasks that might be on your to-do list for this week:

  • Finish cleaning the bedrooms.
  • Order food, matzah, wine and/or paper goods.
  • Clean car and car seats.
  • Make sure all holiday clothing items are ordered.
  • Buy baby paraphernalia (pacifiers, bottles, pump parts, etc.).
  • Buy new board games.

Write down your goals for each day, and cross off each task when you’ve completed it. Remember to keep your list in a highly visible place and adjust your tasks when need be. Don’t keep your list in your mind; as they say, “A goal that’s not written down is just a wish.”

7) Get the Children to Help

First, involve your children in the process. Rather than calling them to help when you need the help, write a list of items ahead of time that need to get done, and ask them which items they prefer to help with. Then ask them when they feel they can realistically finish those jobs. If the job gets forgotten, make sure to remind them nicely, and without using the word “you.” So, “The potatoes need peeling” is preferable to “You forgot to peel the potatoes.” Additionally, with everyone being overworked and a tiny bit stressed before Passover, be sure to compliment their work rather than critique it. Depending on your own budget and parenting style, children (especially teenagers) are guaranteed to work happily while discussing what new clothing items they would like for Passover . . .

8) Plan Off-the-Radar Meals

Here’s a productive reason to stop cleaning and sit down for a break: Plan the meals that often fall off the radar. We are so focused on what we will be serving at the Seder that we understandably forget to plan for the meals beforehand. Namely, what the family will be eating for the five days before Passover and on the day of the Seder itself. It doesn’t have to be gourmet, but it should be thought out ahead of time. Sweet potatoes and chicken are a popular choice for the day of the Seder, or consider using a crockpot and making a soup—five minutes in the morning yield benefits throughout the day.

9) S-M-I-L-E

With to-do lists longer than our shopping lists, we will be working harder over the next few weeks than we ever thought we could. To balance that responsibility overload, make sure to add some things to your list that make you smile. Everyone is different, so do what works for you. Some people love to escape to the mall for a bit, others like to buy pretty flowers for their table, while others savor time off to relax with a book. By planning what you want to get done and then rewarding yourself with time off, you will be happier, and (ironically) more productive as well.

10) Liberate Yourself . . . from the Kitchen

Here are some tips to minimize your time in the kitchen and maximize the benefits:

  • Set your menu up so that you can cook in bulk and freeze ahead of time.
  • Do your best to avoid being the only one working in the kitchen. Buy a lot of peelers, and give the children kitchen tasks.
  • Make sure you are not cooking unnecessary food. Go through the menu and make sure that everything is needed. Also, ask your spouse and kids what specific foods they would like to eat on Pesach. Tastes vary from year to year, and it would be a shame to invest all that time into making applesauce when your child would have been satisfied with an orange.

Wishing you a happy and stress-free Passover!