How to Work After Your Kids Go to Bed

how to work after your kids go to bedHere’s a great question for working moms that we’ve never discussed: How do you get more stuff done or otherwise work after your kids go to bed? Have you been able to regularly summon a second wind to be productive at night? 

Even if putting your kids to bed is a relatively painless affair and not a Go the F*** to Sleep situation, you may often wonder how you can possibly work after your kids go to bed when you feel ready for bed yourself. (Still, even if you’re not at your best post-bedtime, make sure to enjoy the kid-free time now, because one day it will be gone — when your kids become teenagers, they’ll probably stay up even later than you do.)

Maybe working after your kids go to bed is unavoidable because you work a shorter schedule during the day and finish your workday from home, or maybe you’ve decided you’d much rather do laundry, clean, etc., on weeknights rather than weekends. Here are some ways to be productive and work after your kids go to bed:

  1. If you regularly feel so tired that you can’t get anything done after your kid goes to bed, try to make sure there’s no medical reason for it. It’s likely you’re simply dealing with the realities of being a working parent, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
  2. Try putting your kids to bed earlier. Ha! I know this is easier said than done (oh, don’t I know it). And this suggestion only works with a certain age range of kids, of course — not too young, not too old. You can move your kids’ wake-up times by up to 30 minutes a day (or start out with every other day), and in theory (i.e., if you’re very lucky), the earlier wake-ups will make them more tired in the evenings and more receptive to earlier bedtimes.
  3. If you have something crucial to do before the next day, whether work or personal, go directly from your kid’s room to wherever you need to do that task. Do not sit on the couch! Actually, forget you have a couch! It’s so easy to tell yourself, “OK, I’m only going to sit and relax here on the couch for 10 minutes,” only to wake up two hours later, groggy and in no mood to do anything but sleep. (Ask me how I know.) Once you’ve accomplished whatever it is — let’s assume it’s something small(ish), and not “Do taxes” — the momentum will often motivate you to do something else. Or instead, maybe go right to your bedroom and change out of your work clothes if you haven’t yet. (But don’t sit down in there!).
  4. Make sure that the things you expect to accomplish at night are realistic. You may be expecting too much of yourself. Are there any chores you can switch to the weekend, or to your spouse? Don’t plan on doing an unreasonable amount of work for your job — as Laura Vanderkam (I Know How She Does It) wrote, “You would not get through a 1,000 email backlog from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., and guess what? You won’t between 8:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M. either!” If you have to work on weeknights, reserve any busywork or other less-taxing tasks for those times, if possible. And give yourself a break if you’re not Super(post-bedtime)woman.
  5. Plan to take breaks, and actually take them. Once your kids go to bed, decide when you’ll stop later on for, say, a tea (or wine) break for you, or for you and your spouse, so that you know your stopping points and have something nice to look forward to. We recently talked about taking breaks to increase your productivity over at Corporette.
  6.  You knew we were going to say it, sorry: Exercise in the evenings rather than the mornings and get an energy boost. We listed some short workout options in our posts on how to find time to work out as a mom and quick workouts for busy moms. You don’t have to do anything really strenuous, especially if you’re a morning-shower person and don’t want to sweat too much. If you’ve got a dog, take him for a walk! Or, just take yourself for a walk!
  7. If you’ve tried everything and still feel exhausted and unable to get anything done after your kids’ bedtime, consider if it’s time to give up and go to bed when your kids do (or soon afterward). You may find out that you’re more productive at the beginning of the day — and who knows, you may even turn into one of those people who regularly gets up at 4:00 or 4:30 a.m. and loves to tell everyone about it. (It’s a thing now. Has it always been a thing?) Again, this may not work if you have kids of certain ages, or kids of any age who get up really early.

What do you do after your kid(s) go to sleep? Do you try to get a lot done, or do you use most of the time to relax and spend time with your spouse (or time alone!)? What has helped you be more productive when you’ve tried to get more done after your kids’ bedtime? Are chores doable, but work is just too taxing for your brain at the end of a long day? Are you just too tired to do anything but the bare minimum? 

Pictured: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot.

Further Reading:

  • Do You Work After the Kids Go To Bed? Here Are 5 Ways to Make It Work [Laura Vanderkam]
  • The Post-Bedtime Ritual of Successful Working Parents [Inc.] (guest post by Vanderkam)
  • Breaking the Couch Potato Habit [AlphaMom]

How the heck does anyone do any WORK after the kids go to bed? How do working moms summon a second wind to get more work done or otherwise be productive at the end of a long day? We rounded up some great tips for all working parents.

Comments

  1. I am not a productive human being in the evening so I reserve my low energy busywork for slower times of day or for my bus commute. I can respond to emails, do admin tasks etc. I am currently losing ages to pumping and can’t seem to manage anything more intensive than email. I think it’s partially the room set up, I’m sitting on the couch with a very low coffee table.

