Focus On This Podcast

115. Hosting Survival Guide: How to Stay on Track When the House Is Packed



The holidays are here, and you’re gearing up to spend time with family and friends. But the challenge is, the work doesn’t stop. If anything, it’s ramping up for that year-end push. How can you get your work done and spend time with the people around you when your rhythms are thrown off track, without getting stressed out or rude in the process? 

In this episode, Courtney, Verbs, and Blake discuss four actions you can take to work from home during the holiday season and remain at your best. Whether you’re hosting people, or you’re a traveling guest, you can remain focused and productive when you approach your days with intentionality.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How defining your work hours sets you up for quality family time later
  • Why anticipating your guests’ needs leads to less workday interruptions
  • The benefit of actually leaving the house during work hours
  • The power of setting your Daily Big 3 to reduce the undercurrent of stress

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Episode Transcript

Courtney: I don’t know about you two, but there may already be Christmas decorations up in my house. I’m not actually proud of it, but my 5-year-old is obsessed. I mean, it is next level. She actually had made, herself, these Thanksgiving decorations, and she came in one day and was like, “Mom, those have to go. It’s Christmas decoration time.” So, we have this constant reminder that we’re getting closer and closer and closer to the holidays. It feels a little bit like, “You know what? I need a little more time here, friend, to get in that head space of all the busyness.”

Verbs: Get acclimated.

Courtney: Yeah. But she’s like, “No. We’re going for this right now, Mom. It’s happening.”

Verbs: I think your daughter is in step. November 1, Home Alone was on the screen in our household, and they’re already set up for the slew of other holiday movies…A Christmas Story, all that. It’s queued up. It’s ready to go. They’re jumping all the way in right now, even before Thanksgiving.

Courtney: So, you’re in on this bandwagon.

Verbs: On it.

Blake: What is your current play count on Mariah Carey right now?

Verbs: You know, that particular tune could probably wait a little bit closer to December 25. There’s a max. There’s a ceiling you can go to on that particular tune.

Blake: There is. You don’t want to burn too hot too fast.

Courtney: I think that’s right. What we’ve told my daughter Kit is “We can get out one thing a day.” We got out one Christmas tree, then another Christmas tree. (Don’t ask me how many Christmas trees we have at Christmas.) That’s kind of our role right now.

Blake: The Advent calendar is not long enough. It needs to go backward another two months.

Courtney: Forty-five days till Christmas. That’s what we’re going for here.

Blake: Are any of y’all going to see family and friends this holiday season?

Courtney: I was thinking no this year.

Blake: Just no.

Courtney: I’m just kidding.

Blake: Just go back into isolation.

Courtney: Isolation. Yes, of course. We will see family and friends this holiday season, for sure.

Blake: And do you know where I’m going with this line of questioning? Are they going to be coming to your house, Courtney?

Courtney: No. We don’t do that. No, just kidding again. I don’t know if y’all know this about me, but Chase and I met when we were in fifth grade, so our families live nearby. We don’t travel. The whole having guests to the house is not something we’re used to, but let me tell you how this… It seems like, “Oh, that’s perfect; that’s so nice,” but let me tell you where this is kind of problematic. When all of your extended families are close, you are expected to be at all of the things.

Verbs: How do you feel about that, Courtney?

Courtney: Well, I think you can kind of… Yeah, it’s a lot. And my husband is a pastor. I don’t know if y’all know about the Christmas season at church, but it’s kind of like the Super Bowl. So, it’s game time there as well. It is a busy time.

Blake: My money is on baby Jesus to win it this year.

Verbs: So, we are inching closer and closer to the holidays, which, for many of us, means spending time around family, spending time around friends. Whether you’re hosting people or you’re a traveling guest, how can you remain focused and productive around a house full of people? Before we know it, the holidays are here. We want to see family and friends, and they want to see us, but the challenge is the work doesn’t stop. If anything, it’s ramping up for that year-end push.

How can you possibly get your work done and spend time with the people around you without getting stressed or even being rude in the process? It’s possible to still be focused and productive in your work and present to the people around you. No pun. So, this episode, we’re discussing four actions you can take to work from home during the holiday season and remain at your best.

Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton. Happy Monday to you both once again.

Blake: Man! This podcast is already better, because you’re here, Verbs. We missed you.

Verbs: Oh, thank you, my friend. You both were missed as well.

