Like so many other children, my siblings and I went to an afterschool program when we were younger. It makes sense. Parents can’t leave work in the middle of the afternoon to scoop up their kids when the school day ends. But, this program was also open during the summer, which meant that mom was dropping us off before work and picking us up when she was off work.
As a kid, we thought we were being punished. In reality, we weren’t old enough to be left home alone, and our parents still had to go to work. Also, it didn’t disrupt their routine. When we got older and were allowed to stay home, and I remember how hard it was to get back into a routine. As a partner myself today, I can’t imagine what it was like for my parents.
Despite the misconception, back-to-school is not the most wonderful time of the year for parents. It’s actually one of the most stressful times for parents. “Back-to-school season brings an array of challenges,” Alyssa Johnson, vice president of account management for Care@Work, told SHRM. “New caregivers, new schedules, and new after-school programs all require a period of adjustment that working parents are balancing with their responsibilities in the office.”
Care@Work conducted a survey in 2015 that found that 51 percent of working parents reported that back-to-school interferes with their work. Besides adjusting to new schedules, back-to-school can also disrupt your productivity in the following ways.
Prepping your kids for the new school year.
In a perfect world, you and your kids could wake-up on the first day of school and are ready to roll. The truth is that there’s actually quite a bit of prep work to go into the start of the new academic calendar year.
For starters, there’s some shopping involved. Kids will need new school supplies, clothes, and food items for either a packed lunch or after-school snack. Sure, you can do most of this online. But, what if your child had a growth sprout over the summer and you don’t know what size shoes they wear? It’s easier to go to a store in-person to make sure you get the right size on the first try.
As for school supplies, a lot of teachers will give you a list before school starts. But, sometimes they will issue this list on the first day of the school year. That means when your kids get home, you have to be home that day early. You must stop what you’re doing — and go grab these things — or your kid is in trouble at school.
Additionally, if your child is changing schools because they’re moving from elementary school to junior high, there may be tours or orientation so that the student is familiar with the new building. Even if you aren’t required to attend, you still have to figure out how they’ll get there and back.
What if your child plays a sport such as soccer, baseball, football, or field hockey? Practice starts in Spring for baseball, and track, and during the summer for football, and soccer you have Spring and Fall to be ready for the upcoming season. You don’t have to attend practice, but transportation is a continual concern.
Getting the family back into a routine.
During the summer, kids are staying up later and sleeping in. They also don’t have much structure throughout the day. In other words, they don’t have a daily routine.
The first couple of days at school is mayhem. Children don’t respond to their alarm clock or your panicked screams. As a result, they oversleep. Now there isn’t time for them to have a healthy breakfast, remind you to sign a form or get dressed in to catch the bus. The next thing you know you’re on carpool duty, driving behind a bus, and late for work.
But, it’s just not a morning routine that’s been thrown out of place. Their evening routine has also been impacted. Instead of going outside to play, they need to do homework and make sure that they are prepared for school the next day. And, they also need to hit the hay earlier. It’s only more complicated when there are also extracurricular activities involved.
Getting back into a routine is difficult for anyone — particularly if you’ve just had a couple of months of freedom. It may even take a couple of weeks from them to get back into a groove. All the while, your routine is equally disrupted. It’s impossible to start your day on the root foot when you’re dealing with bad moods and rushing your kid out the door.
New school activities and responsibilities.
A new school year also means additional activities and responsibilities that need to be added to your family’s calendar. Examples include sports, tutoring, homework, and testing. Somehow you have to squeeze all of these items into your already hectic schedule.
And it can also be distracting and stressful. Trying to coordinate transportation can interfere with your day, for example. Instead of focusing on work, you’re texting your spouse or another parent to sort this out. What’s more, you also have to work out how you’ll be able to attend these daytime events.
Unexpected days off.
Kids get sick. A snowstorm shuts down the roads. These are challenges that are common during the school year, and they will most certainly impact your productivity. In most cases, you’ll have to call out of work and use up a sick or personal day. Whatever you had planned now gets pushed to tomorrow or the next day. Obviously, your calendar is going to be off.
Even if you’re able to work from home for the day, you still have your children to worry about. If they’re sick, you’ll have to play doctor during the day. If it’s a snow day, they may continuously interrupt you because they’re bored or want to go sliding.
Professional development days and breaks.
Schools are closed for major holidays, and your business probably is as well. But, what about breaks, like the last week of December or professional development days (called “early-day” by the kids)? If you don’t have childcare lined up, you have to stay at home. Again, even if you are still getting work done, your output probably isn’t as high when the kiddos aren’t around.
We’ve all been there. You drop your child at pre-school, and they start bawling. You feel terrible. No parent wants to see their young child in such a state. Even though you know they’ll adjust and so will you — the first couple of days or weeks can be trying. You may be fine time-wise, but it throws off your productivity just a bit.
