How to get work done in the school holidays

The school holidays are upon us. And whilst children everywhere are full of joy, there are parents wondering how on earth they’re going to survive the next 6 weeks or more.

On the one hand there’s no rushing from place to place. It is a chance to spend time together doing lovely things. And of course there are no pressures of homework (sorry any parents whose children are taking the 11+ in September).

But the school holidays present a challenge when you work for yourself (possibly more of a challenge if you work for someone else!).  At least if you want to do anything in your business over the holidays. There are some people who choose to “shut up shop” for the holidays. But there are many others who attempt to keep going in some form.

How on earth are you going to get any work done without the 9 – 3 “childcare” we rely upon during term time???

First of all it is helpful to adjust your expectations. Unless you have full time childcare, you need to accept that the working week is going to look a bit different. Even with teenagers that are more independent. It might be “snatches” of time, rather than bigger blocks.

Planning your time and your workflow helps. When I plan my week (as explained in the blog post How I Plan My Week), I look at my weekly to do list slightly differently during the school holidays. I look at:

  • what “needs” to get done,
  • what I’d like to get done and
  • what can get done if I have the time (which of course I never do!).

I try to separate out my list into “deep work” which needs time and quiet (not words that can usually be used to describe the holidays) and shorter tasks that can be done when I have those snatches of time. It helps not to have to think about what you’re going to do when you do have time. You can just go to a list.

Personally I try to organise it so I have less client work during school holidays. I don’t take on new website builds in July or August, or December. But I appreciate not everyone has the luxury to be able to do that. And I also frantically try to get as up to date as possible before the children break up, so I don’t feel under as much pressure when the holidays begin.

school holidays working with children

But what are the practical things you can do?

1. Make the most of first thing in the morning

Unless your children are young and up at the crack of dawn (we’ve all been there) I’ve found that grabbing an hour or so in the morning – perhaps before the children get up – to be one of the best times of the day to get some work done.  Of course once they get older the time they get up gets later and later giving you a bit longer…

I make this my “Golden Hour”, with a cup of tea (or coffee) and a chance to get a head start on the day. It’s a great time to make progress on those bigger tasks or any which require a bit more thought.

When they were younger, I also found my children were much better at amusing themselves in the morning before they got dressed (and bored!). That sometimes gave me a bit more time to respond to emails or do smaller tasks.

2. Swap with a Friend

The idea here is you have a friend’s children for a morning or day and they return the favour another time.  

Funnily enough, I found double the children to be only half the work. My kids are entertained (albeit potentially up to mischief) and I am happy they are socialising. Of course lunch may be a bit more work with more/someone else’s children. And if you have more than one child make sure they each have a playmate or the one that doesn’t will spend most of the time upset, upsetting their sibling and friend or wanting you. I learnt that one the hard way!

The day when you have other children is not the day to plan to get a lot done. Nor is it the day to try and record anything. Why are 4 children more than double the noise of 2? But it is a great opportunity to tick off easier tasks.

And then you get a day or half a day without any children. You ca really get stuck into something, either client work or something that you can’t do with children around. Of course it is also a good chance to relax and catch your breath. So don’t try and pack too much in!

3. Use relatives!  

Those lucky enough to have parents/siblings/siblings-in-law/friends who want to spend some time with your offspring, encourage them to take them out for the day (or have them overnight?).  My children loved spending time with grandparents and it is even better without parents around to restrict their sugar intake…

Don’t feel guilty about asking. Many people who are not self employed just assume we can take the whole of the summer off (like they might assume we can take phone calls, coffee breaks when they want to pop in, lunches and deliveries because we’re “at home”). And just because your Mother-in-Law managed 4 children under the age of 5 with no help doesn’t mean you need to do the same!

Seriously though this is a win-win (ignoring the sugar consumption and other rules they’re allowed to break). Time with special adults in their lives without you allows stronger bonds to built because they get their attention. Just don’t ask about the rules that have been broken then you can’t stress about them!

4. Soft Play

Soft play, climbing, trampoline parks – anywhere they can “do” themselves which has a cafe, ideally with wifi (although not always the most reliable) is another option for the school holidays.

Of course these are noisy places, you do have to keep at least half an eye on your children (depending upon their age and who else is around) and every 5 minutes they want you to watch them do some amazing move. So they’re not places for “deep work” which requires focus. Maybe use that time to plan marketing content or catch up on emails.

school holidays play

5. Summer Camps

My children have had a great time at football, tennis and other sports camps during the school holidays.  I get that some children love them, others are less keen. Choosing clubs that tie in with their interests helps, as does going with a friend.  

Use that time to get things done.

Full day, or at least 10 – 3, camps are obviously better for work purposes. As are camps which are close to home. I remember signing my children up for 2 hour camps which were about 20 to 30 mins away (because these were the activities they wanted to do). This never gave me much time to fit work in. Finding a local coffee shop to do some work did help. Better still would be lift sharing with someone else – good for the planet too!

6. Get them to help you

Make your children help.  Can they help you with work?  Or can they “save” you some time helping with chores?  Making beds, collecting and putting away laundry, emptying and reloading the dishwasher all need doing during the holidays and are chores which children can either do on their own or help with. Time you don’t have to spend on those chores is time you can use to work.

Yes it can take more time and they don’t do it the way you want it doing, but sometimes you’ve just got to remember that there has been a benefit to you. And they will get better (or actually, maybe not!)

7. When they’re in bed

For those with younger children who go to bed (and stay there!) at a reasonable time, the evenings are a godsend for catching up with work, perhaps with a glass or two of wine in hand (just don’t hit send on that controversial email until the morning!).

8. TV/Electronics

My children’s favourite (and my least favourite) was always the TV, iPad or XBox. But an hour or two in the late afternoon can be a life (or work) saver if you have been busy during the day and have calls to make or things you need to get finished.  And it is a good reward if they have helped with time saving jobs around the house too…

school holidays screen time

9. The Other Parent

For those children who have two parents.  Those who work from home tend to take the burden of childcare during the school holidays. And that may be one reason you chose to work for yourself. But perhaps the other parent can help out.

  • Maybe they could take some time off and take the children out for a day or half day?
  • Perhaps they could work from home and spend some time with them to give you a break?
  • Or maybe they could take on more of the chores to free up some of your time?
  • They could even take the children out on weekends to give you some time to catch up.

Conclusion

I’ve shared a number of different ideas for finding more time during the week to work, from when they’re in bed (morning or evening), swapping with a friend, relying upon relatives, their other parent and yes electronics.

But it is also important to recognise that it is difficult to “do it all” over the school holidays, especially if your children are younger. And your working week is going to look a bit different. So you may need to grit your teeth when someone else stacks the dishwasher differently to you (I struggle with this – I’ve been known to restack it) or your children have told you they stayed up extra late and ate doughnuts in the bath at Aunty Sarah’s. Remember the benefit to you!

Finally, enjoy the chance to spend some time together.  If you have been productive in the morning, take the afternoon off for arts and crafts, a game of monopoly or a bike ride.  They won’t enjoy your company forever (that’s the voice of a mum of teens). And it is only six weeks (not that I’m counting)…

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