Blake: Me mostly. Courtney said she didn’t miss you at all, actually, but just know that you have my loyalty.

Verbs: I appreciate that loyalty, and Courtney and I will have to talk later.

Courtney: No. That is so not true. For everybody listening, the three of us got to be together around a table for several hours on Friday, and it was the first time in a year and a half. It was so fun. I haven’t laughed that hard in a really long time. It really was great to be with both of you.

Blake: And it was for something very special and awesome.

Verbs: Can we say it?

Blake: Can we say it?

Verbs: Can it be said? I don’t know.

Courtney: I think we can say it.

Blake: Sure.

Verbs: It is the holidays. People are in for surprises.

Blake: Well, we were shooting a brand-new version of the global productivity sensation of a course called Your Best Year Ever. Don’t be afraid. The bulk of the teaching is not done by us. Michael handled that very well, though he did have to consult with Courtney for some delivery tips and that sort of thing. He kind of gets nervous about that type of stuff. But we were there providing some bonus content that has never been included in the course, and we think you’re going to love it.

Courtney: And we should say, for all of you who get Your Best Year Ever, when you watch these bonus episodes, if it looks like we’re on the verge of laughing the entire time, that is very accurate.

Verbs: That’s exactly what happened.

Courtney: It was really challenging for me, specifically. I would say, Verbs, you and I both kind of struggled with this, just keeping it together, because we were laughing so hard.

Verbs: Let’s get into it today. We are talking about how we can stay on top of our work while around a bunch of people during the holidays, whether it’s family, whether it’s friends. We have some actions that are going to help us understand that a little bit more today. Blake, would you mind bringing us into the first action?

Blake: Absolutely. First action: set up office hours. This one is such a helpful tip. Whether you have a dedicated office at home or if it’s just an armchair in your bedroom or a closet, if you’re a podcaster (a professional, sophisticated podcaster like me, and you’ve had to do work at home), treat it like you’re going away to work.

Here is the key part with this action. One of the most powerful things about setting office hours is to communicate to the people around you that even though you’ll be at home, you’re designating office hours. One of the easiest mistakes to make is just to start working but kind of have this internal pull of “I should be with the family,” or maybe they can knock on the door. They might feel tension, and you might feel tension, and you don’t actually get the quality time you want.

But if you can frame this up like, “Hey, I’m so glad it’s the season it is and we’ll get to spend time together, and I want all the time we’re able to spend together to be as much as possible and also as quality as possible, so in order to make that happen, I’m going to try to define some firm work hours, even though I’ll be here at home. Here’s what those are.” Y’all are both home right now, so talk to me. How do you set office hours?

Courtney: I have pretty strong guidelines on my day of when I’m starting and when I’m ending. Obviously, my 11-month-old has no idea, but my 5-year-old does. She knows… Like, when I come down for lunch, or whatever, she’ll ask me, “Are you done for today?” and I’m like, “No, not yet. It’s at 3:00.” She kind of has a sense of when it’s going to happen, when I’m going to be done.

What really helps is, in the morning, I go around and say, “Mom is going to work.” I’m really just going upstairs, but I make sure to treat it just like I did when I was going to the office. We’re talking about this in the Christmas season because your kids may be home from school or you have guests, and all that kind of thing, but it really is a great tool year-round. But, again, specifically, a great tool for this season.

Verbs: Sure. For us, one thing that has helped myself being here with my family pretty much the whole day is physically segmenting off my working space. So, even while we’re recording this podcast, I have to shut the doors, close the curtain. As my children are growing in the understanding of “All right. Dad is not available at the moment,” that just helps remind them, as well, “Okay. Let’s wait until the end of the workday to ask Dad to play Legos.”

Blake: I think with the office hours, it’s the communication that helps your family, but it also helps you. I’ve struggled before with that tension of, “Oh, it’s Thanksgiving week, and they came all the way here,” that sort of guilt. It can reinforce and allow you to be really productive and efficient during that work time, even though you’re at home. And bonus tip: noise cancelling headphones are super helpful, as well, to make it feel like an office.

