For business owners who work from home, trying to get a full work day in while the kids are out of school can be difficult and unproductive. No matter how old your children are, trying to juggle business and family is a struggle without the structure of the school year.
We talked to eight business owners to get their best tips on how to balance work and family when school is out for the summer.
Adjust your schedule
One of the benefits of running your own business is not needing to stick to a traditional nine-to-five schedule. In the summer when the kids are home, embracing this flexibility can be the best way to get work done.
"Work during non-business hours at night or early in the morning," recommended Ramon Kahn, the online marketing director for National Air Warehouse, whose kids are 9 and 12 years old. "You can get a lot of work done during those times before your kids wake up or while they are asleep."
You can also break your work day into irregular blocks of time when you know your children will be busy, rather than working for a straight eight hours. "Plan ahead for the time slots when kids are busy and you know you'll be able to work without distractions, whether it's six hours at camp, one hour of screen time or a two-hour playdate," said Sharon Woodhouse, the owner of Everything Goes Media and parent of an 8-year-old.
"Know what you need to get done and what you can get done in that time … then discipline yourself to do it."
Set clear expectations
If your kids know what to expect, they are much more likely to let you get work done, said Nicole Johnson, the president and founder of The Baby Sleep Site. Johnson, whose boys are 10 and 12 years old, has worked at home for the past 15 years, including seven summers without school.
"Set their expectations [that] you can't play all day and have a schedule set up from the beginning," she recommended. "We have breakfast and lunch together, but I let them know which hours I'll be working and which hours they'll need to fend for themselves."
From the beginning of the summer, talk to your kids about what their day will look like and when you need to work. Make it clear when you cannot be interrupted, either verbally, by being in your workspace, or by setting up a sign that displays the time you'll be free to play once more.
Susan Miller, the founder of Garton-Miller Media, has spent five summers working at home with her kids, now teenagers, around. She agreed that clear expectations are key to keeping everyone happy during the day. "Lay down the rules to explain that even though mom [or] dad is home, they are working … unless it's an emergency [like] someone is bleeding from the head, you are not to be disturbed except at certain times of the day."
And remember to set clear expectations with your clients or co-workers as well as with your family. If your availability for phone calls or responding to emails changes during the summer, communicate that to everyone you work with to avoid frustration and confusion.
One of the expectations that you set can be that children will entertain themselves for part of the day. This can involve playtime, reading, screen time or school work.
Kerry Wekelo, an author and consultant, suggests giving kids a list of tasks to accomplish each day. "For example, enrichment such as a math or reading assignment, daily chores... ideas for special projects and extra chores to earn some cash," said Wekelo, who has a 10- and 12-year-old. "They can do [their tasks] at any time, and the rest is free time to do as they wish."
With older children, you can set higher expectations, asking them to get summer jobs or watch younger siblings. "My oldest has enrolled in two online classes … and has a part-time job for the summer," said Miller. "She also does volunteer work that can be done at home."
How kids entertain themselves, and for how long, will vary by age. But kids of any age can usually learn to play on their own for some amount of time, which will allow you to get key tasks done even when they are awake.
Not all kids can self-entertain the whole day, and not all parents can work with their kids in the house, even if they are playing on their own. If that happens, consider planning daily or weekly activities that give you dedicated alone time.
"Day camps are my go-to during the summer months," said Rae Dolan, the co-owner of real estate investment company AMI House Buyers. Dolan and her husband both run businesses from home. Though their two older children are now teenagers and can entertain themselves during the summer months, Dolan says summer camps are the answer for her six-year-old. "We schedule our work week around the hours of whatever camp he'll be attending that week."
Many school systems offer day camps during the summer, as do community organizations like the YMCA. Regular playdates at friends' houses or time with nearby family can also give you space to work.
The key, advised Dolan, is to find something that your kid will enjoy that also gives you the time you need. "[Our son] gets to have fun, hang out with other kids and be stimulated all day, and we manage to be still able to work during the day despite school being out."
Get your kids involved
If your kids can't stay away from you when you are working, no matter how many activities you plan or boundaries you set, take advantage of their enthusiasm by putting them to work.
"Kids love to be useful, and they love to feel that they are contributing," said writer Aline Adams. Her kids are 11 and 14, but both of them have been helping her since they were about 8 years old.
Younger children might be limited to tasks like filing or labeling, but older children may have tech skills that you lack yourself. "My daughter has shot and edited videos for me, while my younger son built my website and most of the tools on it. These are things that I actually need done," said Adams. "They are better at them than I am, and it gives them a feeling of satisfaction."
Bring in help
Sometimes you will be able to juggle both watching your children and running your business. But other times, because of the stage either your kids or your business are in, you will need help. When that happens, don't be afraid to bring in an extra set of hands.
"When all three kids were younger and our youngest wasn't yet in school, we had a full-time, in-home nanny who worked Monday through Friday," said Dolan. "It wasn't the cheapest option for childcare, but it allowed us to still achieve a full workday, despite having three younger kids running around the house all day during the summer months."
Whether you have a non-working partner, an occasional babysitter, a friend who can watch your kids or a regular nanny depends on your own situation. Even if you only have childcare for a few hours a day, it can make a big difference for your business. "We viewed [a nanny] as an investment in our companies," said Dolan. "That investment paid healthy dividends."
Leave time for play
Finally, when your kids are out of school, there is more time to spend together. When you're planning your work time, schedule in some family time too.
"Reserve some fun time with your kids during the summer," advised Chuck Casto, the owner of Casto Marketing Communications. "Time with them every day ... helps you to make the most of your time working and your time being a great dad or mom."
Depending on your children's ages, you can take a break every few hours to play, exercise or eat a meal together. Or, you may alternate work days with fun days when you visit local attractions or head to the pool together.
Either way, setting aside family time can motivate you to work more efficiently as well as giving your children something to look forward to while you are busy, "You will be working for most of your life, but your kids will only be home for their childhood," said Casto.