6 Strategies to manage work and family in the school holidays

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Life, Mindset, Self Care

Just as I find myself settling into the rhythm of school term, feeling more at ease with managing my paid work, the school run and other activities, other parents start talking about the next school holidays! They really do come around so quickly!

School holidays are a wonderful opportunity to do fun things and spend quality time with your children, but if you still need to manage paid work, it can be stressful too. Your daily routine looks so different and while some things stop, others, like work, keep on going for many mothers and we have to figure out a way to manage that. 

Mothers often report feeling guilty and like they are neglecting both their children and their job as they try to find the right approach.

If you’re like me, you want to be present with your children, enjoying their company AND be able to do the important things for your paid job, without worrying that you’re letting your children, employer or clients down.

With limited hours in the day, limited energy and attention, something has to give. We have to be realistic so we don’t set ourselves up for disappointment and guilt. We likely have to lower our expectations of ourselves and let go of any thoughts about what the perfect mum would be doing (remember, she doesn’t exist).

Every situation is different and we each need a plan that fits our own family, schedule and needs. Experimenting with different approaches will help you find what works while keeping in mind that what works will likely change as children move through different stages.

Here are some strategies that I find very useful. I invite you to consider and try them, to see if they bring more ease and enjoyment to your school holidays. 


1. Figure out what’s most important

Get really clear on your priorities. Consider the following:

  • How do I want to feel this school holidays? How do my children want to feel / how would I like them to feel?
  • What personal values do I want to stay aligned with?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • What are my non-negotiable tasks (work or family life)?

Then, based on your answers, identify what is most important for you to focus on with your family, and at work.

Rory Vaden, author of the book “Procrastinate on Purpose”, suggests that we don’t just consider priorities in terms of what’s urgent (how soon does it matter?) and important (how much does it matter?) but also it’s significance (how long will it matter?). When we do this, significance can pull us out of just responding to what is urgent (which is what many of us are doing daily) to think about what matters most.


2. Multiply your time

We cannot get more hours in the day, but Vaden suggests that we can give ourselves permission to do the activities that create more time in the future. Let me introduce you to Vaden’s focus funnel.

www.moretomum.com.au working during school holidays


Everything you need to do (tasks, to-do lists, emails, etc) enters the funnel at the top. Each step offers the potential to create more time for the future.

For each item, the first question to ask is “Can this be eliminated?”. Is it worth doing? Is it really necessary? By saying no to something, you create time.

If you can’t eliminate it, you come to the next question, “Can it be automated?”. Whether it’s setting up automatic bill payments, autoresponders and filters on your emails, grocery deliveries or social media for your business, technology provides lots of opportunities to automate tasks in our work and personal lives which creates time in the future.

If you can’t automate it, ask yourself “Can it be delegated?”. Is there someone else that can do this for you? For example, your partner, the children, a friend, a family member, a colleague or a virtual assistant? If, right now, you’re thinking that no one else does it properly, I invite you to ask yourself whether that task must be done to 100%. Often 80% done by someone else is still a win, even if it’s just during the school holidays.

If you can’t delegate the task, then you arrive at the bottom of the focus funnel. The last question is “Does it have to be done now, or can it wait until later?”. Later could mean on a more appropriate day in the school holidays, or after the school holidays.

If it has to be done now, you’ll need to allocate time to concentrate on it and get it done. But if it can wait, you get to procrastinate on purpose! That task will be put on hold and then reenter the funnel at a later date. I suggest you schedule that date in your diary so you don’t have to tie up mental resources trying to remember it. Then, allow yourself to forget about it for now.


3. Underpromise and overdeliver for yourself

The expectations you have for yourself will impact the experience you have during school holidays.

When our expectations are met, we experience a slight increase in dopamine, the chemical released by our brain when we do something that makes us feel good. It creates a reward state in our brain that motivates us to keep going to experience more of that feeling! When our expectations are exceeded, we experience a stronger increase in dopamine. However, if our expectations are not met, we experience a large drop in dopamine which can create a drop in motivation and mood.

So, to stay in a positive mindset and feel better about how you are managing the school holidays, focus on finding ways to exceed your expectations, i.e. set expectations for yourself that are realistic and manageable (and probably lower than usual). 

These expectations could be in relation to anything, including:

  • How many work tasks you will get done
  • How well you will do them
  • How long you will be able to work uninterrupted
  • Your children’s behaviour while you are working
  • Domestic chores
  • The type of meals you cook
  • The number of activities you do with your children
  • How much time you will have for yourself.

Expectations work the same way for children. If you want to boost their positive feelings about the holiday schedule, set clear, realistic expectations that you know can be met or exceeded. If your children are old enough, share your schedule with them. Let them know what each person in the family will be doing each day. If you are working with them at home, let them know what the expectations are in terms of what they can do (for example, they can watch a movie at 1 pm, they can play in the garden or the house), when they can interrupt you and what to do if they need help. Be clear on when they can expect you to be finished working and what you will all do then.  