Verbs: The second action is anticipate needs. I love this one. I love the list and how detailed it is, because it really does the work for you. So, I would jot these down. They may seem kind of trivial and minute, but when you have a bunch of people in your house or when you have many folks in your home for the holidays, this will help you out immensely. It’s similar to when you’re working from home around people. By anticipating the needs of family or friends while they’re in your house…

You know, welcoming people to say, “Hey, you guys are free to grab whatever is in the fridge if you get hungry or thirsty. It’s all yours. Don’t worry about it.” Let folks know, “This is how you get to Netflix. This is how you switch from Netflix to stream off your phone,” those little technical things that, depending on the visitor, are definitely questions that will come your way if you don’t preempt that and anticipate that need. So, what needs do you guys commonly see coming your way when you have family or friends over for the holidays?

Blake: For me, it’s usually “What’s the dinner plan going to be?” Especially if I’m playing host, or even if I’m visiting, if I’m staying with my parents or something like that, if we can get out ahead of it around the breakfast table or while I’m making morning coffee, going, “Hey, what’s the afternoon/dinner/evening plan?” and try to rally around setting the expectation of the “after work” plan, then there are fewer texts in the middle of the day going, “Hey, do you want to do this or that?” or “What shall we do about this?” That’s probably the most common one: just getting out ahead of the logistics of planning so everyone can do and enjoy the time they were hoping to get with you during the holidays.

Verbs: One of the things that’s important to mention, as well, kind of what Blake alluded to, is you want your time with friends and family during the holidays to have quality to it, and one of the things that can attack that time is if you haven’t properly prepared to be out of the office. So, even going through the exercise of anticipating the needs of any of your coworkers… How do you set them up to win when you’re set to be unavailable during those holiday times and while you’re out on vacation? That way, you’re not getting texts, pings, calls in the middle of that quality time with your family.

Courtney: That’s so true. There’s nothing like telling your family that you’re not really there with them like doing a bunch of emails while you’re looking at Christmas lights. So, the third action is to leave the house. This might seem like a cop-out a little bit, but it really is a great solution for working from home, especially when you have a house full of company.

There’s only so much a white noise machine can cover up. Maybe you can double up with the earphones and the noise cancelling, but there is a point where you just have to say, “You know what? I probably should just go find somewhere different to work from for this period of time.” It’s actually nice, because it kind of combines the first action, the office hours, because when you leave the house, it naturally does that. It’s very clear when you drive away that you are not at home to play. So, that’s something to consider as you look at this holiday season.

Blake: Every holiday season, when I’m traveling and with family and there’s a lot going on, a lot happening, it’s easy to get overstimulated, and I remember there’s this magical place that you can go. It’s quiet, it’s completely free, and I can basically promise you it’s pretty well abandoned, and that is your local library.

Yes, it still exists. Yes, they have nice desks. Yes, they have Wi-Fi. Yes, there are all of the rows and rows of books so that you feel academic just by stepping into the place. Yes, it still has that smell, that same smell you remember when you were a kid. So, that hasn’t gone away. Sometimes they have coffee, as well, out there in the front. Maybe they don’t.

Verbs: Please don’t drink library coffee.

Blake: The point is that is an awesome place, and I love to rediscover the library, because even coffee shops… I mean, you talk about your Mariah Carey play count. If you only have 34 more listens until you blow a gasket, then maybe you don’t go to Starbucks and you go to the local library. That’s a pro tip for leaving the house.

Courtney: This is a huge tip. I love this so much. That’s actually my favorite place to go too, especially when I really need to do a big project. When I need totally focused… Even at a coffee shop, there’s just, in my opinion, too much for me to look at, too many people to watch. The library is a ghost town. Actually, Verbs, can you bring the snacks into the library?

Verbs: You know what? I’m always concerned about the noise level and when I might be violating that, so depending…

Courtney: You’re not going to open any wrappers.

Blake: Ever the conscientious…

Verbs: A soft bag of chips. No kettle chips, nothing like that. This would probably have to be like a meeting-free… Kind of like what we have is a meeting-free Wednesday, where you have no Zoom meetings to be on. Otherwise…

Blake: What?

Verbs: Wait. I retract my statement, because you can rent out those small community rooms on the side if you had to take a meeting. So, I’m all in for that library situation.

Blake: One last bonus tip with this action about leaving your house. Leave your house, at the very least, to start and end your workday. It’s like this little mental reset. I think I gave this tip when we were podcasting and were in quarantine zone back in 2020. That was like a mental health…

I don’t know how to describe it, but the physical action of just, “Hey, I’m going to go walk around the block, and then come back in the house like I’m stepping into my office, and then when I’m done with my workday, I’m going to go take a walk around the block as if I’m ‘coming home…’” There’s something physical about that reset, both in the workday startup and shutdown. So, add that to your ritual, if it’s not already there, if you’re working from home.

