Under the best of circumstances, working parents often struggle to manage the pull of work and family. Perhaps that’s why, according to a 2018 Pew Research survey, 74 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 say they’re sometimes too busy to enjoy life.
Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, working parents can do several things to make the most out of those precious 24 hours, even if they’re adding homeschooling and childcare to their already full plates.
Consider these six tips for building habits that will help you find the best blend of work and family time.
1. Create work-free and work-focused time slots
Separating your time into work hours and parenting hours may be difficult—they’re both incredibly important aspects of your life. Still, the more you can carve out specific hours that are solely focused on one task, the better you’ll be able to concentrate and feel present.
How to do it: Depending on the demands of your job, this might mean waking up early to check in on the status of your work projects, then putting the phone and computer away in the morning during breakfast with your family (or at least turn off notifications).
During the day, work with your partner (if that’s an option) to develop an even distribution of childcare responsibilities.
You might also consider talking to your boss about the boundaries you need to do your job and take care of your kids. Perhaps setting up family time blocks on your calendar, where co-workers know you’re unavailable, can help you better manage your time.
Also, if devoting the entire weekend to your family isn’t an option, consider planning your day out in the morning so that you’re able to get any work done in a way that won’t distract too much from the time you spend with your family. That might involve double-checking a presentation while your one-year-old naps or editing a brief in the car while your partner drives.
The more you can maintain a steady routine, the more your kids—and everyone else—will come to expect when you will and won’t be available.
2. Choose your activities wisely
When you’re spending time with your family, you want to make it count. That means being fully engaged and in-the-moment, which isn’t easy to do if your mind is preoccupied or you’re feeling stressed.
How to do it: Parents tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to keep the calendar full of activities for kids. But remember that simple things like reading, coloring, or doing puzzles together can create lasting memories.
If you can find some way to include spending time outdoors with your family as well, that’s even better. One study found that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature can promote good health and well-being.
3. Be strategic about splitting home responsibilities
It's not always possible to divvy up the parenting and household workload equally. Research has shown that American women shoulder the larger burden when it comes to both household activities (20% of men did housework like cleaning or laundry, compared to 49% of women) and childcare (where women spend an average 1.1 hours of physical care on their kids in an average day, compared to 26 minutes for men). Splitting household responsibilities with your partner or children can help alleviate your stress.
How to do it: For those in two-parent households, think about what each person is struggling with and how the other can lend a hand or take over that task. Then, draft up a chore chart or shared calendar with designated tasks. Even the simple act of switching off meal prep can help free up some time.
For single parents, think about how you can involve your kids in age-appropriate tasks around the house. Children as young as three can help clean up a room they’ve been playing in, while older kids can help set the table, feed pets or, depending on their level of maturity, even help with meal prep and cooking.
4. Involve your kids in the planning
Depending on the age of your children, talking to them about your career and the fact that you need to organize work time and family time can help them better understand the situation.
How to do it: Consider involving your kids in the planning. Ask them what activities they want you to be involved in each day. They’ll be more likely to cherish those moments if they helped to choose them.
If there’s a way to involve your kid in your work, that might also help them grasp why you need time away. Show them a presentation or spreadsheet you've been working on. Have them sit in on one of your meetings. It might spark a conversation about their career goals.
5. Prioritize sleep
Most working parents feel there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, and sleep might end up being one of the easiest places to cut corners. But not getting enough sleep can lead to some real problems—both physical and emotional—so cutting into your sleep time should only be a last-ditch option.
How to do it: If you can train yourself to go to bed early and wake up early, you’ll be ahead of the game. Still, making the most out of your morning only works if you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Avoid screens, caffeine, and alcohol late at night, and find ways to help you wind down. The National Sleep Foundation recommends reading a (paper) book, writing in a journal, or chatting with a friend or your partner to help you fall asleep.
Find more sleep tips to improve your work week here.
6. Become a list-keeper
Studies have shown that people perform better when they write down what they need to do. Parents have so much going on in each day—taking a moment to write down essential things helps keep tasks from falling through the cracks.
How to do it: Even if you’ve never been an effective list-keeper, there are plenty of ways to become one. Start with picking the right method. Some people prefer writing things out on a piece of paper, while others find a digital app that saves to the cloud makes it easier to keep track of their list. Digital lists might also allow you the option of sharing and assigning tasks to other people.
Try adding items to your list as soon as you think of them and keep your lists specific. You want to include simple tasks that you can cross off for easy wins (“block off calendar for work meetings this week”), as well as longer-term goals, such as helping a child through difficulties with schoolwork or home improvement projects.
Figuring out which strategies suit you and your family might take some practice. But there is a way to blend work and family, so you feel like you’re equally engaged. Start with some of the tactics listed above, and experiment with your own ideas to see what works best.