There’s no place like home for the holidays!
Unless you’re a parent and you work from home, that is. They really need to rewrite the song to reflect that situation. It might go a little something like this:
There’s no way to work at home during the holidays
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
Someone in your family will interrupt you, oh yes,
Making work a hell on earth at home sweet home.
(With deepest apologies to Perry Como.)
OK, so I’m a little pessimistic about the prospect of getting much work done at home over the winter holidays. Normally, my two boys attend a nearby elementary school, which gives me a good solid window of time each weekday where I can get some work done.
Then, when they arrive home, I can pull myself away from the computer to oversee homework assignments, drive them to piano lessons and choir rehearsal, or even take them to the park.
But when the third week of December rolls around, everything screeches to a halt.
My kids are home from school, and there’s all that pressure to have LOTS! OF! HOLIDAY! FUN! which you can then post on Instagram with a casual virtual shrug: “Oh, we’re just whipping up a few thousand Christmas cookies in our perfectly clean kitchen.” Or perhaps with a little cheerleadery “Hey, look how much awesome holiday fun we’re having!”
Every time I log onto Facebook, I see another picture of an acquaintance who’s dressed her kids in adorable holiday attire and whisked them off to decorate gingerbread houses or something equally precious.
And then I think, “Aw, man. We should have gone and decorated gingerbread houses instead of staying home so I could examine those hospital employment statistics while the boys watch ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ again.”
Yes, the pressure comes from me. No one’s saying I have to round everyone up and insist on having all that holiday fun. I get that. I shouldn’t let myself feel guilty. But I can’t totally squelch it, either.
It’s daunting, to say the least.
But there are a few ways you can get something done during the holidays. I’ve got a few strategies up my sleeve, based on my eight years of freelancing from home. Consider them my holiday gift to you.
1. Work ahead
That last week before school gleefully sends your kids home for two or three weeks should be major crunch time. Crank out as much work as possible. And start…three, two, one…now!
2. Set office hours
Regular offices sometimes set special, shortened holiday hours. You can, too — after all, you’re the boss. Figure out when you’re most likely to get work done, and make those your office hours. Be as realistic as possible.
3. Sign your kids up for holiday day camps
Even one full day or two half days of kid-free time can help you make a big dent in your workload or word count. Check with your local parks and recreation department, dance studio, climbing gym or community center for possibilities. In my town, several private schools even offer Lego camps during the holidays.
Alternate strategy: if your kids attend day care and it’s open, send them!
4. Talk to your clients in advance about your holiday schedule
Maybe a client can move back a deadline to give you some wiggle room, or get some necessary files to you earlier than usual so you have more time to work on a project. Start this conversation at least a few weeks in advance of your schedule change.
5. Carve out time for holiday fun
Take time to have fun, and don’t feel guilty about it. Plan to attend that gingerbread house-decorating workshop in the morning. Then you’ll be free to work the rest of the day.
Honestly, your children can use the downtime while you’re working, too. So what if they just play Minecraft for a few hours? It’s their vacation!
6. Cue up beloved Christmas-themed movies
You can’t tell me that you didn’t look forward to watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or one of the countless reruns of A Christmas Story when you were a kid. Go ahead, let the kids enjoy a holiday classic while you work for an hour or two.
7. Share childcare with a friend
Do you have a buddy in the same boat? Trade off some childcare with her. You take Monday and let all the kids hang at your place, and then send them all over to her house on Tuesday.
Pick a holiday activity you truly love and can’t imagine missing. Then scrap the other ones you feel like you should do but don’t really care that much about.
Maybe you adore the Charles Dickens holiday festival but don’t really like the local Christmas parade, where you have to scramble for parking. When you’re working at home instead of shivering on the parade route, remind yourself you made a good decision.
9. Hire a sitter
I know, it will cut into your profits, but sometimes you just have to do it. Look for a sitter who can take the kids out of the house for a little while, even if it’s just to the playground a mile away.
Send them to the dollar theater for a few hours, or provide enough cash for lunch and video games at a pizza place.
10. Don’t take on projects you just can’t get done
This is easier said than done, I know. But if you know you are going to be knee-deep in kids, holiday activities and family obligations for the last half of December and the first part of January, it might be worth declaring a moratorium on all but the most essential work.
Doing this will also give you some breathing room in case a unexpected holiday-related disaster strikes.
Writers with kids, chime in: How do you handle a packed house during the holidays?