How To Do All Your Holiday Shopping In Just Three Hours—Yes, Really!

Associate Digital Editor

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Despite your sincere intentions to buy Christmas presents before Thanksgiving this year, it's December 11 and the search has yet to begin. There's no time left to scour Etsy, local indie boutiques and eBay for one-of-a-kind items because you've still got cookies to bake, flights to book and parties to attend. You can't even bring yourself to think about gift-wrapping. Sound all too familiar? Stop stress-eating that box of candy canes and read on—we've got a plan.

Below, you'll find eight simple steps guaranteed to get all your holiday shopping done at the mall—in just THREE hours—no matter how long your list is. Although we've included time limits and pointers to keep you on track (hey, it's a giant building filled with stores—we get distracted, too), feel free to take things at a more leisurely pace if you can. Why pass on the chance to smell every evergreen candle at the bath and body store if you don't have to?

Scroll down for our 180-minute master shopping plan.

Stress-Free Holiday Shopping: A Nine-Step System

1. Considering that beauty products aren't very heavy, a cosmetics super store like Sephora or Blue Mercury is the best place to start. Remember, you don't want to get weighed down at the first stop! Rather than waste any time trying to match skin-specific items like makeup, cleansers and serums to people on your list, though, stock up on nail polish, candles and fancy soap instead (unless, of course, you've received a special request). All guaranteed crowd pleasers, these things are helpful to have it on hand for hostesses, co-workers and newish friends. (30 minutes)

2. Next, make a pit stop at the toy store. This should be quick and easy, just long enough to pick up whatever action figures, stuffed animals and Lego sets the child in your life asked for. And if you don't have kids/know anyone of elementary school age, feel free to look around for a few minutes anyhow—it's just so much fun around the holidays! (10 minutes)

3. Now it's time to focus on knitwear! Don't even bother with any other type of apparel—getting the size right on pants, blouses and shoes requires way too much guesswork. To maximize time, limit your search to a single location with a lots of selection (J.Crew, Gap and Banana Republic come to mind), and buy all those cozy sweaters, scarves and socks at once. Expert tip: always ask for a gift box, even for small items! If it's too big, just use it for something else. (30 minutes)

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4. Congratulations, you're about halfway there—take a beat to hit up Jamba Juice and chill. (10 minutes)

5. It's a good thing you just had a snack, because here comes the most rigorous part of your trip: the department store. This is the moment that you'll be getting the big stuff done (electronics, jewelry, leather goods) so go in with a battle plan! Resist the shoe sale's siren call and only stop by the sections you need to. (45 minutes)

6. After the big department store sweep, pop by the mall's tech goods shop for any camera, iPhone and computer accessories you still need. This is also an excellent opportunity to grab a few video games for your teenage brother. (15 minutes)

7. Now that your list is almost completed, finish it off at the bookstore. Novels can be tough to pick out for other people so you might want to stick with browsing non-fiction. Keep the recipient's interests in mind when picking a topic: Are they a history buff? Go for a biography. An art student? Perhaps a hardbound collection of paintings or photography. Once you're in the right mindset, it's easy to find something for everyone. (But, if you're still stumped, blank notebooks are always popular.) (25 minutes)

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8. Before you head home, swing by the greeting card store for gift wrap, ribbons, cards, tape and gift tags. Just be sure to take a nap before you start packaging everything—you've earned it! (15 minutes)

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