Our work lives are creeping into our holiday time as mobile devices become an extension of our offices. More than half of office workers are planning to crank out some work over the winter holidays this year, according to a recent survey by presentation app maker SlideRocket. If you're one of them, use these tech tips to keep your life organized away from the office and maintain your sanity.
1. Plan your time in advance
Don't plan to work during certain hours each day, unless you absolutely must be on call. Instead, schedule the time that you need for your tasks, and do them when you can find the time. Family members may want to go shopping, old friends may want to catch up over a coffee, and just about anything else can happen over the holidays. To help you organize your time, Gtask syncs with Google Calendar and brings the power of Gmail Task to Android phones. While pricey compared with similar apps, Omnifocus comes highly recommended for the iPad and iPhone as an extremely useful, task-based productivity app. If you need a ticking clock to help, check out a software timer.
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2. Store all your files in one place online
Storing must-have files in the cloud is essential if you work across multiple machines or in various locations, especially if family duties take you away from the main office this season. While there are many cloud services that enable this, I use Basecamp and Google Docs to store documents. Both tools allow you to collaborate with clients or co-workers quickly and from anywhere in the world. Google Docs is free, and you don't need to create a document in Docs to use it. You can upload any kind of file and store up to 1024MB on your Google Docs account.
Basecamp is the next step up for those who have outgrown Google Docs. It allows you to organize your files into projects and give clients or co-workers access to their projects. It starts at $24 a month for 15 projects and 5GB of file storage. You can try it for a month free, and test-drive it over the holidays.
VNC used to be the way to go for those who wanted to dial into their work computer from home, and it still is for many in the corporate world. However, power outages and the possibility that someone at headquarters may try to economize by turning your computer off over vacation, making VNC unavailable, make online storage services a safe fallback option.
3. Get Internet on the road or in the air
If you'll be driving or taking a plane this year, try getting work done during traveling time. Beg for "shotgun" in the passenger seat to maximize your in-car workspace, and make sure your smartphone data plan is topped up so you can use it as an on-the-road Internet hotspot.
Keep in mind that some mobile providers need to switch on your hotspot service, so if you haven't used this feature on your phone yet, give them a call first. Android users can set up a hotspot by going into "Settings" and then "Wireless and Network", where you'll have the option to turn on a hotspot. iPhone users need to follow the instructions on this page.
If you are taking a plane, save on in-flight Wi-Fi and airport Wi-Fi by following some of the tips in this article. Learn what's available in PCWorld's extensive research about the top 20 airports for tech-savvy travelers. Skype is also offering free Wi-Fi in over 50 U.S. airports.
[Related: How to stay connected in unconnected places]
Even though wireless access and cloud services enable us to work 24/7 from any location, remember that the holidays should be about spending time with the people you love, not about work. Even if you end up working down to the wire the night before you go back to work, it's worth it to get time with family and friends. Use tech to get yourself to the finish line faster; don't let it imprison you with invisible ties to your office.
Angela West dreams of opening a Fallout-themed pub featuring wait staff with Pip-Boys. She's written for big insurance companies, small wildlife control businesses, gourmet food chains, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @angelawest and Facebook.
This story, "Practical tips for working over the holidays" was originally published by PCWorld.