Productivity… and Family Time

productivity and family time2018 Update: We still think this is a great discussion about how to have killer productivity AND family time — but you may also want to check out our latest discussion about working moms and me time

Have you found that your best, most productive hours sometimes conflict with family times that you try to hold sacred, such as family dinner? Have you had success shifting your schedule so you can be productive at other times of the day? Did you find an early bedtime (9:30?) to be helpful, or have you found another way to recharge so you can eke out a few more hours of productivity after putting the kids down for the night?

I don’t know why the other day, but I was really, really missing the days when I could work late at the office (8:00 or 10:00ish usually — sometimes 12:00ish in my younger years!) and get stuff done. I was also missing the days when I could get up “early” at, say, 5 and get a ton of work done before I had to be presentable at work at 9:30 or 10. Because maybe it’s me and my situation, but it seems like those days are gone, at least for the foreseeable future — even if I do work in an office, either for myself or someone else, I’m going to want to be home for family dinner — if not every night, then certainly 99% of the time.productivity and family time“Family dinner is sacred” is the advice I keep reading, and I love that idea — the idea of us all sitting around the table, phones and other devices put away, TV off, to reconnect and tell each other about our days. But… a kid-friendly dinner time is usually in the midst of my most productive time, late afternoon/early evening. Similarly, “getting up early” means something different to parents, am I right? My four year old, at least, laughs at the idea of 5 AM as being “early” — it’s the best time to get up, Mommy! In fact, if you’re up earlier, why shouldn’t I be up also? I feel like if I were really to make an attempt to get up early, I would have to get up around 3 or 4 — and even then I’d only have an hour or two at most to get work done, unlike those long, luxurious mornings where I could get up at 5 and get four solid hours of work done before I had to be at work. Of course, you can always put your partner on “parent in charge” duty, or schedule another caregiver for that time in the morning — so maybe I should try that. (If you do get up, do you work in the house — or leave entirely, like to go to a coffee shop?) As for the evenings… my husband and I often feel like from 5pm to 9pm we go into the family tunnel of dinner, bath, and bedtime (with at least one incident each night of a meltdown, a water-soaked bathroom, or some other bedtime fight) — and when we emerge we’re too wired to sleep and too exhausted to do anything of substance.

I don’t know, ladies, maybe you’ve found The Way — have you managed to shift your productive times to another time of day? Do you swap “sacred times” with your partner so one of you gets a weeknight or early morning spot to yourself?  Or do you think it’s all mental, the way I convinced myself in high school and college that my most productive hours were from 12AM to 3 AM? 

Without fail, Kat hits her most productive time at the day from 4-8... which, now that she's a working mom, totally conflicts with dinner, bath, and bedtime. How can working moms deal when their "naturally productive times" conflict with sacred family time? She asked the readers for advice, and they delivered!


  1. I do find myself envious of the childless when I am rushing out of the office at 6 or 6:30 to make it home to see the kids for an hour or two before bedtime, when really I was in the middle of something and would have been able to get so much done if I could have stayed at the office for a few more hours. I end up logging back on around 8:30-9:00ish and working for several more hours before going to bed. I do find this to be my most productive time of the day, especially for tasks like reviewing and drafting documents, because I am not getting interrupted with calls, emails, meetings, etc. like I am during the day at the office. And I am really lucky that I can sleep in later than most as DH gets the kids dressed and fed in the morning, so I am only responsible for getting myself up and dressed. But it is still an exhausting cycle.

  2. Maddie Ross says:

    I totally agree with B – I am sometimes totally envious of my peers and my former child-less self, sitting peacefully at the computer at 6 or 6:15, knowing they have another leisurely couple of hours to work and even grab a late bite, but I do very much appreciate the structure that I have now with a child. I am much, much more productive now between 8-5 than I ever was pre-kid. Unless there’s an emergency or unusual situation, I leave between 5:30 and 6, and get home in time for dinner. With only one toddler, we (rather shamefully) do not do a family dinner every night, but we both sit with her while we she eats no matter what. We probably do 3-4 nights a week of family dinner. Right now this is great. When she’s older I hope to do better, but we’ll see.

