Do you work after the kids go to bed? Here are 5 ways to make it work.

FullSizeRender-5Here’s the dilemma: you need, or want, to work more than 40 hours a week. You also have young kids who go to bed on the early side. How do you see them while still putting in the hours?

As I have analyzed parents’ time logs, I have realized that one of the most common solutions is doing what I call a “split shift.” You leave work at a reasonable hour, come home for family time, then do more work at night after the kids go to bed. You trade off work time for what would be TV-watching time instead of work time for family time. That is a choice a lot of working parents are willing to make.

I think it’s smart. However, it can be tough to do the split shift well. Here are some ways to incorporate it into your life without going crazy (or being sleep-deprived).

1. Don’t do it nightly. To be sure, almost no one does a split shift truly nightly, meaning 7 nights a week. I saw almost no logs with a split shift on a Friday night. When people are done on Fridays they are done! Saturday is also not a split shift sort of day. But honestly, even Sunday-Thursday can get old. I would aim to cap it at 3-4 nights per week so you have one evening to relax with friends or your partner or do a hobby.

2. Be realistic. You would not get through a 1,000 email backlog from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., and guess what? You won’t between 8:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M. either! Make a short to-do list with a few items: anything that has to be done for the next day, any planning that would make the next day smoother, and anything you want to do. I add that last one because late night tends to be a low energy time for many people, so it is hard to do difficult, draining work. Stuff you want to do, on the other hand, can be motivating.

3. Put a cap on it. The split shift should have an end, ideally at least 45 minutes or so before you need to be in bed (this time frame varies by person). This gives you time to chat with your spouse, get ready for bed, and do whatever wind-down activities you do.

4. Ask if it is necessary. It can be easy to get in the habit of doing a split shift, and as a result, you don’t push through that last hour of the workday. You tell yourself oh, I will get to it tonight. But with a little extra effort, you could get through it before quitting time. Just because you can work at night doesn’t mean you have to.

5. Consider the morning. If you can’t think late at night, you could do the alternate version of the split shift: working before the kids get up. This is harder if your children wake up unpredictably, but if they are old enough to know not to leave their rooms until the clock says 7 (or turns yellow if you have such a clock) then you can fairly predictably wake up at 5:30 A.M. and work for at least an hour. With a good cup of coffee, this might be your most productive slot of the day!

How do you make the split shift work?

Photo: I had a camera crew visit this morning and my office is the cleanest it has been in ages!

22 thoughts on “Do you work after the kids go to bed? Here are 5 ways to make it work.

  1. The split shift always seems like such a good idea but I have trouble making it work. I get up at 5AM and use that time to work out and get ready for the day before my kids (6 and 4) get up for the day at 6:00AM (the school bus comes at 7:10. My husband actually does the bus and drops the younger at daycare). I do breakfast with my kids every morning and I leave the house at 6:45 and am at work by 7:15. I work from then until 4:15 (obviously I do take some breaks since I am replying to this at work). I then pick up the kids from their 2 locations (daycare and school) and do the evening things by myself (husband works later hours). By the time the kids are in bed at 7:30 I am just done. I have already been up for 14.5 hours and I can never seem to get meaningful stuff done at night. Instead I use that time to prep for the next day and then read.

    I suppose I could cut out breakfast with the kids some mornings but I value that time so I am currently choosing not to. But this is a good reminder that I should reevaluate frequently.

    1. When I’m able to get up early (5:30-6am) this sounds like my schedule – by 7:30 my brain is FRIED. My solution to this was to do maybe 1-1.5 hours on Sunday instead, and in busy times I may take an entire half day to work on Sunday. I’m much fresher/happier to do that than try to slog through the evening or add work to an already hectic morning.

  2. It is good to hear some more detail on how people make the split shift work! I am entering my first busy season with a child and while I’ve needed to add some time, I don’t want to take it out of our family time. Only problem, I’m currently going to bed at about the same time as my daughter (um… 8:30 pm) because I wake up with her through the night and also get up at 5:30 am for work. Hopefully as the night wakings ease up (soon?? right??) I will be able to get some evening time back in.

    1. @Byrd – yes, when the kid is <1 year it is harder to do the split shift precisely because sleep is less predictable. When my baby was waking up at 5 I had to be in bed by 10. Given that I could not get all the others down until 9 usually, that meant no split shift. But as he has started sleeping better, and I can reliably count on him sleeping until 6 (knock on wood!) and often 6:30, it is OK to stay up until 10:30/11. So there is more possibility.

  3. The advice about not doing it if you don’t have to is a great reminder. As an academic in a field where not working on the evenings or weekends is considered strange (and likely to make people think you won’t be promoted), it’s always tempting around 3:30 or 4 to lob things onto the “later, at home” list. I think I’ve taken its existence for granted to the point that I’d almost forgotten that it’s okay to at least occasionally not have a “later, at home” list. Powering through the last hour today instead – thanks!

