Summers are meant to be a time to slow down and relax. If you’re a parent, though, summer can be a master challenge in time management. Juggling childcare, summer camps, sports, and family vacation can add up to a lot of stress, and slowing down and relaxing sounds like a daydream.
“The more proactive you are about planning, the better able you will be to fit in all the work and fun activities this summer,” says Sara Perry, assistant professor of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. “Set realistic, specific, measurable goals for yourself and what work you want to accomplish.”
Finding the right balance will look different to each person and family, says Deb LaMere, vice president of employee engagement at the talent management software company Ceridian. “It changes as children grow and as the demands and opportunities at work evolve,” she says. “Finding a comfortable balance is something you may find yourself working on and fine-tuning for the rest of your life.”
You can make the most of this season without slacking off at work by creating some rules for you and your family:
Do what has to be done and eliminate or postpone the rest, says productivity consultant Suzy Wilkoff. For example, if you’re continuing your education, you may want to take the summer off, or put your weekly date night with your partner on hold in favor of more family time.
“Save the items that are not as important until the kids are back in school and you have less ‘overseeing’ and parenting responsibilities,” she says.
When the kids are in school, your days naturally have more structure; during the summer it’s up to you to set boundaries, says Samantha Ettus, author of The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction. “Picture yourself putting police tape around your time,” she says. “Decide what hours you need to do your work effectively and protect them.”
This applies to work and family time. If you are working, then focus on work, and if you are spending time your family, let work wait, says child behavior expert Richard Daniel Curtis of the United Kingdom. “Leave the stresses of work behind you, it can be hard to do, but if you spend your time stressing about work while you are with your children then you are not giving them the quality time they deserve,” he says.
If your job allows, redesign your day to maximize work and family time. LaMere suggests looking into options such as flexible work hours, alternative schedules, reduced work hours, and working from home.
“These types of arrangements can allow you the time you need to be there for when an activity has ended or to attend an event,” she says. “Most employers today support work-life integration throughout the year and encourage it among their employees. As long as you show your commitment to important work objectives and deliver on your part in meeting them, your request for flexibility may be a non-issue.”
Once you develop your summer working schedule, post it so everyone is on board. “It will be easier for your kids to handle, ‘Not now, I’m working,’ when they know that they will have time with you in the future,” says Ettus. Tell them when the next chunk of time you will have together will be as in “I am working for the next three hours but can’t wait to have dinner with you.”
If you’re spending time with your children, don’t look at your phone. “When you shut off the tech for two hours a day you can really be present with your kids,” says Ettus. “This makes it easier to justify the hard work you are putting in during the day.”
When it comes to home tasks, enlist the help of your children, especially if they’re staying at home while you’re at work. Teenagers who drive can run errands and do the grocery shopping, so you have more time at home to spend as a family. And younger children can help with things like meal prep.
“Develop checklists so tasks do not fall through the cracks,” says Wilkoff “From the checklists, specific to-do lists can be created for each day.”
Other parents are also a great source of help. “You are likely not the only parent in your community in this situation,” says LaMere. “Seek out your children’s friend’s parents and see if you can work on an arrangement to help each other out throughout the summer.”
The one thing no parent has time for this summer is feeling guilty, says Curtis: “The more time you spend being guilty, the less spare head space you have for enjoying the time you are spending with your family,” he says. While it’s easy to feel anxiety or guilt about your child going to camp or being with others, if you’ve planned time to spend with them, too, you don’t need to be guilty.”
A chance to rest and unwind is good for family and business life, he says. “Focusing your mind on something else helps the brain do the processing in the background,” he says. “So many business people I know return from a break full of energy and with new ideas. A rested field is often the most fruitful.”
Nothing bonds a family like rituals and they are a “high gain” use of limited time, says Ettus. “Summer Thursdays can be trips to the ice cream shop and Tuesdays can be picnics in your own backyard,” she says. “These are the rituals that your kids will remember.”
Curtis calls this planning memory activities: “You remember things you did during your childhood, right?” he asks. “The people you grew up with forged memories in your head that you can still remember now. So give those memories to your children too. One day of gold is worth far more than three days of broken promises.”