  2. I don’t do office work in the evenings, period. If I’m going to function and be productive at work, I need a hard line between work and home. I know that’s not a popular opinion during the age of working remotely and work-life integration (barf), but it’s critical to my sanity. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t check in during a true emergency, but it absolutely cannot be a regular thing.

    Oddly, I don’t have much trouble doing personal/house chores after the kids go to bed, like light cleaning, laundry, and various administrative stuff that doesn’t get done during the day. (Provided that I don’t crash on the couch first.) My biggest issue is letting myself off the hook to just relax and unwind before bedtime.

    I tried, and failed, to implement an evening exercise routine for years. It’s the last thing I feel like prioritizing when I’m tired and feeling the urge to get caught up at home. So, mornings it is … the downside is having a really early bedtime.

  3. I rarely accomplish anything at night. I’m one of those people who wakes up early and loves to tell people about it. But that’s just my body clock. I am worthless in the evenings and have been my whole life. I relax after kiddo goes to bed, go to bed early, get up early and get a couple hours of work in before she gets up. I then take a long lunch to run/shower and stop working earlier than most folks to get that time back. It’s more of shifting things around than truly working more than a typical workday. But 95% of the time my work hours are predictable. I only have emergency projects here and there. If I really need to utilize the evenings, I am better at using them for housework (meal prep, quiet cleaning, etc.). Hubby is the opposite, and it is kind of nice. Our schedules compliment each other so we get quiet/alone time while the other sleeps.

  4. shortperson says:

    i am in biglaw and usually stop working at 530 for pickup/dinner/bedtime. so yes, i work nights. no magic, i just…do it. i agree that starting right away after kid is in bed is helpful. and if im tired, i getup super early instead. my office is next to her room so she likes that i’m right there.

    • shortperson says:

      i should add, another thing is that we have intentionally made her bedtime routine short. she bathes twice a week, typically one book, no staying in the room after bedtime, etc. i saw with some relatives kids how being with them as they fall asleep can make you sleepy all evening and intentionally never took that path with her. i’d rather spend our time together on fun activities while she’s awake then on a long frustrating bedtime.

      • shortperson says:

        oh also we hire someone do our dishes and laundry 4 weekday mornings a week. obviously a big part of what makes it work.

  5. I struggle first because my kid is a night owl and sleeps 10ish-8ish (which is fine since I go in to work late, and yes her doctor is okay with it, and yes we’ve tried an early bedtime and sleep training and all that jazz), and second because she still has a feeding in the middle of the night at 6 months (see above), and third because I do bedtime and rock her in a dark room for 15-30 minutes depending on the night and that makes me sleepy. Post-bedtime work really only happens when it’s a hard morning deadline the following day. On those nights, for me, I get home from the office around 7:30/8ish, take an hour to bond with the baby, eat dinner, put pump parts in the dishwasher, etc., and then set up work on the couch with my laptop with the baby either playing at my feet or in her bouncer or swing. I get “breaks” for nursing (we reverse cycle a bit and nurse pretty frequently in the evening). I put her down at 10, and then I have to come right back downstairs to either the couch with laptop or my desk with dual-monitors, depending on what I am doing, lights on, ice cold drink (lemonade, pop, water, whatever) and then I can sometimes eke out another 2-3 hours. I am just too exhausted anymore to work until the wee hours of the morning like I used to – midnight/1am is pretty much my limit.

    • 2 Cents says:

      Off topic, but my mom tells me that when I was a baby, I regularly slept from 10 or 11 p.m. to 8 or 9 in the morning. She tried getting me to bed earlier, but nope! I think I grew up to be a normal adult (who is still a night owl compared to a morning person).

  6. PregLawyer says:

    2.5 year old goes to bed at 7:00 (bedtime routine is 7:00-7:30). My husband and I switch off bedtime duty. So I typically leave work at 5:00 to pick up the kid, get home by 6:00, and have a short amount of time before bed. I have to do work from 7:30-9:30 approximately once a week. I just sit on the couch in front of the tv with my laptop and get things done. It sucks, but sometimes it just has to happen.

  7. Lyssa says:

    Do you ladies who do this have any real time with your spouse during the week, or do you just get it in on weekends? I guess my kids go to bed on the later side, but by the time that we eat, play a little, and they get to bed, there’s just enough time to watch one (hour-long) show with my husband, and then I have to crash. (I do start a little on the early side, I guess.) I realize that some people would criticize me for prioritizing watching television, but it’s something that my husband and I are doing together, and that’s important to me.

    Fortunately, it’s not a big issue for my job, but I can’t imagine how I’d handle it if it were.

    • Not much. I guess we’ve just adapted to it. Sometimes we have lunch dates. Those are nice.

    • Not really. We have mornings together – my husband stays at home, so we get some time to chit chat and catch up while I’m getting ready, and sometimes the baby sleeps later than we do. I also call him on my drive home to check in (also so I know what I’m walking into). If I don’t have to work at night, sometimes we can catch up / watch tv together after the baby goes to bed, but usually I’m trying to sleep then anyways. Lately we have been watching jeopardy together when I get home, so that is kind of fun and we learn all sorts of things about each other in response to “how did you know (or not know) that”. I have also added working from home one day a week, so the time I would normally spend chitchatting with my co-workers I spend with him or the baby. Most of our catch-up time is on weekends while the baby naps.