  4. In addition to your tips, here are the things I do:
    (1) I take your second idea a step further, and have an “only do this” list, where I specifically decide what I’ll try to do in my evening “shift”- and I ONLY do this. No answering emails if that isn’t on my list.
    (2) If I know I’m going to be using some evening hours to catch up, I plan to do “busywork” type things then. And I often do them with a beer. (Just one! It takes the sting off having to work without making me sloppy.)

    And like you suggest, I always plan to have some wind down time between when I’m done and when I go to bed.

    1. @Cloud – I think “have a beer” should have been tip #6. That definitely makes the split shift better! (if it may limit the nature of the work that can be done…)

    2. Totally agree with the “only do this list”. I would say be specific. Is it a small project or refreshing on material for a presentation….be specific about why it is critical to get online.
      But also agreed, if it is getting online to do email, I try to save it until the next day and batch process.

    3. I usually try to get in an hour in the morning when my brain is fresh (only when needed, for major deadlines or if I had to take significant time out of work during the day)…but the beer idea is making me reconsider. I used to do rote data analysis/organization with wine in the evenings way back when…it was much less painful!

  5. When your kids get a little older the split shit becomes much easier. A 13 year old is not really looking for a story and to be tucked in. (Strangely, mornings become harder.) I find night time is the best time to get those “piddly” tasks done. Things that need wrapping up, but shouldn’t take up your more productive time.

    1. I don’t know, I find this a mixed bag. I do much better working after my son’s asleep (even if he’s not engaged with me pre-sleep), but now that he’s 9, he’s not infrequently awake ’til 10. I’m a night-owl and I can and sometimes do work 10-midnight, but it’s not always feasible. Still, sometimes it is feasible (and/or necessary) even when it’s not fun. And I have started trying to knock out bits of work while he’s up, too. I may not be able to write serious stuff effectively with frequent distractions and/or in short intervals, but I can often respond to some emails.

      1. By the time 8 or 9 rolls around, and I wake at 5…serious work is not happening. But I do like to knock out those menial tasks or catch up on professional reading. As they get older your kids are like living with cats. You hardly see them unless they initiate affection, and all you have are empty bowls and litter.

  6. I love the morning split shift. My husband, however, does not. Since we both work from home now, we’ve landed into a routine where I get up at 5 and work until 6:30 when I get everyone up and he takes the kids to school at 7:20. At the end of the day, my kids still want me to sit in their rooms while they fall asleep so it’s a perfect hour or so for him to get a few last things done.

  7. This was a timely piece for me, I needed to be reminded of number 3… Just this morning I was yawning and apologising to my husband for a restless night when he reminded me the effect blue light close to bedtime has on our sleep! I am planning to set an alert on my phone to remind me when it’s wind down time. A camera crew visit sounds exciting! Hope you had a great time 🙂

    1. There’s a great app you can get for your computer. It is called Flux. It is free and it adjusts the lighting on your monitor to reduce the blue light so working late doesn’t need to impact your circadian rhythm.

  8. The split shift has been a huge help for me in getting regular and side hustle work done in the past year or two. I also use it to spend some time with my kids on my “work-from-home” day.

    My biggest issue is with #4 – I often find myself delegating certain tasks to the evening or weekends, but don’t always get to it. I often end up already behind on work the following Monday morning.

  9. My days look a lot like beth and ARC’s above. I am able to do some lightweight things in the evenings, like the test administration work I do, but usually I’m not very effective after 8 pm as a regular thing because I get up at 5:30 (I’m naturally a night owl, so I need quiet time in the mornings before my kids wake up, since mornings are hard. It’s too easy to get a second wind and stay up too late, then sleep late and am grumpy).

    However, I have found that I am able to work late for a few nights in a row if I plan for it. My work — indexing nonfiction — is project based, so when I get a new project I break down how many pages per day I need to get through to finish a week ahead of schedule. Then, because I can plan for it, I will stay up late (until 11 or 12) at the beginning to stay ahead of my daily quotas. I’m much fresher at the start of a project than if I end up putting in late nights at the end to catch up, and I make sure I plan to sleep until 6:15 on those days, since I’m naturally a night owl and the early mornings are always for becoming human, not for getting work done.

  10. No kids yet but I try to come home with my husband most evenings (commuting more pleasant together). I do need to up my hours a bit and found these suggestions quite helpful. Sometimes I save student emails and admin work for the evening rather than intensive thinking work – I can chat with my husband while doing these rather than having to sequester myself in the office.

  11. I do this sometimes, but my main difficulty in making it work is that the evenings after the kids go to bed is time I want to spend with my husband.

    Plus, there is the fact that teenagers don’t go to bed very early, and sometimes they need to talk (teen mothering seems to involve a LOT of talking!)

    But I could see this working out better if you just have small kids and/or if your husband is out of town frequently.

  12. Not *exactly* the same thing, but much like several of your readers I too am fried by 7:30 at night after going hard for 14.5 hours. I still do need to study though, so I’ve started putting in 1-2 hours on Saturday morning after we do a family breakfast, but before we do swimming. It probably sounds like sacrilege, working on a Saturday morning, but since we’ve outsourced basically all chores, it genuinely is free time, and it feels nice not to have it hanging over my head the rest of the weekend. Plus the material actually sticks since I am fresher then.

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