Help! I don’t have enough time to work!

photo-114A lot of people think they work too many hours. Others have a different problem: they have plenty of work to do, but not enough hours available to do it in.

That’s the problem facing one reader who wrote to me recently. She’s a self-employed single mother of a 10-year-old. He gets home at 3:30 p.m. from school. Some days he has sports, or therapy appointments for specific needs he has. This mother didn’t think she could afford after-school care, but a 9-3:30 schedule was “too short a day for me to work.” With some scaled up demands from her biggest client, she was wondering how she was going to make this all work — without losing a big chunk of her business.

So what should she do?  

My first response was that if I were in danger of losing my biggest client, I might rethink what I could afford. It will be more expensive to lose a big client than to pay a sitter for a few hours. If you are a working parent, childcare is a cost of doing business. We don’t necessarily think of it this way, but even in families with stay-at-home parents, there is the opportunity cost of what the SAHP could be earning.

That said, I know paying for extra care can be a huge leap of faith, and sometimes the cash flow isn’t there, particularly if you’re in the start-up phase of a business. I also know that a number of self-employed people with older children rely on school hours as their primary childcare, yet still need more time to work. Being a single parent, like this particular reader, makes that quest to find time harder.

But it is not impossible.

So here are a few solutions if school hours don’t cover work hours.

1. Work at night or in the morning. Most kids go to bed earlier than adults — or at least can be required to stay in their rooms after, say, 8:30 p.m. If you enforce this in your house, then you can be back to work at 8:45 p.m., and score another 2 hours or so. If you’re unable to focus in the evening, you can work in the early morning. If a child wakes up at, say, 7 a.m., you can work from 5-7 a.m. Even if you don’t do this every day, doing it 3 days a week will give you an extra 6 hours. You may need to reshuffle how you tackle projects to schedule ones that don’t require getting people on the phone during these times (though many people do still answer emails at 10 p.m. And I did a phone interview the other night at 10:30 p.m.!) Get up before your kid on weekend mornings and you’ll add more time.

2. Trade off with friends. If you have a good relationship with your kid’s friends’ parents, you might be able to trade off play dates on weekends. You get 3 hours one day, they get 3 hours on another. You can do this on weekdays after school, too. You take the kids one day, the other family takes them the other.

3. Be creative about after school activities. My 6-year-old is in two after-school extra-curricular activities at his elementary school. That stretches the day to about 4:45 p.m. twice a week, and the activity fees are cheaper than regular childcare would be. I know not all elementary schools offer clubs, sports, drama, etc., but if yours does, there is a major lifestyle difference between enrolling your kids in school-based things and non-school based things. There are a lot of activities out there. Choose the ones your school does.

4. Teach independence. I’m not sure precisely what this reader’s child’s special needs are, so that may complicate this one. But the average 10-year-old can definitely be charged with entertaining himself for half an hour or more at a stretch. Check out some books at the library. If you get him hooked on a good series (Harry Potter if he hasn’t read them!) you won’t see him for weeks. Maybe there’s a hobby he’d be into and capable of taking on. When I was about 12 or so, I built a doll house on my own. My parents could have worked a full 8-hour shift during the time I was ensconced in the tool room. When the weather’s nice, send him outside if you live in an area where that’s possible. Hopefully there are other neighbor kids around to shoot baskets with, kick a soccer ball with, ride bikes with, etc.

5. Learn to love screens. People sneer about parents using television as a babysitter, but you know what? Sometimes it’s not a bad one. After a kid has done his homework, let him watch a few shows and score yourself that time to work. Especially on weekends, you can do something fun together in the morning (or do sports practices), then have “downtime” in the afternoon that involves TV or video games. Or have him watch movies in the evening. The point is, 2 hours of screen time is 2 hours you can work. We used a combo of Elmo DVDs on the family computer and Power Rangers on the living room TV when our sitter was snowed in last week, and we could work for 30 minutes at a stretch. And that’s with a 2-year-old!  

6. Use bits of time. Many kinds of work have aspects that can become mobile 15 minute tasks. Have a list of these ready to go so you can tackle a few while waiting at soccer practice, at the therapist’s office, etc. You can return emails, submit an invoice, edit a pitch letter.

What time have you found to work outside your normal childcare hours?

Photo: What to do when the backpacks return to your house too soon…

14 thoughts on “Help! I don’t have enough time to work!