    As for productive times, my husband and I are luckily exact opposites – he’s a night owl, I’m an early bird. I get up about 5 most mornings and either go work out, catch up on work/emails, or occasionally just veg watching the morning news and drinking coffee. I often work for a bit after our LO is in bed, but am generally always down myself by 10. My H will stay up much later than me – 12am generally – working or having “his” time.

  3. I dearly miss what I considered in the past to be luxurious times of work. I can’t believe I thought that way, though, and wish I had put some limits on myself to make better habits.

  4. Bingo says:

    I think this post has resonated with me the most of anything Kat has ever posted on the Moms site! Her description of the “family tunnel” is exactly what happens in our house too. For me, it’s leaving work at 5:15, and doing dinner, bath, play, bedtime, dishes from 5:45 to 8:30. I have one hour “free” from 8:30-9:30 before I get ready for bed, so I’m in bed by 10pm each night. That one hour is often personal catchup — go through the mail, respond to my mom’s email, order stuff from Amazon, search online for a new hair salon, etc. Sometimes I spend that hour actually doing fun stuff like working out or watching tv. But it’s never spent actually working on work.

    Like Maddie, I try to be more productive between 8-5 than I used to be. I feel almost claustrophobic about my work time, because it’s completely constrained on both ends — it can’t expand out earlier than 8 or later than 5. It just has to get done inside that time. I’ve also accepted that I’m just not going to be as productive as I used to be before kids. It’s worth it, to me, to have kids, but it’s definitely a trade-off.

    • SoCalAtty says:

      I have the same problem. Our daycare opens at 7, so I can’t get on the road earlier than 7:10, which puts me in my office at 8. Can’t go in earlier. And I’m running out at 5 / 5:15 to dive into that “family tunnel.” So I also try to get everything done from 8-5. For now, it’s working, but pumping 3x / day is making it hard. We have wireless in the mother’s room and I take my laptop down to return emails / continue drafting / reviewing documents, but it is still an interruption.

      I feel like maybe it will get a little easier as the baby gets older. At 5.5 months, I’m still kind of frantic to get back to him at the end of the day, when, really, my husband is more than capable of handling him if I ever needed to stay a little later, and we keep a frozen stash of milk for just such an event. Maybe not….I guess I’ll find out!

      But I do for sure have to go to bed at about the same time as the baby – 8 / 8:30. I probably don’t actually fall asleep until 9:30, but I lay there with him and read / check social media/ decompress.

  5. I have a few thoughts –

    First, I really miss being able to get up early and work. I am way too zonked for that now.

    Second, I read recently (maybe in a comment here) that the notion of sacred family dinner could, theoretically be, a family meal. The woman in question said that making family meal into breakfast was what worked best for her – everyone together at that time. Then, I believe, she and her spouse alternated the dinner-bath-bed routine according to work schedules. They had their together time and then didn’t have to feel rushed coming home every single day. Would not work for everyone but useful to consider.

    Third, I recently read ‘I Know How She Does It’ – basically a summary of how successful women (defined as those making $100K per year, because I guess the author had to have some objective metric) spent their time. It was really eye opening to me. The author had women log their time for a week and had some interesting observations. I am planning on doing this myself because I really want to see where my time goes (reading this site, LOL).

  6. Meg Murry says:

    I’m fighting this right now. I have ADHD, and just recently was moved into a position where I have people coming in and out of my office, so the only time I have to actually get any of my own work done is either at home once the kids are in bed or after my co-workers clear out.

    Luckily, my office is full of morning people who are working away before 7:30, and it’s a true “only 8 hour” job most of the time (except right now when I’m training both a new employee AND a new boss AND learning a whole new part of the job myself), so it’s mostly empty by 4:00 and completely empty by 5, so I have some piece and quiet to get some work done.

    But I leave for work before my kids are up (or only see them for 15 minutes max in the morning), and if I stay any later I’ll basically only be there for part of dinner, fighting about homework and then bed – no time to actually have fun, and sticking my husband with all the childcare and the bulk of the other household work.

