The school holidays are coming up - which is bad news for freelancers and home business owners who also happen to be parents. Just how on Earth are you expected to feed, entertain and supervise your kids while tackling a busy work day? We asked a few home business owners with rugrats to share their survival tips.
If you're one of the approximately one million Australians running a business from home, you're painfully aware of how tough it can be. This goes doubly for mums and dads during school holidays. Somehow, you're expected to keep tabs on all aspects of your business while simultaneously being a full-time parent. It's a recipe for the onset of early dementia.
But don't despair. The following advice will help to keep your working day sane:
Katie Russo, DarkMade
According to Katie Russo, the founder of marketing consultancy firm DarkMade, the trick is to work flexible hours which transforms school holidays into an advantage instead of another distraction.
"I have two boys aged seven and eight, so it's important for me to be there for them when school breaks," Katie explained. "It goes without saying that I need to plan during the term for my work to wind down a bit during this period, but I still need to stay connected and work to client deadlines, so I make the holidays work for me as much as possible."
By planning intelligently, Katie has managed to make school holidays a boon to her productivity rather than a time sink — the family schedule can be dictated by her, with no lunches to prepare or school pickups to rush to. Even then, putting in some nocturnal hours is usually necessary to stay on top of everything; although this is easier said than done.
"By the time the kids have gone to bed, I'm usually so exhausted from all the "relaxing family time" that I can barely put finger to keyboard," Katie admitted. "I'm getting better though. I’ve come up with a few tricks to get the most out of my work day whilst still spending quality time with the rampaging hordes."
Here are Katie's tips that help her to stay on top of her consultancy business:
- "I try to keep client meetings to a minimum during the school holidays, but I do lock away a few mornings without kids (usually in a morning sports program) in case I need a window of time to meet customers."
"To stop the 'I'm bored' nagging, I set up a basic routine so they know what’s coming up. For us, mealtimes are markers for our day: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner. “You can play Lego until morning tea” or "After lunch, we’ll go to visit grandma."
"They know that free time is not endless and it forces them (most of the time) to use it well. That also gives me some organised time to get some work done when we’re not doing things together."
"As most of the tools I use are in the cloud, I can be anywhere with an internet connection and still get work done. Evernote is a saviour for me during the school holidays for tracking ideas, writing blogs, setting up reminders and filing reading I need to do. I can access it from my phone or laptop so I can be connected if necessary, even if I’m with the kids at the park.
"I use Asana task management software to keep track of projects — most of the time, it helps me to relax and enjoy the kids as I can see in an instant that I am up to date and can afford some time off."
Natalie Chapman, Gemaker
Natalie Chapman is a working mum who runs ICT commercialisation provider Gemaker from the family home. Like many home business owners, Natalie has dedicated an entire room to her business, in this case the garage. While this provides a level of insulation, school holidays are still challenging, with early planning crucial. Instead of relying on the TV, Natalie usually turns to the web for more educational babysitters.
"Approximately four weeks before the school holidays, I download as many school holiday programs and events as I can, including art, circus skills, coding for girls, robotics, video editing, science workshops, cooking classes, sports clinics, drama days, movies, festivals and dance workshops," Natalie explains.
Trusted parents of friends can also be a big help when you need a block of time to get things done. Again, planning ahead and working out a schedule is key:
"I contact my daughter's friends' parents to find out their availability for play dates and interest in holiday activities. I sit down with my girls to go through their options and start arranging planned activities and "chill time" around the house. I then plan my meetings and work around the girls' planned outings so I can drive them to and back and plan some time with them as well."
Naturally, grandparents, aunties and friends can also be called on to share the babysitting load; particularly when you need to work odd hours, such as an interstate client meeting. If you work typical 9-to-5 hours, Natalie suggests flipping your kids'holiday activities from daytime to nighttime:
"During the last Christmas break, I spent five days staying in the city with my youngest daughter. She did a five-day drama class in the evenings and we had great mum/daughter time together. So I worked during the day and we went out each afternoon and evening in the city."
According to Optus' head of SMB department Reid Meldrum, a flexible data plan can prove extremely handy when juggling work and school holidays. This will allow you to sign contracts, pay bills and coordinate work schedules on the road without chewing up too much data. Finding a trusted partner that will fix technology issues quickly can also help keep stress levels down.
So in summary:
- Plan extensively before the holidays kick around.
- Try to plan outings that don't conflict with your work schedule — most kids love going out at night, for instance.
- Arrange play dates with trusted friends and family members. A few hours of alone time can be great for productivity.
- Have educational tasks on hand to keep your kids entertained when you're extremely busy.
- Try to relax! Reducing your day-to-day output for a week won't tank your business. Similarly, refusing to go out every single day of the holidays doesn't make you a bad parent. It's all about striking the right balance.
Got any working-while-parenting tips of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments section below!