  1. Definitely the after-school care option at the school. If your school has it, it is probably very reasonably priced. If you’re making more than $8/hr, then it’s probably in your budget (give or take, depending on where you live, your marginal tax rate, etc.).
    And maybe she should start charging more for her work.

    1. @nicoleandmaggie – Agreed on both counts. I did a post a few years ago about a self-employed person who was working 100-hour weeks, partly because she hadn’t raised her rates since 1997. A business should be built to cover its costs, and if you’re a working parent, childcare is often one of those costs.

  2. You focused on amount of time here, but your reader could also attempt to improve her quality of time in either direction. Maybe there are some work tasks she can outsource, or work habits she can improve for maximum efficiency, so she can get more done between 9 and 3:30. If she does get a few hours of child care- or even screen time- for her son, she can alleviate any feelings of guilt (or simply missing her child) by improving the quality of time that she does spend with him with special projects or games together.

    1. @Leanne – also good ideas. Sometimes when people work at home there are readily available distractions (like housework). But laundry can be done at other points. Best to do focused work when that time is available.

  3. 9-3:30 is 6.5 hours. If you are efficient, and don’t waste time on chores, etc, that is a LOT of time. Add 1.5 hours after kid’s bedtime or before his wake-up and that would get her 40 hours a week easy, without even having to give up any time with her son.

    1. @Ana – it’s true that it can be a lot of time, and one can be uber efficient with it. Today, I have coverage from 9:15-2:30. I took 45 minutes out of there to pick up 4-year-old from school (they wouldn’t have recognized sub sitter) and eat lunch with the kids. I am kind of cranking, because I have planned out every minute. So I’m getting a lot done! However, I know I’d have trouble doing that long term. Having Monday be this efficient also involved me working a half day on Sunday. We all have to find our happy # of total work hours and it takes a lot of experimenting to figure that out. I know from my logs that I seem to aim for exactly 49 hours and 50 minutes per week. I think this reader is trying to figure out what her good number is. Perhaps in time it will be doable in school hours.

  4. I have the advantage of a spouse, but we both have demanding careers. That extra two hours at night when our son goes to bed is probably my most productive. We also take our tablets to piano practice, etc, when are otherwise just sitting. It’s a great way to catch up on email. Finally, our Saturday mornings are cartoon time for our son, and catch up time for us. The afternoon is chores, and Sunday is R&R time.

  5. thanks to everyone. I work on his school IEP, scheduling the day/week, clearing out inbox, stuff like that b4 he awakes at 7AM. I have been using the entire day til 3:30. I cut out workouts, errands; take 10 min breaks here and there. I don’t due chores during the workday. he is very needy (lived his 1st 5 years in an orphanage) so I have to be with him until he falls asleep @ 9PM..then I am exhausted…have also been working the weekends; calling all moms to take him. its nuts.
    no neighbor kids. I have to drive him to friends….

    thank you so much for the great ideas!

    1. @Lisa- thanks so much for weighing in with your specifics. Single parenting a child with special needs does sound exhausting. Is he willing to watch TV or play video games? If nothing else, sometimes that can buy you a bit of time. And long term maybe it is time to negotiate up the rates so that you can earn enough in 30 hours.

  6. HI again, I did some research and it looks like I could get a 30% tax credit for child care/after school care. Any thoughts? Thank you!

    1. @lisa- that sounds like it would make the numbers come out better. Is there some way to try it out for a limited period of time and see how it goes? Maybe a few days per week? If your child does OK with it and you get a lot more done, then you could keep going. If it doesn’t work, well, you tried.

      1. Hi Laura, I did think of trying it for a couple of weeks but after giving it more thought, and with the 25% (not 30) tax credit, after school care is still too expensive right now. I had my son do homework, eat dinner, watch movies in my office and I was able to work til 9:30PM. So I am going to try this for awhile.; He was fine with it and I saved $…Thanks to you, I rearranged my thinking and came up with a solution! Thanks, Laura!

        1. @lisa- hey, if it works for you, great! It sounds like he just wants to be with you, but you may not need to be actively engaged with him.

  7. I’m a single 30-year old guy and would like to have a family, and that’s why I come often to read you. I could only offer my prespective as a son.

    I was a trouble child until I was 10, but once I started playing sports all my energy and need for attention was directed to it. And playing, running, exercising, really shaped me to be independent. Don’t miss the opportunity of using physical activity in your child to allot you work time.

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