    Tonight, I’m giving up and going home after a couple more emails, because I’m just done. But I’ll probably be here late a few more nights a week, feeling like I’m both a mediocre mom and a mediocre employee.

  7. I don’t feel like I’ve lost productive work time – since coming back from maternity leave I eat at my desk, don’t hang out at the water cooler, and actually WORK (this site aside) during the hours I’m at work. Plus I started a new job with Little TK was 7 months old so I was able to set some reasonable expectations for productivity from the get go (easier than retraining my Big Law colleagues that I was no longer available to complete last-minute, due the next day projects that were dumped on my desk at 6:30 pm.)

    What I do miss, though, is everything other than work and kid. Right now I wake up and have an hour to get me and baby ready and to school / work. I leave work and spend the moment I leave until 8 at night with him (and husband) having dinner, bath time, etc. This is quality time that I don’t want to give up. From 8-9:30 I prepare/eat my own dinner, do dishes / laundry, respond to personal e-mails, work (sometimes), and talk to husband while watching t.v. and performing all above tasks. At 10 I shower, pack the next day’s lunch, set out tomorrow’s clothes, and go to bed around 10. I miss yoga. Wandering aimlessly through the mall. Happy Hours. Going to visit friends for a weekend. Date nights. Movies. Facials. Bike rides. Binge t.v. watching. I worked really long hours but still feel like I had time for other things – now I work far less than I used to but have no real free time at all.

    • “I work far less than I used to but have no real free time at all” – YES! I feel this too. i have no answers, but I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this!

      • shortperson says:

        this has really been hitting me lately. it helps to remind myself that time with my toddler is usually really fun, if not exactly *me* time. and i’m doing my first vacation trip away from her (with girlfiends!) in two weeks so that will help. but man, i miss my yoga practice.

    • Spirograph says:

      So much this.

      I literally just told my husband that we need to move my son’s bedtime back to 8:00 because I need more than an hour at night after they go to bed for kid-free activities or I am going to go insane. And then they will wake up earlier, and I can get to work earlier and be productive before my endless meetings start, and hopefully leave work at 5 instead of closer to 6. The leave work – daycare pickup – dinner – bath – bedtime – clean kitchen – do some laundry – get stuff ready for next day slog runs ~4 hours and I’m just so drained by then, all I want to do is flop on the couch and veg. Last night I just stood in the shower for who knows how long because it was warm and I was too tired to get out. I used to go to the gym after kiddos were in bed, and that did wonders for my mental health and energy, but now my son’s bedtime has crept later and I just can’t bring myself to leave at 9:00.

      It’s hard. I like family dinner, and my husband is helpful (although doesn’t have the same desire for efficiency that I do), and my kids are adorable and I love bathtime and storytime with them, but I seriously cannot wait until they are old enough to help with chores and get themselves ready for bed without me/H being involved with every step of the process.

  8. Katala says:

    I’ve been back at work for 3 months and struggling with this. I’m a biglaw associate, so it’s not in any way a 40 hours/week job. We moved and I took a significant pay cut to get down to average 50 hours/week and I am having trouble fitting it all in. I try to leave work by 6 or 6:30 every day, which means getting home just in time for bedtime routine at 7. No family dinner though I would really like to. Maybe when the baby is older…
    After the baby is in bed (theoretically at 7:30 but often 8 or 8:30), DH and I throw together dinner and try to eat together. Then clean kitchen, wash pump parts, prep stuff work work the next day and by then it’s 9, 9:30, 10 and I am so. done. I can’t imagine having energy to work at that point. Plan is always to be in bed by 10, but it’s usually pushed to 10:30 or 11 because I just need some down time in the day that’s not sleeping. I am dying to work out, but can’t see when that would happen.
    I’ve been trying to get to work before 8 (not that early for my office) so I can theoretically bill 9 hours a day. It’s not enough to hit my hours, though. And leaving by 7:30 means I usually won’t see baby in the morning.
    It’s hard. No advice here but definite commiseration.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think I’ve posted about this before, but after lots of trial and error, I really like our current system. I reliably work late two nights a week. My husband is on the same schedule. On those nights, our babysitter picks up the kids and gets them into bed. The other three nights a week, we’re home for dinner. It works for us because 1) it allows us to commute off-hours, which is essential in our area; and 2) it gives both of us a nice long strength of work time two days a week – those hours between 4 pm and 8 pm are GOLD, and I often work even later than that. We almost always are together in the morning and often sit down for real breakfast as well.

