27 September 2023

Beating those lazy, hazy days of summer

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It’s that time of the year when, at work, the continuing summer seems to drain our productivity. Dan Schawbel* has some suggestions on how to get back on track.

I know I’m not alone when it comes to feeling a bit less productive in the warmer months, especially as the end of summer rolls around.

We’ve all experienced those gorgeous days when it feels like a shame to stay cooped up in the office.

Then there are those stiflingly hot days, where even just walking into your workplace seems to drain your energy.

Or maybe you’re just distracted by seeing your friends or colleagues post their vacation photos.

No matter what’s causing your ‘summer slump’, there’s no denying it can have a real impact on your performance at work.

Here are some ideas to help you combat the summer productivity slump.

Don’t let your physical activity levels drop off

There’s nothing better than getting some fresh air on a beautiful day.

However, during the summer the temperatures can be stifling, to the point where even going for a walk would leave me exhausted for the rest of the afternoon.

Visiting an air-conditioned gym is one answer, but you might find motivation in other ways.

For example, you could take fitness classes, hire a personal trainer, download a workout app, or join a group to help you stay on track.

Eat and drink the right things to keep your energy levels high

It’s critical you pay attention to what you’re consuming during the day.

It’s easy to get dehydrated during the summer months, so park your water bottle next to your laptop and add some ice or fruit to make it more appealing.

Avoid processed, high-sugar foods, which can lead to a quick energy burst followed by a crash.

Instead, look for options that pair protein with healthy carbs, like yogurt or fruit with nuts.

Change your scenery

While some of us thrive on routine, mixing things up a bit can help get you out of that mid-summer rut.

If you’re in the office, try working from a different location like the company café.

If you’re working remotely, it might be a good idea to get out of your house entirely to shake things up.

There are a couple of reasons why heading to a café, coffee shop, or other public location like a co-working space can boost your productivity.

If you’re a remote worker, there’s the obvious reason — you won’t have any of your usual home distractions.

There’s also the fact that many people work more effectively when there’s a moderate level of ambient noise — precisely the kind of environment you’ll find at a coffee shop.

Optimise your work environment

Sometimes the difference between being productive and feeling unfocused boils down to a few small adjustments to your work environment.

It’s a good idea to tidy up your office.

Research has shown that constant visual reminders of disorganisation drain our cognitive resources, reduce our ability to focus and decrease our productivity.

You might also want to consider whether you’re working in an environment that’s a bit too quiet.

Music has been found to improve both productivity and cognitive performance, especially in adults.

Focus on boosting your ‘relational energy’

If you’re a knowledge worker, the bulk of your day is likely comprised of heads-down, focused work at your computer.

However, you could find yourself listlessly gazing out of the window during these slow summer months.

Connecting with others, whether it’s your co-workers or someone in your extended network, is a great way to mix things up during the day.

‘Relational energy’ — the positive feeling you experience when you interact with someone — is a very real construct that affects performance and engagement at work.

So schedule a lunch or coffee meeting with that co-worker you’ve been meaning to get to know better.

Maximise your workday to be more productive

No matter what season it is, it’s important to structure your workday so you can make the most of your time.

Since I’m a morning person, I always like to schedule my more creative or demanding tasks early in the day, usually between 7am and noon.

In the afternoons, I set aside time for administrative work or things that don’t require much mental capacity.

This approach doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s something I keep in mind, especially in the summer when the nice weather is too tempting to stay indoors all day.

Work in short bursts and take breaks

I like to break up my schedule into more manageable chunks of time.

Typically, I aim to work on a task for at least an hour, but when things start to really drag I might only be able to muster up 30 minutes of focused work.

In between these time blocks, I take breaks — and lots of them, especially in the summer.

I might go for a walk if the weather allows for it, cross a chore off my to-do list, or get started on prepping dinner.

Other people I’ve spoken to like to read, meditate, stretch, take a quick nap, run errands, or listen to music.

If I can get a project done in a total of two hours with breaks, versus three hours without breaks, the first approach is the one I’ll choose every time.

I know I’m fortunate that my work allows me to have full control over my schedule, but remember — even just taking micro-breaks can do wonders for your ability to focus.

When all else fails, take some time off

I know too many people who’d rather slog through the summer at half-speed than take time off to recharge.

We’re all human, and it’s normal for our energy and motivation levels to fluctuate with the seasons.

So use your well-earned vacation days. Lie on the beach, spend time with family and friends, or just take a ‘staycation’ and catch up on some television shows.

The work will still be there when you get back, and you’ll be able to tackle it much more effectively — perhaps even joyfully — if you’ve taken a break.

*Dan Schawbel is a bestselling author and Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, a research and advisory firm helping HR adapt to trends, drive performance and prepare for the future.

This article is part of his Workplace Intelligence Weekly series.

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