Don't look now, but the holidays are right around the corner. While this festive season is a joyous time to be celebrated with loved ones, the preparations can sometimes seem overwhelming. This stress can, of course, be alleviated if you take some steps to get a head start.

Here are the four best ways to get ahead of this busy season and avoid the stress of 11th-hour holiday preparations.

1. Use Labor Day Weekend as the Starting Point

September may seem excessively early to begin your holiday prep work, but you'll be thanking yourself later when December rolls around. In these pre-holiday season days, it's helpful to start preparations early on, even if you don't intend to begin shopping and complete all the tasks you'll no doubt have until October or November. Simply going through the planning stages in September will set you up for success and have your plans in order as you move into the holiday season.

2. Wrangle Your Christmas Gift Lists Early

If you have children to shop for, ask for their Christmas gift list no later than November 1, but preferably earlier. After all, we all know kids can take their sweet time completing just about anything, so it's best to request their gift list as early as possible.

So, if your intention is to begin shopping right after Thanksgiving, you'll want to ask for gift lists no later than Halloween. This will, hopefully, ensure you aren't left pushing them for their wish list as December rolls around. After all, you certainly want to avoid being unable to find that coveted gift due to waiting too long to shop.

3. Send Your Greeting Cards in November

Everyone knows mail delivery tends to bottleneck in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas Day. In that vein, do yourself a favor and mail your holiday greeting cards to friends and family early this year. This will alleviate the stress of the last-minute rush, and hoping that your mail arrives on time. As a bonus, being one of the first greeting cards that your loved ones receive is sure to make yours especially memorable.

In addition to being a kind gesture, this keepsake is also a great way to invite everyone to your holiday celebration. A thoughtful and premium quality photo Christmas card is a fantastic way to update everyone on what your family has been up to over the past year. This will save you the time of contacting everyone individually, as you can include the details of your festivities right on the card.

4. Scope Out Deals Early

Whether brick-and-mortar or online, most retailers tend to tease their Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals early. Take the opportunity to peruse these sales fliers to see if any gifts you intend to buy are included. If they are, you immediately know where you can get them for the best price.

Now, suppose the gifts you plan to purchase aren't part of any of these holiday deals, though. In that case, it's wise to begin shopping before Thanksgiving has arrived. The closer to Christmas it gets, the greater the chance of the perfect gift for your family member is sold out or back-ordered. Indeed, there's nothing worse than ordering a gift for a special occasion, only to have it arrive after that special day has passed.

Start Planning Now to Cherish More Time with Loved Ones

By heeding these tips above, you'll be well on your way to enjoying a successful holiday season. Rather than stressing until the last minute, you'll now be well-prepared to coast to the finish line as the holidays approach. Instead of scrambling to check off the final items on your to-do list, you can spend those days getting into the holiday spirit with your family. That is a gift they'll be sure to cherish.