Summer is upon us and over the next few weeks schools will be closing, the sun will be shining, and you’ll be daydreaming that you’re at the beach, on a boat, at the pool, or anywhere but your desk. There’s a good chance that all the excitement and distractions of summer will curb your productivity—but if you manage your time properly, communicate well, and shift priorities as needed, you can get through the season without slacking too much.
"The familiar sentiment, 'school's out for summer' may not end after college,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. “A feeling of wanting to finally break out from routine and take off continues into the workplace, no matter our age or career status. And that can distract us from being at our optimal productivity levels."
Al Coleman, Jr., author of Secrets to Success: The Definitive Career Development Guide for New and First Generation Professionals, says it’s natural for you to be a bit less productive at work in the summer months “due to nice weather, vacations, and if you have a family, the summer activities of your children.”
Sometimes the dip in productivity is more a function of the fact that your bosses, co-workers, clients and vendors are taking their “prized vacation time,” Taylor says. “In the uncertain economic climate, many people have put off their vacations until the slower summer months–or if they are parents, when their kids are home. The pressure cooker environment takes a slight pause in the summer.”
Anita Attridge, a Five O’Clock Club career and executive coach, agrees that the warm weather and thoughts of vacation can be distracting to employees and can potentially reduce productivity—but she also believes that “much depends on what is happening in the business during the summer and the manager’s expectations of what employees need to accomplish during this time.” It’s important to know what your boss expects and to meet those expectations.
Weather your productivity slips a bit because you’re distracted by summer activities, because your boss has low expectations, because business is slow, or because your managers and colleagues are on vacation, you can’t let it affect your efficiency too much.
Here are nine things you can do to boost your productivity at work this summer:
Plan your play. Every employee needs a break, Taylor says. Find out in advance a mutually agreeable time for vacation from your boss so you’re not stressed while away from the office. Some bosses prefer that you’re away when they’re away. Others prefer that you cover for them or manage in their stead. Open communication counts for a lot when it comes to summer vacation time. It’s important to delineate your time off and establish ground rules.
“Also take time to schedule other summer events and activities that are important to you so that you can plan your work around them,” Coleman adds. If you plan to leave work a few hours early one day, then stay later the day before. If you want to take a longer lunch to meet a friend who is in town—arrive earlier to work that morning.
Communicate. Once you have your schedule set, share it with your supervisor to ensure that you’re both on the same page about how and when you’ll get your work done in the summer months, Coleman says.
If you have a needy or micromanaging boss, then over-communicate your impending summer vacation, Taylor adds. “Give your bosses a countdown so they don’t feel deserted. Make arrangements with other employees to cover for you. You may have to put in more hours before you leave or orchestrate your vacation to occur after critical projects will be completed. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds, so have a back-up plan. If you’ve prepaid for an non-refundable getaway, you’ll be glad you did.”
Make good use of your vacation time. While the primary purpose of your vacation time should be to relax and recharge (so that you can be more productive when you return), you might want to consider tying business to a trip if it’s convenient, Lynn says. “You may be able to meet with a client, vendor, or other company branch if you’re vacationing in the same city. That can be a win-win for you and your boss or company, if the client or meeting is of high enough priority. You could make a deal happen, and perhaps save on some travel costs.”
Make plans for your children. If you’re a parent, it’s easy to be distracted by your children in the summer. They are off from school and may require more time and attention from you. Find a good balance between work and family time—and make arrangement for your kids, like daycare or summer camp. Try to avoid bringing them to the office and discourage them from calling you frequently throughout the day.
Shift priorities as needed. When you can’t get approvals on projects because your boss or co-worker is on vacation, move on to those that require in-depth thinking, Taylor says. “This may be a time of fewer distractions because of people being out. Capitalize on that by focusing on projects that require strategic thought and planning so you’ll be ready to precede with your fall proposals at a time when the pressure cooker environment returns. You’ll be glad you took advantage of any lulls.”
Be flexible. While the summer offers wonderful opportunities for rest and relaxation, you may have a project or two that requires you to adjust your plans to meet a deadline, Coleman says. “While you certainly don’t want to pass up on vacations or miss key events in the lives of your friends and family, you may need to use technology to briefly work remotely; or you may need to ask for the assistance of a co-worker or use a few of the scheduling tricks previously mentioned to ensure that you meet the demands of your job while taking time for yourself.” If all else fails you may need to postpone your plans for a later date when you’re less busy, just make sure that you don’t give up on those plans–the summer is the best time to recharge and distress, so take full advantage of it.
If there’s no work, find some. If you’re not productive simply because things around the office are slow, use the time to get a jump start on upcoming projects, or to catch up on many lose ends that have accumulated, Attridge says.
Don’t fall prey to lowering your output. It’s rare that a manager accepts poor performance because it’s a slower time of year, Taylor says. As long as you’re getting a paycheck, it’s assumed that you’re working to your best ability, regardless if others are taking time off at the beach. “When it’s your turn, that’s another story,” she adds. “If your boss is overly hard driving and you haven’t taken vacation in too long a time, you’ll have to diplomatically explain that you can only do your best work if you have a break. Think in terms of ‘what’s in it for the boss.’ Make it clear that your projects will be handled, and give specifics.”
Don’t think showing up equates to productivity. Just keep in mind that achievements trump hours spent. Just because you’re in the office for the required eight hours, doesn’t mean you’ve done your job. The summer is not a ticket for slacking off, Taylor says, so don’t do it!
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This is an updated version of a piece that ran previously.