Summer is fast approaching (well, technically it’s already here), which means the hardest time of year to stay productive at the office is upon us.
Let’s face it, most of us are already thinking about our vacation plans (or depressing lack thereof, as the case may be).
But you’ll still be spending more time in the office than out of it over the summer. So unless you want to spend all of September in panic mode, it’s worth thinking about how to stay productive even while the sun is shining and your Facebook friends are mercilessly bombarding you with pictures from their outrageously awesome holidays, just to spite you.
So here are five, (mostly) scientifically-proven, useful tips to staying productive during the summer slump:
Take a vacation
Weren’t expecting that, were you?
But it’s not a cop-out answer. Unless you’ve already used up all your vacation days before the summer (why?!), make sure you’ve planned at least some vacation time during July-August — even a day or so to tune out, recharge, and return to work having experienced at least a little sunlight exposure.
There are so many studies attesting to the positive impact of taking a vacation on both your work and personal mental/physical health, that they’re hardly worth citing. Besides, it’s just common sense — everyone needs a break once in a while to avoid burnout.
What’s particularly crazy though, is that so many of us aren’t even taking our full allotment of vacation time. For example, despite having the lowest number of paid vacation days in the developed world (apart from Japan) some 25% of Americans don’t take all of their annual vacation days.
One particular study, from way back in 2007, coined a… slightly melodramatic term for what many are suffering from as a result: “vacation deprivation.” It noted that employees who failed to take time off increased the likelihood of mistakes and resentment at work.
What’s more, the study, by “former NASA scientists, working on behalf of Air New Zealand and using testing tools normally reserved for astronauts(!)” revealed that “vacationers experienced an 82% increase in job performance post-trip.”
Which leaves us with just one question: what “testing tools usually reserved for astronauts” were required for that kind of experiment?
It’s true that longer vacations have more of a stress-relieving impact, but even a 24-48 hour break positively impacts a person’s mental health. Vacation is a time to tune out from the stresses of work, sleep more, pamper yourself, and generally switch from a task-focused mentality to reflecting on the bigger picture.
Of course, this only applies if you manage your time at work effectively post-vacation.
All in all though, you’re more likely to approach your work with greater enthusiasm and energy if you’ve had some time to decompress.
To quote Strategic Coach and author Dan Sullivan: “It’s not the amount of time you spend working each day” that’s important. “You can create a solution in a shorter period of time if you are rested and rejuvenated.”
Think ahead, and set realistic goals
OK, so you’ve taken a vacation, or have one planned. But right now you’re at your desk, and everyone in the world seems to be having fun except for you.
The best way to demotivate yourself further in such a situation is to begin a long, difficult, tedious project. Unless it’s time-sensitive, don’t go there. If you try to be over-ambitious, you’ll end up getting nothing done at all. Instead, use the “dead time” over the summer to deal with a set number of achievable objectives. All those “little things” you’ve been constantly putting on the back-burner, “for when things quieten down”? Now’s the time…
In particular, think ahead about things which will help you later on in the year, but that you won’t have time to deal with then.
For example, if you’re a demand gen marketer, the summer months are a great time to look back at the first half of the year, take note of what worked and what didn’t, and come up with creative campaigns and other ideas for the long autumn-winter slog. The summer lull is also the perfect time to analyze your marketing data, and fix up your database if necessary.
If you’re a content marketer, the summer lull is a great opportunity to update your blog’s editorial calendar. It’s also a chance to do a thorough content inventory. Are there any potentially valuable assets which aren’t being utilized, or which you had forgotten even existed? Are there others which are no longer relevant or usable — or perhaps could be with a little editing? Are there any glaring holes in your content arsenal? If so, now is a great time to plan how to fill them.
Start with easy wins to build confidence
It really is true that success breeds success.
A 2014 study led by researchers at Stony Brook University discovered that “success accumulation” actually fuels further successes.
Notably, their experiment revealed that the scale of the initial success didn’t seem to make a difference — a modest initial success had the same power as a larger one. Either way, subjects who experienced early successes were 9-31% more likely to succeed subsequently than those who did not.
As summarized by the study’s lead author: “a modest initial success may be sufficient to trigger a self-propelling cascade of success in various success-breeds-success scenarios.”
A self-propelling cascade of success. That could be you.
So if you’re struggling to get going, try starting with something really easy, chalk up a quick win, and take it from there.
Put aside your phone — and turn it to silent
Everyone knows that constantly checking your phone is a sure way to hurt your productivity. Answer every message, while intermittently browsing Facebook, in between checking Twitter and taking a call from your mom, and before you know it it’s nearly the end of the day and you’ve got nothing to show for it.
But more alarmingly, your phone has the power to derail your work even when you don’t answer it.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, found that experiment subjects performing a task requiring intense focus were three times more likely to make a mistake when they received a notification on their phone — even if they didn’t answer it!
Just knowing that someone was trying to reach them was enough to distract them from their task. Worse, the subjects remained distracted long after the call ended.
This is a really tough one though. Being constantly reachable isn’t always a great thing, but the fact is people have come to expect it, and going “off the grid” isn’t always an option — particularly if a genuinely urgent call comes up.
One possible solution could be to silence all notifications other than actual phone calls (assuming that if it’s really important, they’ll call). Or at the very least, commit to not answering your phone unless it seems really urgent.
Get off social media!
Speaking of distractions…
But it’s not just the notoriously terrible impact social media has on our concentration that’s the problem.
Studies have also shown that some of the most popular social media channels — like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — can actually increase feelings of inadequacy, envy and even depression.
Studies have demonstrated “significant and linear associations between social media usage and depression” in adults aged 19-32 who used social media “heavily.”
Of course, it’s not quite that straightforward; you won’t become a quivering wreck just by browsing your Facebook feed from time to time. And social media has many, many benefits too.
What’s important here are the potential reasons behind the correlation between high social media use and negative emotions like low self-esteem, depression and jealousy: “social comparison.”
Namely: “It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand,” according to the author of a study on the topic for the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Mai-Ly Steers.
So particularly during the summer months, it might be a good idea to wind down your social media use. That way, you can avoid the demoralizing effects of enviously browsing through pictures and videos of people water skiing or taking selfies against impossibly stunning backgrounds.
Although, then again, if you weren’t mindlessly browsing your feed a few minutes ago, you probably wouldn’t have come across this super-helpful article. So it’s not all bad…
Image Credit: iStock