Tips for staying productive in the lazy days of summer
Does anyone else out there struggle with productivity during the summer months? I am literally raising both my hands right now. It is so easy to get out of your groove and get in the habit of binging on your favorite Netflix TV series, all in the name of summer fun. Now don't get me wrong. Every single person needs rest and relaxation, and I encourage you to literally schedule it in your week. However, when you are your own boss or work from home, it is easy to push productivity off.
Here's the thing, productivity is hard because it requires intentional thinking and habits. What we think and believe determines the physical outcome of many things in your life.
I recently ran a 5K. It demanded a lot of work and self-discipline to keep running every week in preparation for race day. All the tech gear, different aches and pains, and finally discovering what feels like to hit your stride. All of it has been hard, sweaty and did I mention hard?
In preparation for the race, I set up systems to help me become acclimated to the 90-degree weather while staying motivated to put in the work. I made a habit of saying to myself during hard runs: I have been here before. You got this. I practiced visualizing a good run where I felt good and finished strong. I spent time thinking and speaking out what I wanted to happen as though it had already happened. I thought my way and worked my way into believing I am a runner, and on race day, I was. I finished strong.
The same process can be said for productivity. It calls for systems to help you achieve it, intentional thinking, and consistent hard work. It's not easy but it's worth it. Here are a few thoughts on how to stay productive with your work and to-dos this summer (or anytime really):
Start the day strong
This can be difficult for me because I like nothing more than to ease into my day, sipping away at my cup of coffee as I watch a new episode or journal my thoughts. However, to jumpstart my day I like to start by identifying three main to-dos, scheduling a time for fitness, and making room for family time. Notice I didn't say to write down ten to-dos! Putting overwhelming expectations on yourself to get a million things done can leave you stressed and disappointed. Then, at the end of the day take the time to mentally recap the day by celebrating progress and noting what you are grateful for.
Set your calendar, hours and reminders
Be honest about how much you want to work and track your hours as you go. I use a physical calendar, iCal or Google calendars, a reminders system, and time tracking app. It may sound like a lot of tools, but each serves a purpose. The physical calendar (I like to use a book with monthly and weekly overviews) lets me brainstorm and prioritize my to-dos, commitments, and take notes throughout the week. The digital calendar is where I put confirmed meetings and travel with digital alerts so I remember when I have an upcoming meet or other items I need to take action on. Using a reminders app really comes in handy if you find your mind racing at night before bed or while in the car. Use the voice scheduling feature to set reminders (even for the most trivial of tasks); or go analog with scratching out some thoughts on a post-it-note. Whatever the method, getting things off your mind and into a system takes the strain off of trying to manage it all.
Set up a work and reward structure where you set aside time to focus on knocking items off your to-do list and then reward yourself with something fun. Take walks between chunks of work, or listen to your favorite podcast or audio book while you do stretches for flexibility. Whatever the reward, having something to look forward to really helps motivate your work.
Take note of external factors
There will be days when unexpected things pop up or your plans change whether you like it or not. I'm sure anyone reading this with kids is probably shaking their head in agreement right now. Accept that you cannot control everything and this will go a lot more chill. I find when I make room for flexibility in my schedule, instead of packing it full, navigating the changes goes a lot more smoothly.
Setting boundaries with your clients and yourself are so very important. My good friend and graphic designer, Susan Kubes, sent me this great tip: My biggest advice is reading and responding to emails and voicemails only at certain times of the day. There are some exceptions, but for the most part I'll check email about 8 a.m. and again about 10 a.m. or 11 a.m.; then about 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. and again at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. I've been really trying to stick with this schedule to avoid sending emails after 6 p.m.; which provides me sanity and attempts to train my clients. This above all else has made my life less stressful, and I feel a lot less yoked to my phone so to speak.
Productivity does not equal worthiness
Don't let your yearning for productivity turn into performance-based living and identity. Just because you miss it one day, doesn't mean you are a horrible person who won't amount to anything. It just means you need to be mindful of what got you off track, make a plan to deal with it the next time you face it, and start again.