    I don’t know – maybe I’m dooming my kids by not having family dinner five nights a week – but for us this balance works really well to meet our work/commute needs as well as family needs. And it allows me to have enough time to bill the hours I need to bill, in a sustained way. (This is completely essential when I’m writing a brief, for example.)

    • I like the idea of family breakfast. That could work for us. Family dinner is hard – schedule wise and also just that “witching hour” effect. Tonight my two year old ate raisin bran (no milk) while sitting on the floor in the living room. I was just happy she was eating something…

    • Allison says:

      We do something similar. My husband doesn’t have a high demand job, so he’s home every day around 4. He showers and then does day care pick up around 4:30 and figures out supper. I’m home around 6:00 four days a week and stay in the office until 10:00ish the remaining day. I doubt its ruining the kid to spend one supper a week with her father.

  10. Clementine says:

    It’s really interesting to read all these comments. I’m on leave now, but am facing a pretty challenging situation when I go back to work. My office has a culture where although the *official* hours end at 5:30, I stay late frequently. Unfortunately, daycares in our area either (a) close at 5:30 or (b) close at 6 but are too far away from my office to reliably guarantee that I could stay at work any later. Because my spouse travels, I have to tell my bosses that there will be days I need to physically leave and then log on remotely.

    I don’t know how this will go over.

    Fortunately, my most productive hours are 6-9AM. I can get more done in those 3 hours than most people can in 6. I’m fresh, no one is in the office, and often people have made decisions I was waiting on the previous day. I’ve been at my office a few years and it’s pretty well known that when things are busy I come in early to get things done. It also always goes over well when I have all my deliverables for the day sitting on their intended recipients’ desks when they roll in to the office at 9:30. Daycare opens at 7, so I’m hoping I can still use a couple of those hours…

    This is when I get a little jealous of my spouse whose job is 100% travel. He’s either gone and working or he’s home and off (and a SAHD).

    • Anonymous says:

      Can you find a college student who can do the pick-up once or twice a week when your husband is traveling, both to allow you to work late and to allow you to get some self-care time? It’s tough to solo-parent – I’d encourage you to build in some back-up systems.

      • Second this. Solo parenting can be really tough. And I’m worried that you’re going to lose a chunk of your valuable morning hours — if daycare opens at 7, let’s say you’re walking out the door and heading to work at 7:15 — I don’t know how long your commute is, but you’re going to end up with much less than your usual 6-9am block. And evenings at home with a baby, especially when you’re solo parenting, aren’t usually very productive. How much is your husband gone? Maybe you’ll be able to get tons done while he is home.

        Not trying to be discouraging — you will find a rhythm that works for you! Just trying to help you plan.

        • Clementine says:

          Thank you both. Yeah, its going to be rough. I work in government, so my job is secure even if I do just the bare minimum. I’m mentally preparing to not be a superstar, which will be rough but is an acceptable tradeoff.

          I have other people doing pickups 2 days/week. Daycare is a 7 minute walk from work, so that helps, My husband travels so he’s gone for 2-3 months then home 2-3 months. When he’s home, he does all the errands, 75% of the housework and laundry, and is happy to do all daycare stuff.

          I do also have several ’emergency’ pickup people who I could use if I really did need to stay at work- I have the dream scenario where a friend who works non-traditional hours lives 2 blocks from daycare (and used to be a nanny!) has offered to be ‘on call’ for any emergency pickups that I can’t get away for.

          You know, I often question why we didn’t locate to one of our ‘dream’ cities and then I remember that we moved to the city where we had the most friends and family and could afford to live a reasonable commute away. Just the fact that I have inlaws who are 30 minutes away and are happy to babysit makes my life infinitely easier. Food for thought if you’re asking yourself ‘where do we live’ and want kiddos.

