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With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the winter holiday season is almost upon us. As someone who flies home to family for extended periods in December, I find it can be a challenge to stay on top of work during the flurry of festive activity. With trial and error, I’ve developed some steps for staying motivated and working from home during those days in-between the holidays:

Create a Realistic To-Do List
Upon waking up in my childhood bed, I grab the (probably festive) notepad on my nightstand and see what I have planned for the day. A typical to-do list at the office can run multiple pages, but I try to keep my home to-do list short and realistic. As I jot down a list every night, I think to myself: What are my most pressing concerns? What absolutely has to get done tomorrow? I can keep tabs on long-running projects, but I know that my focus will be tested throughout the day, and that I’ll have to prioritize the most important tasks to ensure they get done.

Carve Out a Simple Workspace
It might be tempting to spend all day in sweatpants, but after I wrap up breakfast, I get dressed like it’s a normal day at work. I try to avoid getting too comfortable when I’m working from home: no laptop on the couch, no fireplace crackling, no hot cocoa. At the same time, I don’t spend too much time trying to create the most stark and distraction-free zone in the house. Ultimately, it’s all about convincing my brain that it’s time to focus on work, and all I need to do that is a desk, my laptop, and my daily to-do list. I’m going to run into distractions no matter what, and I’ll deal with those as best as I can.

Check-in with the Team
I might be over 1,000 miles away from my co-workers in Seattle, but it’s always good to check-in with them during the day. Whether it’s through a conference call, an email, or a few Google chats, I like letting everyone know when I’m on the clock, and what I’m working on. When I’m working on my own, it’s easy to fall into a rut on a given project. Keeping the channels of communication open with my co-workers can provide vital perspective when I’m stumped, and open up new ways of addressing a particularly thorny issue that I’m having trouble with by myself.

Handle Distractions Reasonably
A family member is watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, there are delightful smells coming out of the kitchen, and I really want to scan Facebook to see all my friends in ugly sweaters. Even with my to-do list glaring at me, I can quickly convince myself to take frequent breaks, but I’ve learned to push through those temptations when my eyes are on the prize. Playing (non-holiday themed) music can drone out distracting noises, bringing a snack to my desk will stave off hunger pains, and there’s always Self-Control to keep me focused online.

Remember Why I’m Here
I like coming home to catch up with my family and enjoy the holidays with my loved ones. It’s partly why I don’t come ‘home’ just to hunker down at a coffee shop nearby and isolate myself completely with my work. When the work day is over and I feel like I’ve accomplished enough, I might write out a to-do list for the next day, but then I close the laptop and make myself at home. Rather than lamenting a frenzied environment, I take time to appreciate a good day’s work, the comforts of being home, and how to strike a balance between the two competing mindsets.

These steps have saved me from being a Grinch during the holidays. While I enjoy working from home, it’s also just as important to stay unplugged during those pivotal family moments!

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