4. Schedule with intention

Your schedule in the school holidays may look very different from the rest of the year. If you need to go to the office or work in an environment without any distractions, your schedule will likely have to involve other people – your partner, family members, friends, a babysitter or nanny. Some families share a nanny to share the cost or take turns looking after each other’s children on different days. School holiday activity programs may also be an option on some days.

If you work for an employer, you may be able to negotiate different working arrangements during the holidays – working from home, working reduced hours, or taking additional time off. Some organisations allow employees to purchase more leave, or offset reduced hours by working longer hours during the school term. Consider whether you have deadlines that can be extended, or whether work can be delegated or supported by other team members (refer to the focus funnel). Be clear on when you will be available to be contacted and when you will be unavailable.

Your energy and attention are not unlimited or consistent throughout the day. Consider when is the best time to get your work done. When will the children be best able to occupy themselves or be occupied next to you and for how long? When are you freshest and most energised? Schedule the most mentally challenging tasks for these times. Will it be easier to work for shorter blocks and then spend time with the kids in between? Children are often more willing to let you focus when they feel connected and have spent some time with you.

Time blocking is a useful strategy that helps your brain work most efficiently. By scheduling like tasks together, your brain doesn’t have to work so hard and use energy switching between different ways of operating. For example, try to do admin tasks together or create a block for your creative work, research, client calls or emails. 

Leave some blank space in the diary. This is useful for 2 reasons. Firstly, things don’t always go to plan and if you have a bit of flexibility in your schedule because you haven’t planned every minute, then you’re going to be able to respond with less impact to planned activities. Secondly, it’s ok for us humans (adults and kids) to have time to do nothing. Time to just be and to see what you feel like doing at the time. This helps you restore your energy levels and gives your brain a break. 

Lastly, remember to schedule some time for you to do things you love, for you. It might feel even harder than usual to do this during the holidays but regularly filling your cup (even in small ways), will improve your resilience, tolerance, mood, energy and focus. So, whether it’s 5 mins, 15 mins or an hour, make sure it’s in the schedule!


www.moretomum.com.au working during school holidays


5. Wherever you are, be all there

One of the things that working mothers commonly report is thinking about work when they are with their children and thinking about their children when they are at work. They often feel guilt about this split attention but it is normal to have our thoughts wander to other important things in our lives. We need to be conscious of whether the split attention is momentary or if it significantly affects our ability to be present.

Our daily lives are full of distractions and each of those distractions, both external (in our environment) and internal (a constant stream of thoughts and bodily sensations) takes up mental resources whether we are conscious of them or not.

Your brain is always scanning for things that are novel or unexpected. There is a part of your brain that lights up when it detects this. Each time you resist acting on a distraction, it reduces your ability to resist the next distraction, until your brain gets a break. Furthermore, after an interruption, it takes 25 mins to bring our full focus back to the original task and the reduced energy available to the brain means we have less capacity for the mental processes needed for work.

So, to maximise the value of the time you have to work or be with your family, you need to manage distractions.

This includes things like leaving your phone on silent in another room, turning off notifications on your computer, closing down applications you aren’t using, reducing background noise and clearing your mind of anything you’re trying to hold in your memory by writing it down.

By allocating dedicated blocks of time in your schedule to work or family (with the expectation that sometimes you will have to abandon your plan if things go awry) you can mentally put aside everything else for that amount of time. Everything else will still be there when you are finished so there’s no need to carry it constantly. 

It may also help to create simple transition rituals. These are actions you take to signal to yourself that you are shifting focus. For example, when you are finished working, you close the laptop and put it in a drawer, or take a few deep breaths and set an intention to be completely present with your children. It can be as simple as a few stretches, or closing the door to your home office. Do it over and over, and your brain starts to recognise the signal that your focus is changing. 


6. Less judgement, more compassion

This is where it always comes back to for me. Whatever we are trying to do in any part of our lives, we need to focus on judging ourselves less and giving ourselves more compassion.

Modern motherhood is tough. The current constructs and systems we have to operate within as working women who are also mothers, were not designed for us. The perfect mother myth creates unrealistic expectations that make us feel like we aren’t ever doing enough. Social media gives us endless opportunities to compare ourselves. Mothering work is still not valued as much as paid work. Workplace flexibility measures still often fall short of what we really need and fathers still face judgement for prioritising their family over their job. It’s less than ideal and therefore we must give ourselves permission to reject the unsupportive norms and find an approach that works for us. 

Giving ourselves compassion involves 3 key things, according to Kristen Neff, one of the world’s thought leaders in this space. Firstly, being mindfully aware of our experience. This means we acknowledge when things are hard, frustrating or disappointing. We don’t minimise our experience, nor do we exaggerate it. Secondly, we recognise our common humanity. Being human means we face challenges and we’re not alone in our struggles. Thirdly, kindness. How can we be kind to ourselves when things aren’t as easeful as we’d hoped? What encouraging things can we say to ourselves, what kind things can we do for ourselves? How can we reframe the way we see our efforts and results so that we validate how hard we are trying and how much of ourselves we are bringing to our work and families?


You don’t need to be perfect and neither do the school holidays. Let’s lower our expectations of ourselves, lead with compassion and find smart strategies that help us do the best job we can, with what we have, at this stage of our lives. 






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