The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the sky is clear and blue… and you’re stuck inside, staring at your to-do list. The battle between summer fun and your daily work and home tasks is an ongoing one; it seems like every year when the weather warms up and the days get longer, it gets harder and harder to focus on what you have to do.
If you’ve been dealing with a major lack of motivation, simply connecting with yourself when it comes to your to-do list can be enlightening. “Productivity is emotion-based, so if you’re struggling, think about how the tasks and projects make you feel,” Life and career coach Phoebe Gavin advises. “Try to identify how you can reframe the way you think about those tasks so they make you feel better, or lean into the tasks that make you feel good. That can make a really big difference.”
If you’re struggling with productivity during the summer and find yourself staring out the window longingly or skipping out on necessary tasks in order to enjoy the weather, you’ll know exactly how difficult it can be to check off your list and indulge in patio happy hours, long walks, and more. We chatted with productivity experts for the best ways to find balance between the best parts of summer and the stuff you really can’t push off until tomorrow.
Implement simple, actionable tasks for yourself.
Grace Marshall, the author of “How to Be Productive” and a productivity expert who works with Think Productive, says the best way to enjoy the summer and get your work done is to set mini goals each day. “Use going outside and enjoying the summer as the incentive rather than for procrastination,” she advises. “Most of us work best if we take breaks.” She recommends completing what you need to get done in a certain time, then rewarding yourself with a break, a picnic lunch, or a drink with friends — however you want to enjoy the weather. “If we set goals, we get the best of both worlds without feeling guilty.”
Marshall also recommends upgrading your to-do lists and making them more actionable. “It’s almost too simple, but just ask yourself, ‘What am I actually trying to get done here, and what’s the next physical action?’” Instead of writing vague to-dos on your list, be clear with what needs to happen next. “Get really clear about what action you need to take to move things forward, particularly with big projects with lots of different steps,” she advises.
Schedule your summer fun the way you schedule meetings.
You’ve heard of the financial tip “Pay yourself first,” but it applies to productivity too. Gavin is a big fan of the phrase. “Schedule out when you want to go and enjoy the fantastic events, see friends, or spend time outside,” she shares. “Some folks respond to the [summer] pull to go out by indulging too much, and the things you need to get done on behalf of your future self don’t get done.” If you schedule your time so you know both what needs to be addressed and what you can look forward to once your tasks are complete, it’s easier to enforce boundaries and reduce the scramble later. This also works if you tend to feel guilty about going out and having fun when there’s work to be done.
Take your work outside if you can.
Can you do any of your work away from your desk? Marshall recommends looking at your to-dos and considering what could be done outdoors. “If there are certain things where you don’t need to be in front of a screen, ask yourself, ‘Can I take it outside, can I take it for a walk?’” If you have a one-on-one status meeting that you don’t need Zoom for, why not hop on the phone and take the call al fresco?
Time management expert Laura Vanderkam, who has written several books about productivity, agrees that outdoor breaks can be the way to go. “Try to go for a walk before work to get your outdoor fix early and then make sure to go outside for 10 minutes at least every few hours,” she shares. Sneak in outdoor time with your team, too. “Organize a group lunch to an outdoor restaurant — you’ll be ‘working’ (interacting with colleagues) but no one will mind if it goes a little longer,” she says. Vanderkam also recommends making outdoor plans for the evening. “Once you’re done [with your tasks,] don’t… watch TV. Make something of that summer magic instead.”
“Make as many of your meetings walking meetings as possible, whether they’re in real life or remote,” Gavin says. “It’s good for your brain, your body, your emotions, and your ideas.”
Figure out your rhythms and patterns to optimize time.
Knowing where your time goes is key, says Vanderkam. “Try keeping track of your time for a few days. You’ll start to see the day’s rhythms, and you’ll start to see where there might be available time, which you could repurpose for more fun activities.” If certain tasks take up more time than you’d like, think about how you can trim them down. If grocery shopping eats up hours, can you try delivery? If your schedule is packed with meetings, can you work with your teammates to make them shorter and more productive?
It’s also worth examining how you work best. Are you most productive in the morning? If you have flexibility with your schedule, try getting up a bit earlier to complete tasks when you’re in the mood for it. Do you focus better at a coffee shop than at home or in the office? Try to carve out a few hours there if your schedule allows.
Work in short increments.
“I’m a huge proponent of delayed gratification through work increments — working on a task even if you don’t want to for a specific period of time to get yourself over the hump of starting,” says Gavin. “When we procrastinate, we’re responding to a negative emotion and trying to comfort ourselves by doing something that feels good.” If you tend to procrastinate, this tip may be just the thing to get you started: “Say to yourself, ‘I know this is annoying or intimidating, but I’m only going to work on it for 15 minutes,” she advises. Once the 15 minutes are up, you can reward yourself for a job well done.
Working in increments also works if you’re easily distracted. “If you’re pulled to your phone but you’re committed to 15 minutes, you can delay that gratification for a short period of time,” Gavin says. “Once you get to the end of 15 min, if you’re in the groove, you may have forgotten the distraction and want to keep going on the task so you can focus on a meaningful addition to your joy.”
And if you can swing it, feel empowered to take the day off.
With a little planning and foresight, you can and should lean into taking a few hours or days off, if those are available to you. “Be proactive about checking the weather, so you can plan to take longer breaks on the nice days,” Vanderkam explains. “If you can see that Wednesday will be lovely, and you have some control over your schedule, you can plan any meetings, or big tasks, for the other days. That way you know all your work will get done, so you can take a longer lunch on Wednesday, or leave a little early, or even plan to take a PTO day if that’s the best option.”