Working with Kids: Tips for a Productive Summer

CTA tips for translators working with kidsBy Marion Rhodes
CTA President

As a student, I couldn’t wait for summer break to start. No more school, no more homework, endless hours of free time.

As a freelance translator and parent of two elementary school kids, I dread the summer months. No more school, no more homework, endless hours of free time.

All that might be fun if I wasn’t working. But I do have a job that keeps me busy year-round. Most of us freelance translators don’t get the luxury of taking the entire summer off work. Sure, I know colleagues who go on vacation for several weeks, maybe even a month or more, every year. But summer break in the USA is nearly three months long. Very few of us can afford to take that much time off work without hurting our business or alienating our clients.

Some people like to send their kids to summer camp, but the cost can be expensive, especially if you have more than one child. Plus, if you have your child in a camp, you lose the flexibility to spend all afternoon at the pool if you have a slow work day or go on a spontaneous day trip, which is one of the nice things about summer break.

So for those of us with small kids who still need to be entertained, what’s the solution to balancing work and family life when school is out? Here are a few tips that may help make the summer months a little less stressful and a little more fun for you and your family.

1. Focus
When time is at a premium, you must make the most of every minute you have. To do so, you have to focus on one task at a time. Don’t try to multitask – it’s been proven to slow you down. Shut your door, turn off your phone, close your email program, put on your noise-cancelling headphones and get to work on that translation project you have to finish. If you really focus on one single task and shut out the rest of the world, you can be as productive in 45 minutes as you are in 3 hours with interruptions.

2. Use your time wisely
Identify your highest value activities, the ones that help your career and that no one else can do. Ask yourself: “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?” Are you spending those rare 30 minutes your kids are getting along without fighting looking at your Facebook feed or doing the laundry? Don’t. You can get a lot done in 30 minutes. It’s more than a whole Pomodoro interval! So use your time wisely and do the things that don’t move your translation business forward during times when distractions aren’t going to be a big deal.

3. Make sacrifices
There’s no way around it: If you’re trying to keep your translation business going while the kids are at home, you’ll have to make sacrifices. Maybe you have to get up an hour earlier every day to get in an extra hour of uninterrupted work time while the kids are still asleep. Or you may have to skip your nightly TV ritual for now. Do you have time-consuming hobbies? I enjoy horseback riding with my friend, but it requires a lot of time, so during the summer, our riding sessions become occasional treats rather than regular outings.

If you enjoy continuous learning, consider making use of the recordings most webinar providers offer instead of attending the events live during your productive hours. And yes, sometimes, you may even have to excuse yourself from weekend social activities with others in order to finish an important project. It’s OK to become a hermit temporarily as long as you make time for your family and friends later to make up for it.

4. Get help
Think about all the time-consuming tasks you do for which you don’t get paid: cleaning the house, watching the kids play at the playground, scheduling your social media updates, etc. Could you hire someone else – a housekeeper, a babysitter, a virtual assistant – to do those tasks for you? You may think that you can’t afford to outsource, but chances are your hourly fee is a lot higher than theirs (at least it should be!), so your ROI on this can be well worth it.

5. Take advantage of free child care
Does your gym membership include free child care? You don’t have to attend a Pilates class to use it. Most gyms have an area with tables and chairs set up somewhere. Take your laptop, drop the kids off to play, and use those two hours or so to get some work done. Then go for a walk or swim with your family later to get your exercise in.

Another option are vacation bible schools. Many churches offer these programs for free, and you don’t have to be a member of that church or even that faith to attend. Some schools also offer summer enrichment programs. They may not run all summer, but may keep the kids busy for a few weeks at least.

6. Get out of the house
I’m always amazed at how self-sufficient my kids are whenever I’m not home. If I am there, they seem to need me constantly: “I’m hungry!” “I’m bored!” “She’s not leaving me alone!” “She’s not sharing!” But somehow, when I am gone, they don’t starve, die of boredom, or kill each other. So if my husband is home and I need some uninterrupted work time, I take my laptop and head to the nearest Starbucks or Panera Bread and set up my mobile office there. Without interruptions and nothing to do but work (and drink coffee), I can usually get a lot done in a short amount of time and then head home and be available for my family.

If you have a co-working office near you, you may be able to rent a desk for the summer – or even just on an as-needed basis – so you have a space to escape. Even if you prefer working from home during the rest of the year, this can be a very good option during the summer, and it usually doesn’t cost all that much. Here in Colorado Springs, we have one co-working office that allows you to use their space up to 8 days per month for $110, or you can get a day pass for $25.

7. Take advantage of friends
Friends can be a godsend during summer break. Try kid-swapping with some other parents to give each of you some child free time now and then. Even if you’re the host, chances are that your kids will leave you alone for the most part as long as they have friends to play with. Personally, I’d rather have two extra kids at my house than one of my daughters by herself. Prepare some healthy snacks for them to serve themselves when they get hungry, and you may not see or hear them for several hours at a time.

8. Forget about perfection
We all strive to be Super Mom or Super Dad. Happy kids, clean home, prospering business, the whole nine yards. Well, during the summer months, these ideals may be even harder to live by than during the rest of the year. Accept it. It’s OK if your kids spend an entire morning watching Netflix while you’re finishing an important translation on deadline. Their brain won’t warp if they spend more than an hour on their iPad every now and then. No one but you cares if your home doesn’t look like it could be on the cover of Good Housekeeping right now. And the occasional pizza night because you were too busy to cook dinner won’t kill you either.

9. Finally, some DON’Ts
Something’s gotta give if you want to increase your productivity when you’re working around kids, but the following things should never be on that list:

– Exercise: Perhaps now more than ever, you need an outlet for yourself. Exercise is good for you, it will help your concentration and make you feel better all around. It is also known to put you in a better mood. So for your own and for your family’s sake, don’t stop exercising to make time for more work.

– Family fun time: Your business should never be more important than your family. No matter how much work you have to do, make sure you also devote enough time to your kids and your significant other. Take a day off to go to a water park, roast s’mores in the back yard after dark, or cuddle on the couch in the morning before you start your work. Don’t forget that break is supposed to fun!

– Dates: One of the easiest things to forget in all the hustle and bustle is that your spouse has needs, too. Make sure he or she knows that you care by making time for dates. Once a week may be hard to do at this point, but if you don’t make time for just your spouse at least once a month, you may want to re-evaluate your priorities.

Now it’s over to you: Do you have other tips to help freelancers stay productive while their kids are out of school for the summer? I’d love to hear them, so please share them in the comments!