Here’s the dilemma: you need, or want, to work more than 40 hours a week. You also have young kids who go to bed on the early side. How do you see them while still putting in the hours?
As I have analyzed parents’ time logs, I have realized that one of the most common solutions is doing what I call a “split shift.” You leave work at a reasonable hour, come home for family time, then do more work at night after the kids go to bed. You trade off work time for what would be TV-watching time instead of work time for family time. That is a choice a lot of working parents are willing to make.
I think it’s smart. However, it can be tough to do the split shift well. Here are some ways to incorporate it into your life without going crazy (or being sleep-deprived).
1. Don’t do it nightly.
To be sure, almost no one does a split shift truly nightly, meaning 7 nights a week. I saw almost no logs with a split shift on a Friday night. When people are done on Fridays they are done! Saturday is also not a split shift sort of day. But honestly, even Sunday-Thursday can get old. I would aim to cap it at 3-4 nights per week so you have one evening to relax with friends or your partner or do a hobby.
2. Be realistic.
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! Make a short to-do list with a few items: anything that has to be done for the next day, any planning that would make the next day smoother, and anything you want to do. I add that last one because late night tends to be a low energy time for many people, so it is hard to do difficult, draining work. Stuff you want to do, on the other hand, can be motivating.
3. Put a cap on it.
The split shift should have an end, ideally at least 45 minutes or so before you need to be in bed (this time frame varies by person). This gives you time to chat with your spouse, get ready for bed, and do whatever wind-down activities you do.
4. Ask if it is necessary.
It can be easy to get in the habit of doing a split shift, and as a result, you don’t push through that last hour of the workday. You tell yourself oh, I will get to it tonight. But with a little extra effort, you could get through it before quitting time. Just because you can work at night doesn’t mean you have to.
5. Consider the morning.
If you can’t think late at night, you could do the alternate version of the split shift: working before the kids get up. This is harder if your children wake up unpredictably, but if they are old enough to know not to leave their rooms until the clock says 7 (or turns yellow if you have such a clock) then you can fairly predictably wake up at 5:30 A.M. and work for at least an hour. With a good cup of coffee, this might be your most productive slot of the day!
A version of this article originally appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website.