As children get older, they may get anxious about attending a new school or state testing. I can personally attest to this. I hated the first week of school as a freshman. It was a new school with a bunch of kids from other districts, and I wanted to hang with friends — but felt like I should include everyone. Then there was the inevitable jockeying for positions on teams and socially.
According to an Indeed survey, 84 percent of moms and 85 percent of dads “are surprised by the new school year’s challenges. Over half said they were unprepared to manage conflicting demands.” As a consequence, this takes a toll on their marriage.
A majority of parents, 88 percent of moms, and 85 percent of dads reported that the back-to-school season is stressful on their marriages. To make matters worse, “72 percent of moms and 53 percent of dads say they receive no support at work during back-to-school time.”
It would be a miracle to stay concentrated on work when you’re dealing with problems at home. As opposed to being 100 percent focused on a work-related task, your mind is more concerned with the argument you had before you left for the day and how it’s going to be resolved.
As a business owner, even now, several weeks into the school year — the office employees are still disrupted. Some come in late — they don’t quite have a handle on getting the kids to school, or their partner is out of town on business. Others have to leave early for picking up kids because it’s their “turn,” or their partner is late, or had a meeting, or is out of town on business.
The productivity drain is a concrete issue. My team picks up the slack and handles everything well — but nonetheless — the problem is real.
Work-life balance is already a challenge. Now factor in all of the back-to-school, and staying organized is most likely your primary source of stress at work — and at home — when the kids go back to school. Moreover, your productivity can take a hit when you have to address last-minute or unexpected emergencies, mainly because it forces you to shuffle your schedule.
How to survive back-to-school and maintain your sanity throughout the year.
Yes. The new school year is stressful and chaotic, and it disrupts your productivity. Thankfully, you can use the following pointers to get back on track and stay sane for the remainder of the academic year.
Set attendance goals with your child.
It’s like Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity hack. He used to put an X on a wall calendar whenever he wrote for the day. Eventually, this created a “chain.” The goal then was not to break the chain. Keep track of your child’s attendance and reward them for not missing school. Also, don’t let them stay home unless they are genuinely sick.
Establish a routine.
Wake-up and go to bed at the same time during the week. Also, make sure that the entire family has a structure before and after school, like doing homework immediately after dinner, turning off electronic devices before bed, and preparing for tomorrow. It’s a simple and effective way to give your family structure and set everyone up for success.
Have a shared calendar.
Get an online calendar like Google, Apple, or Cozi that can be shared with your family. Now you and your family can view each other’s schedules and stay on the same page. A shared calendar will also help prevent scheduling conflicts, and help assigns household chores.
Schedule appointments during off-hours.
While not always possible, try to make any medical or dental appointments during off-hours, like before work, after school. During a lunch break is still “iffy” but better to go at lunch so that appointments don’t interrupt your day too much. If your child has to leave school for this appointment, take them back afterward so that they’re not missing an entire day of school.
Schedule extended trips during school breaks.
Schedule your extended trips during regular school breaks to help your child stay caught up in school. These routines and habits help to set the expectation for your child to be in school during the school year. Even in elementary school, missing a week of classes can set your child behind on learning — and the schools demand days made-up now. Those make-up days just spread the “back to school disrupt” into another time of year that can be worse for productivity.
Have your kids help out with household chores and compromise with your partner. For example, if your child has to miss two days of school, you stay home one day and your spouse the other. If they take the kids to school, then you pick them up. More people split their household and child responsibilities nowadays, and it makes for less lost productivity.
Build your village.
Put a support system in place for yourself and your child. Start with your immediate family, neighbors, and other parents. You can help each other out when needed. For example, if you need to leave earlier than usual to prepare for a meeting, your neighbor could take your child to school. If you can’t make a daytime event maybe they could record it for you. Just remember to return the favor.
It’s okay to let some things slip.
You’ve already got a lot on your plate when the kids go back to school. That means that you can cut yourself some slack and let some things slide. For instance, you don’t have to fold your laundry as soon as the dryer has finished its cycle. Put some folding off until you have a little more free time like on the weekend. If you like things perfect with laundry — try giving that good habit a rest for the sake of your more essential productivity aspects in your life.
Have a flexible schedule.
As an entrepreneur, you can set your own schedule. Maybe you could work from home a couple of days a week, or you can build your schedule around your kids. Try getting to work by seven then get home when your child gets off the bus. Definitely leave some blank space in your calendar. I don’t schedule anything between one and two pm right now. I don’t goof-off — it’s time I use to reflect or take care of less critical tasks. But, if I had to leave because my child had a doctor’s appointment, it doesn’t completely throw my schedule off.
Plan way in advance.
As soon as you can, review your calendar for the rest of the year — and the upcoming year. It’s the best way to remain productive and reduce your stress since you can coordinate schedules or line-up childcare before there’s an issue.