          • Anonymous says:

            +1 to living near family/friends if possible. Sometimes I really miss my big city life – a lot. But my work- life balance is so much better with a short commute and nearby parents and a SAHM best friend to pinch hit when daycare issues arise and work is crazy. I never appreciated how much difference it would make until we ended up with 3 under 3.

  11. Such an interesting discussion. All I can say is there are not enough hours in the day. The internet is a major time suck that I am working on eliminating. I have already abandoned social media. No idea how working parents have the time for it.

  12. When I am not traveling 5pm-8pm is strictly family time. After I get the kids to bed then I will work 8pm-midnight and sometimes even longer. When I am traveling I can act single again and work all day and all night.

  13. Anons says:

    This hit me hard. I’m a night owl and get my best work done between 3pm and 7pm. My daughter is an early riser and for her first 18 months she almost always awoke by 5:30am. This meant that I had a long and exhausting stretch with her before she would start childcare for the morning. I would often feel like I had run a marathon by the time I started work in the office. Then, right as I hit my afternoon groove, it is time to go home and do the whole dinner/bedtime/get ready for tomorrow/try to be in bed at a reasonable hour to get sleep time. My productivity has taken a huge hit.

    But the worst thing about it is I am now not sure that women will ever achieve true equality in the workplace. I used to just think it would take time. But now, I just don’t know.

    The obligations of motherhood so eclipse those of fatherhood during the first year that I don’t see how women can ever make up for it. It would take a million family friendly policies (good maternity leave, good paternity leave, better tax or government support for childcare, etc.) to even begin to level the playing field. Look at all the posts on this topic here on this site. Do you think most men have had to make such drastic adaptations? They just simply aren’t in the same position. Fatherhood is a huge shift, sure, but it is not the same. I say this as someone who has a ton of support from my husband–we both truly believe in an egalitarian marriage and workplace. But the fact remains that he didn’t have to recover from childbirth. He didn’t have to breastfeed. He didn’t have 8 million hormone adjustments and neurological changes happening in his brain during those first few weeks of motherhood. He didn’t have ears that woke him up the moment the infant cried. He wasn’t the only one that could console the baby when she was otherwise inconsolable during her first few colicky months. (I’ve never seen my ever so patient, even-keeled husband knocked so off-kilter as when he would hold and rock the baby for a few minutes during those awful witching hours in the first few weeks.) He isn’t the one facing eons of sexism at work such that any little decision he makes or small failure that occurs might be blamed on his “mommy-brain.”

    I will grant that men go through a lot when a baby is added to the family, I don’t want to diminish that, but biologically it is just so much less than women go through when they become a mother. How on earth can we expect employers to just ignore the fact that motherhood will, at least temporarily, make a worker economically less valuable to the employer? Even the best legal protections and government policies will have difficulty overcoming that obstacle. It just makes me really sad.

    • Pound says:

      I am Canadian and thus am biased by my own experiences growing up here. With kid number 1 I was permitted 12 months maternity leave, with full salary the first 6 months and just under 50% the second 6 months. I chose to take only 7 months with kid number 2, but had a graduated return to work plan. I am a physician (I could also go on and on about socialized health care…)
      I think American women are a force to be reckoned with and could fight for the right for better maternity leave. It’s just Better for kids and the community as a whole.

  14. My biggest tip is bringing in babysitters and household help. REGULARS, not folks you have to always be scheduling. We have a babysitter Tue and Thu evenings. She picks up my oldest on Tue, has a bubble bum (tiny $25 booster you can get at Walmart) for him in her car. And then recently I hired a Personal Assistant for mornings, which has been AMAZING. 7:15-9:15am. 1/4 nanny type stuff, she helps get shoes and socks on kids, water bottles, the last bits to get them out the door. Husband usually takes littles to day care / preschool, she and I alternate taking eldest. Occasionally she takes littles when my husband has to be at work early. Then she comes back, unloads dishwasher, irons, laundry, and helps with deeper decluttering. Runs errands, like purse to cobbler for repair, restring necklace. This all means I can shower and split for work when kids out, not get held up by all the daily mom junk.

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