Beat Summer Slowdown: How To Work With Kids At Home

clocks on a wall
(David Bedard/DVIDS)

I scoff in the face of office workers who whimper over their little 20% drop in productivity during the summer months.

As many military spouses who work from home do, I actually prefer to do my conference calls while juggling demands for pink Gogurts. I love snapping out of a complicated edit wondering why everything is suddenly so quiet in the kitchen. I rejoice in my children’s ability to fight with each other three times per hour.

OK, that’s a lie. Military spouses report that working at home while school kids are present for the summer is not always the awesome compromise it is supposed to be.

Instead, it is a lot like being a pork chop pulled apart by a couple of grizzly bears and a really mad hen.

Over the years, I’ve collected some tips from experts and other milspouse workers that can help you get work done while kids are home for summer. What do you do? (Please let me know. I'm desperate!)

Track your time.

One of our favorite experts, Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours, advises folks that the best way to get a handle on your time is a do-it-yourself time study.

Just like you write down everything you eat when you are trying to lose weight, you write down what you are actually doing with every hour of your day for a week.

Tracking how your summer hours are being spent will help you capture more of them. Since kids grow and change every year, you might find that your best work hours of the day this year are not the same as your best work hours last year. Figure that out.

Kids up late. Mom up early.

In the summertime, my kids go to bed later than they do during the school year and they get up later, too. In fact, the older they get, the later they wake.

Me, I get up at the same time every day -- with my sailor. While he is still commuting, I’m already working in my jammies. These early hours are reliably the quietest, most focused, most productive hours of the day. Don’t waste them.

If you are a night owl, get working after dinner when kids are doing quieter activities and stay up late for the best hours of the night. Then get up late when your kids do.

If your kids wake up at an unholy hour no matter what you do…well, you have my pity, my sympathy and my prayers.

Change your workspace.

During the school year, you might work in your office, your kitchen, your favorite Starbucks. When kids are home, sometimes that place is what just doesn’t work.

As long as your children are appropriately supervised, you could take advantage of the weather and work somewhere else —your front porch, the table on your deck, your picnic table, your garage. Wifi has a remarkable reach.

On Task or Off Task?

When it comes to working you only have two kinds of time. You are either on task or off task. During the school year, that division doesn’t have to be supervised closely. But during summer, deliverables need to be delivered on time in less time.

You need to stay relentlessly on task for shorter periods of time so that you are free to enjoy your kids later in the day.

When I find that I am off task, I move my computer to a surface where I have to stand—the kitchen counter, a sideboard, a standing desk. It’s much harder to scan Facebook for books you read when you have to stand up to do it.

Zone your day.

One of my old neighbors had a rule during the summer: Mornings are for work. Afternoons are for play. Evenings are for practice. She had lists of chores that her kids had to finish in the morning before they could play. Then the family had outings in the afternoon and practiced musical instruments, sports or reading in the evening.

I try to adopt that practice, too. It helps me schedule work events in the mornings as much as possible and kid events in the afternoons. Sometimes I’m taking part in a conference call in the afternoon or fielding a question from a client when I’m driving to the commissary, but the zones really help.

BONUS: My favorite summer zoning practice was the guy who divided his teens day into two zones: with wifi and without wifi. He changed the family’s wifi password every day. His teens couldn’t get the password if they hadn’t done their chores that day. I bow to his awesomeness.

Pay for childcare.

Teen babysitters. College students. Daycare providers. Summer camps. Even if you don’t need any childcare during the school year, there ain’t no shame in buying a few hours to work. Grandparents can also be a godsend. Think of bribes as little payments you offer your children to babysit themselves.

Maximize rainy days.

One of the real reasons I made my life as a contractor is because when it is perfect beach weather, I want to take my kids to the beach. I want to pack ‘em up and just go.

So that means that rainy days are days I try to work ahead.

Conspire with your clients and coworkers.

If you are changing the way you zone your day during the summer, your clients and your coworkers can be surprisingly understanding—especially if they are juggling their summer responsibilities too.

Some milspouses have a formal talk with their coworkers and bosses. Others go so far as to put an out-of-office notification on their email.

I’m in the group that lets everyone know they can reach me by text or phone if there is something I need to do right away.

I figure, yes, I’m on a tether created by technology (!!) but my tether reaches so far that I can do everything I want to do with my kids and my sailor during the summer and I can do the job I love, too. I call that riches.

Relax your standards. It’s summer.

Finally, realize that those people who work in offices may have the right idea. To everything, there is a season. There is a season to work a little less and play a little more. A season where dinner can be a hotdog. A season where picked up is just as good as cleaned up.

A little summer slowdown is a good thing. Catch some of it for yourself.

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