    • When my husband isn’t traveling, I don’t work in the evening at all unless it’s a major emergency. So we usually get a couple of hours before crashing – usually about 8:30-10:30. When he’s traveling, I work ahead and my personal project so I don’t have to do much when he’s here. Keeps me entertained and helps me prioritize time with him. Otherwise, weekend afternoons are where it’s at.

  8. Sabba says:

    I don’t work at night unless it is an emergency. I try to plan my day so that doesn’t happen. My child is an early bird. I’m a night owl. It takes all my energy to get to bed at a decent hour so that I am not dead tired the next day when I need to wake up for her breakfast. If I work after her bedtime, it pushes everything back at least an hour for me to be calm enough to go to sleep when I need to. I used to get my best work done between 5pm and 9pm and it has really affected my output. But I’m just not someone who can deal with 3 or 4 hours of sleep at night, which is what I get if I don’t start winding myself down as soon as I put my daughter to bed.

    It should be genetic law that the child inherits the circadian clock of the mother. I swear it is my deepest parenting challenge to deal with such a high energy toddler so damn early every morning.

  9. When my first was a baby, I worked from home and my husband traveled. I’d keep short hours during the business day (9-4) to ease my mama guilt. There was one mindless and repetitive task that I had to do every day, so I’d take care of that in the evening. I would always reward myself with a glass of wine when done and always stick to that one defined task.

    Now I’m spending a lot of evening time writing for my own purposes, which is fun and doesn’t feel like “work.” I’ve had good luck setting up shop in our office, which is located between the kids’ rooms. I can easily plop them back in bed if they get up and they seem to be comforted by the fact that they can hear me typing in the next room.

    Other than easy, defined tasks or stuff that I’m doing for fun, I cannot get anything done in the evening. I tell people that my brain has a productivity quota for the day, and then it shuts off, and it’s true. Deep thinking work must be done in the morning for me!

  10. Coffee says:

    I started having a late afternoon espresso and chocolate (I aim for 5 hrs before bedtime). This gives me the energy boost I need to be a good mom when I get home and not be so exhausted by the time the kids are in bed to not just go to bed myself. I have about 1.5 hours after the kids are in bed to clean up from dinner, fold a load of laundry, talk with my husband, and get my stuff packed up for the next day. Without the coffee, I often wind up falling asleep right after the kids go to bed.

    • Leslie Knope says:

      This is a good idea! I have those days where I just lay down right after putting my son to bed, or tonight, where I literally laid on the bathroom floor while he played in his bath and peeled myself off to finish putting him to sleep.

  11. I often work after bedtime as it’s really the only way to get my billlable hours in while getting home at a reasonable time. My secret was to get a good home office setup with two monitors just like at work so I have no excuse not to get things done. It also forces me to go into the home office and not work in front of the TV where I wasn’t being productive. My husband and I have two desks in the office so we often work together – this makes him more productive too so we can watch TV together. And we got more help around the house so I can get straight to work after putting my son to bed rather than doing dishes and laundry.

  12. Leslie Knope says:

    My 2 year old goes to bed at 7. If I am prepping for a trial or motions (prosecutor here), I can easily get several hours of concentrated work done in the comfort of my bed in the room next to him and still get to bed pretty early. When I am not prepping for trial/motions I try and do at least one household chore (laundry or vacuum) before relaxing. It makes me feel better if the house isn’t a complete wreck by the time the weekend roles around. When I am working a ton, housework is the first thing to slide. And exercise. . . .

  13. Tfor22 says:

    My answer is a combination of a lot of the responses above. I need a lot of sleep and usually go to sleep just after the lad. He is 12 and goes to sleep around 9. Occasionally the hubs and I stay up to watch tv. We usually get up pretty early, between 5 and 6. I don’t sleep in on the weekends but I often crash & take an hour nap after serving in church on Sundays.

    I am not very good at working during the evenings. I clear out some junk mail or prepare myself mentallly for the next day. Like the first poster I like to do most of my work at work.

  14. Anonanonanon says:

    I’m NOT a morning person, BUT something about the adrenaline rush of getting up earlier than usual and a quiet house makes me more productive if I get up early than attempt to work in the evenings. Luckily I don’t often have to do this, but I find that once I put my son to bed my brain goes “you’ve made it through the day! You’re done!” and I can’t make myself sit down and start another task.
    I find transitioning back-and-forth from work brain to home brain to be tough, so I’d rather stay late at the office, or wake up early and work from home before going in than try to transition from work to home and then back to work mode.

  15. English professor. Two year old goes to bed at 7pm and I read / prep for class for an hour or two weekday nights. Not too taxing, and leaves me with writing time during the day. Have pretty much stopped watching TV during the semester though!

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