Can parents make time for deep work?
Yes, with a little patience and these three tips.
I phrased this as a question because even after 15 years of being a parent, I still sometimes wonder how to make this work! So, If you’ve come to read this article looking for a polished picture of success, you may be disappointed.
Managing a household has hours of admin work and literal busywork each day — dishes, laundry, groceries, and cleaning are just the very beginning. Add in doctor and dentist appointments, parent teacher meetings, playdates, getting kids to extracurricular activities, buying school books or helping with homework, paying bills, and you just about start to get a picture of what running a household with children entails.
For households of children with special needs, you’d add into the mix therapy sessions, even more doctor or clinic appointments and extracurricular activities, perhaps support groups, and of course more intense emotional and/or physical caretaking. Obviously, parents also hold jobs to make a living, maintain friendships or relationships, and sometimes (superheroes among us) even manage a fitness routine in addition to this list of tasks.
Aren’t you tired just reading that paragraph?
Unfortunately, because the reality is that getting help with child care is the main way that parents can free up more time in their day to maintain a work schedule, parents who have less financial means, single parents, or those who don’t have the help of extended family, have a much harder time with taking time off.
There are no easy solutions, but these are my top three tips to find deep work as a parent.
- The first step for me was to realize that deep work happens in bigger chunks, not 15 minute increments. Most new parents understand this immediately when they realize that Baby’s naps are when they can get the most deep work done, because it sometimes amounts to an hour or more. So, to get the most out of that particular hour, I used to spend the rest of the day’s “time confetti” snatching 5–10 minutes here and there to put things in order so that when a deep work hour was available (ie naptime, playdate, etc) I could completely focus on just one major thing and none of the little commitments.
- Frame and make tradeoffs. Will bathing your kids every other day or every few days rather than every bedtime give you more time for deep work in the evenings? Do it — what’s a little extra dirt? In the same vein, I prefer not to go to every school function or meeting, even if it means I run the risk of getting labeled an uninvolved parent. It’s a tradeoff I make in order to have more time for other things. (Feel free to approach this with as little guilt as your personal baggage allows.)
- Slowly, teach kids to be independent and to value their own deep work and play. Preschool and older children gain a sense of security and consistency if you model deep work for them on a regular basis, and you don’t disturb them when they are engaged in tasks they find engrossing. This strategy has two parts: By becoming involved in a deep work session (like a Groove for example), staying engaged and focused while explaining to your child what you are doing and why you aren’t available to play with them at the moment, you educate them about creating time boundaries. By letting them create their own time boundaries (ie letting them finish a sand castle before leaving the beach, allowing ample play time before dinner) you reinforce the idea that deep, engrossing activities are a valuable way for them to spend their time.
When all else fails (which is tbh be pretty often), look no further than Toni Morrison, who wrote novels in the dawn before her boys woke up, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who studied law each night after her daughter went to bed. And remember — even when deep work just doesn’t work out, you’re probably still crushing it and tomorrow’s another day to try again.