My take-away from my Fast Company essay on working after the kids going to bed being shared 25,000 times: There are a lot of us out there catching up on things at 10 p.m. Such a “split shift” — some work during the day, evenings off with the family, then some work at night — is often the key to getting it all done. You log the hours, but you see your family too.
But as I am relying heavily this week on the 8:30-10:30 p.m. slot, I’ve realized this: Split shifts must be planned like any other shifts. If not, you lose a big chunk of the productivity gains.
Here’s what often happens. I stop work at 5:30 p.m. I am not done. So when the kids are in bed (hopefully by 8:30, realistically by 9 p.m.) I start hacking away at various things that pop into my head or my inbox, without the time blocks I structure during the day. Eventually, I look at the clock, realize I’m tired, and haul myself to bed.
I wouldn’t let 2-2.5 hours progress this way during the day. I also wouldn’t have vague and unrealistic hopes (I’ll get caught up on everything!) To get the most out of a split shift, I need to structure the second shift much as I would the first. I need a priority list for it, and ideally that priority list should be created by mid-day. That way I can relax during the evening, instead of running over to my desk randomly to write down things I think of. Another upside of the list is that if the kids all get distracted by their allotted TV time in the evening, I can get started on something I’ve deemed important to do, rather than dithering in my inbox.
Tonight I had such a list: finishing and editing an op-ed, sending 3 emails that needed to go out, proofreading something, sending out an invoice. And let’s not forget moving the *#!@$&% elf (The Elf on the Shelf was the first book we opened in our literary Advent calendar). I got through all these things in roughly 2 hours. The shift felt fairly productive.
I go back and forth on whether this working style is ideal, but it’s also just life. I had a dentist appointment today. I took my daughter to her eye surgeon for another follow-up appointment (all good! She’s out of her glasses, and in fact has now near perfect vision. They used a letter eye test and she recognized her letters. I was so proud). My 5-year-old had a meltdown upon going to school in the morning, so I elected to be the one to pick him up at 3 p.m. and I spent 20 minutes talking and reading with him before his sister’s doctor’s appointment, trying to shower a bit of attention on him. These are all important things, but they also meant I worked maybe 6 hours during a “work day” that stretched from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Getting 2 more hours at night is great, but getting 2 productive hours is the best solution.