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5 Ways Parents Make Evenings Really Count

With a little planning, parents can pack a lot in from the moment work ends until heads hit the pillows at night.

Creating family time is something of a puzzle. Mornings are chaos, the workday is too packed for a check-in, and weekends are nonstop activities. So much crucial parenting happens from 5 to 9 that getting quality family time can feel like a luxury rather than an important goal. But the good news is that the hours between 9 and 5 can be enough if parents are prepared.

“The total amount of time that parents spend with children is weakly associated with academic and behavioral outcomes,” says Kelly Musick, professor of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University, whose research finds that engagement can easily make up for hours of lost time. With a little planning, parents can pack a lot in from the moment work ends until heads hit the pillows at night. Here are tips from time management professionals to help do just that.

Plan Out Your Weeknights

You plan out your work week — why should home life be any different? “Put all of your kid’s activities on your calendar, and figure out which ones you can attend,” says productivity consultant Carson Tate. “It’s hard to go to every soccer game, so sit down with your child at the beginning of the week and ask them what games or meetings they want you to go to. Then you can plan your work around that.” It also pays to spend some time planning your meals.

Turn Off Your Phone the Second You Get Home

Multi-tasking parents need to try to focus on their family once they get home, and the best way to do this is to block the outside world. “You gotta shut off the technology,” says Tate. “Parents are rushing to be with their children, but they’re still connected to the office, so they’re giving both partial attention and they’re not really doing either well. Turn off the tech and focus on your kids. Doing both is not helpful at all.”

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Relax Together

Everyone is at least a little tired in the evening, so kick back together. Research by the American Sociological Review shows that when a parent is enjoying a leisure activity with their kids — even just being there while they play with toys — the connection between parent and child grows stronger. Tate suggests going so far as to formalize this rest time. “Every Friday everyone knows we all have to make time for the family,” she says. “We play games or download a movie, but we know we’re going to spend this time together.”

Run Errands After the Kids Are Asleep

You don’t have to stop by to pick up milk and eggs on the way home from work — that eats into valuable bonding time. Instead, says Tate, utilize businesses that are open late to run errands. If you complete tasks on those late work nights, then you’ll be free to make up for lost time with the kids in the evening and on the weekend.

Take a Real Look at Your Whole Day

“My wife and I always wanted to have family dinner, but we’d get home too late,” says time management expert and author of Smarter, Faster, Better Charles Duhigg. So he took a look at the chain of events leading up to his late entry. “Why are we getting home too late? I mean to leave the office early, but when I sit down at 5 p.m., I have emails and 2 or 3 other things to do. Why is there all this work at the end of the day? I get to work right before the first meeting. Why am I getting to work late? Because we are leaving at 8:30 a.m. Why is it taking so long to get dressed? Because you have to choose clothes.” Once you go through root cause, he says, it’s time to come up with a new plan. Breaking down time-eating problems with this much interrogation will help weed out the small things that can derail the precious few hours of family time.