The school summer holidays are upon many of us already and for some the time is imminent!
The excitement in school in the last few weeks and days has been mounting with children bouncing around with a mixture of glee and pure exhaustion (and perhaps a few too many sweets?!). But with it all comes a bundle of mixed emotions for working parents. The excitement of the holidays is contagious and if you have a break booked, that’s even more the case, but if you are trying to juggle work with the children off school the long stretch can mean a herculean effort to organise the logistics of work and childcare and with it a sense of anxiety or worry.
And what about the many parents who are trying to run a business from home while the children are off?
Although I work from our office a couple of days a week, I work from home the rest of the time and even more so during the school holidays. I’ve tried various methods over the years so I thought I’d share 5 things that I’ve tried that help keep me connected to work whilst having some family time over the summer too:
- Get organised – plan as much as you can in advance so you can clearly see when you are at work and when you are not over the holiday period. We have a wall planner in the kitchen so my 7 year old can see all of his exciting summer adventures plus various shared online calendars for work and family time. Getting your working time planned is particularly important if you might have meetings, networking events and face to face commitments to attend. It is also helpful if you work with a team or associates. Make it clear when you are working so you can schedule calls and meetings in those times. If your colleagues know your schedule you are less likely to be disturbed during your planned family time. Let your family know too so they understand when you are working and can’t be disturbed but they also know when they will next get time with you. Also planning the work that needs to happen over the summer is important – the ‘must do’s’ first, and then the ‘nice to do’s’ for later.
- Clearly define your work time and your family time – if you feel comfortable working while the children are around then assign a room or a corner or workspace in your home for work. This option is usually a last resort for me! It works best if you can be clear with your child or children how long you will be working for and when you can be disturbed. Maybe a sign on the door or wear a silly hat when you don’t want to be disturbed – although be prepared for giggling in the background if you embrace the silly hat idea too enthusiastically!
- Keep your children occupied while you work – perhaps a movie or some iPad or XBox time to give you a couple of hours. This can be a good way to save on childcare costs but it isn’t for everyone, and may depend on the age of the child / children. Sometimes it’s easier to occupy your child or children if you arrange for a friend to come round – maybe consider setting them a challenge to work on for an hour or so – as long as you consider the children’s ages / safety etc. Perhaps a Lego challenge to build a spaceship or a new world, or write a story or make a film. Or for my son and his best friend – time in each other’s ‘Minecraft’ worlds is the favourite right now. I like to stay close by with this option though so will choose a less challenging work task for myself. A few quick emails or sorting out some paperwork might be about all you can expect to achieve and will certainly cut down on any frustration when the inevitable interruptions happen!
- Get creative with your childcare – if working at home while your children are around just isn’t an option then you might need to look at childcare. Maybe a full week of something they love could give you a good stretch of work time; football clubs, dance clubs, theatre clubs – depending on where you live you’ll find a different range of options. But perhaps you only need a couple of hours here and there – you’ll be amazed how much you can achieve in a short time if you get focused and remove the distractions! Perhaps you could do some childcare swaps with friends, ask the grandparents or other relatives, maybe see if your partner can get home earlier so you can work for a few hours in the early evening undisturbed…this is a new one I’m trying this summer and I plan to take my laptop to a local café or hotel for the quiet time I’ll need (plus some tea and cake…don’t judge!). Or could you set your alarm earlier and do an hour or so while the children have a lazy morning?
- Take some holiday yourself – a couple of days a week or a bigger break when you can take over the childcare and have some fun family time. Some of my friends with their own businesses take the whole of August off. It’s generally quiet and they find if they let their clients know in advance it doesn’t cause any problems. I like to stay involved with the business over the summer and continue to progress projects – but that doesn’t mean I won’t be taking some time out with my family – a caravan in Wales is awaiting us very soon! Remember if you run your own business you need time away from it – it’s so important to refocus, plan, get inspired and motivated so you can recharge yourself ready to get going when you return. I’ll be taking a book or two on my holiday for some inspiration “Flow: The Psychology of Happiness” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is currently at the top of my pile and I might even manage a few TED Talks if the internet connection will let me…
With all of these options it’s important to be clear about what work you need to achieve over the summer – what absolutely has to happen – and plan out what you will get done in the blocks of time you have available. And be realistic, set your expectations a little lower if necessary. Do this planning in advance to ensure you maximise the time you do have available for work…then you can really enjoy the family time when you’re not…
Have a great summer and let me know how you get on!
Emma Shute & Jenny Pollock are the founders of Women to Work.
They support female business owners through their Develop Your Business Workshop and One to One Coaching.