Work-life balance is a tricky concept, and never more so than during the school holidays.
For parents who work from home – whether as their standard venture or as a flexible arrangement negotiated for the school holidays – school holidays present some interesting challenges.
“We think the idea of it sounds wonderful, like we can be at home with the kids and get through a huge amount of work at the same time,” says psychologist Marny Lishman. “We think we’re great multi-taskers – but we’re not. If you think you can work really well, parent really well and run a household all at the same time, you’re kidding yourself.”
Trying to do everything only results in not doing things very well. Oh, and a lot of frustration. “You spread yourself too thin and a lot of stuff isn’t getting done well. Then you’re not only not getting your work done but you’re not enjoying family life either,” Lishman says.
“We think we’re great multi-taskers – but we’re not. If you think you can work really well, parent really well and run a household all at the same time, you’re kidding yourself.”
Working from home can be done – and done well – during the school holidays, but plenty of planning needs to happen first.
According to Lishman, the feeling of losing control of everything happens when we aren’t proactive or organised enough. “You end up being reactive to everything, and a lot of things don’t get finished and you feel like you’re working a lot,” she says.
“You can be more productive working from home if you do it properly, but you have to be really strict about it. The first step is making sure you take the reigns – you need to be proactive about sticking to the reasons you’re doing it in the first place.”
Be clear on your reasons
We each choose to work from home for a different reason, but for many of us it’s about flexibility and productivity.
“There’s a reason you wanted to work from home, and it’s not so you could be frazzled and not get anything done,” Lishman suggests. “Work-life balance is about being able to balance everything so you can be constructive and productive at work, and also enjoy the holidays.”
Figure out what will work for you and your family
The challenges of the school holidays will vary depending on the ages of your children.
“If you have younger children you can look at options for childcare or vacation care, just as you would if you were working from an office (outside the home),” says Suzanne Williams, career coach from Grace & Grind. “When you have older children who are quite independent and don’t require so much supervision, it can work really well to be home together. You can get some work done but still spend some time with your kids at lunch breaks.”
Working from home isn’t childcare
If your children need a lot of your attention, then you can rule yourself out as the carer if you’re trying to work from home. “Working from home should never be used as a substitute for childcare,” says Williams. “When someone is working from home the mentality should be that this is still the workplace, and be committed to the work during that time.”
Divide your time
If you can’t combine kids and work, then you’ll need to figure out how you’ll split yourself between the two. The main objective is to be focused on work when you’re working, and present with the kids when you’re parenting.
Lishman advises, “Look at your work week and see how many hours you need to dedicate to work, and then think about how those hours can slot into your week at home.”
She adds, “If you’re proactive and strict with your time, you can end up having a really nice balance.”