Verbs: The fourth action: fill out your Daily Big 3. This is something we didn’t mention in the previous action, but I see this as truly an anchor when you’re in the middle of that holiday activity and visitors are there. I know, for myself, if there’s a relative you might not have seen for a while… You know, Uncle Larry is coming from New York. You haven’t seen him in some years. You don’t want to miss out on that time.

Knowing that he’s at the house and you’re at the library working, you may have a little bit of FOMO, like, “Man! I want to get this quality time in. He’s going to leave on Saturday.” So, I feel like this Daily Big 3 and sticking to your Daily Big 3 can serve as an anchor to your day, because if you can knock those out, you have something to hold you accountable as you work through your day and know that, “Hey, once I get to this number three, I can call it a day. I can get back to the family and play checkers with Uncle Larry.”

Courtney: I don’t know about y’all, but I feel like this would be the recipe for a productive day for me, and it’s a combination of these things we’ve talked about: going to the library, having really clear, “This is my Daily Big 3; this is what I’m going to knock out,” but also communicating those to someone who I want to know that I knocked out what I said I was going to knock out…you know, a boss, a coworker, someone like that.

Just to say, “Hey, today I’m going to the library. This is what I’m going to get done. I’m going to follow up with you at the end of the day to let you know how far I got.” For me, that extra little dial is really helpful. So then you go for the day and knock it out. That’s a recipe for a really good day for me.

Blake: That sounds good to me too.

Courtney: Guys, let’s just do that today. Let’s all go to the library.

Blake: Let’s do it. Filling out your Daily Big 3. I think the best part of this is… Have you guys ever had a holiday season, maybe it was Thanksgiving or Christmastime, or whatever (you’re with family), and then you come away from it and you actually feel like, “Oh man! We were all together. It felt really busy. It felt like it was almost overstimulating, but did I really get the rest or the connection or the…? I don’t know. Did I get what I wanted out of it?”

I’ve been there before, where I’ve been like, “Oh man! That happened, and I was just sort of stressed the whole time, it felt like,” just an undercurrent of low-level stress. The Daily Big 3, although simple, although we talk about it a lot… It can’t be underestimated the power it has to reduce that undercurrent of stress that comes from your work that can then infiltrate your family and holiday experience.

I mean, the Daily Big 3 literally helps me sleep through the night. It helps me get back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night, because there’s this sense of when you write it down and you say, “Hey, this is what success looks like today: getting these three things done. Sure, more could happen, or whatever, but here’s the finish line…” Crossing that off and then engaging with your family… It’s going to be dramatic. It’s radical. Because it’s so simple and so “easy,” we can underestimate how powerful it is to allow us that quality experience we’re trying to have outside of work.

Verbs: Here’s the opportunity as we approach the holidays. It’s funny how we just jumped right into Christmas season, but you actually have two opportunities to get this right. Don’t forget about Thanksgiving. You may have people in your house during that time, as well as at Christmas. Use Thanksgiving to figure out which combination of actions is going to work out for you during this time. Experiment with it. Tweak it. By the time Christmas comes around, you may have it down pat, and you’ll be as productive as you wanted to be during the season.

So, the good news is whether you’re hosting people or you’re a traveling guest, remaining focused and productive in a house full of people can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. You can stay focused on your work by setting up office hours, anticipating needs, heading out to a coffee shop or library, and filling out your Daily Big 3. Courtney, Blake, do you have any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners before we head out?

Courtney: I would just say, all of these are really helpful actions, but I think what you need to think about before you even start installing these is how you want to feel at the end of these seasons. How do you want to feel after Thanksgiving? How do you want to feel after Christmas? Then that “why” will help you determine which one of these actions is best for you to do.

Again, I know we talk about this a lot, but it’s kind of like you need that framework to help you guide your decisions. So, I hope for all of you, as you go through this season, that it’s a really wonderful season with your family and friends. And, Verbs, you’re having Blake and I over for Thanksgiving. Right?

Blake: Very generous offer.

Verbs: Come on over. Hope you guys like pizza. So, thank you for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so share it with your friends. Don’t forget to join our Full Focus Planner Community on Facebook. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!