Summer is in the air, the kids are getting excited for the last day of school and workloads at most jobs are…well they are staying the same. There used to be a time when summer meant that work slowed down (unless you were working in an industry that catered to summer). Today, there is often no change in pace or workload, and going on vacation means you will be treated to an exploding in-box your first day back in the office. The struggle to hold on to your post-vacation bliss is real. We can easily lose sight of this important season in the midst of being busy, completely missing the anticipation of summer that we loved so much as kids (the count-down to that last day of school…). Particularly here in the northern hemisphere we need to maximize every drop of sunshine we get (blink and it will be winter once more). How we approach summer and our professional life is largely a matter of perspective and intent – there is room for you to both work and play in the few short months of summer we have, here are some ideas to let you do just that, enjoying all of what summer has to offer.
A very smart colleague of mine shifts her work habits for the summer by re-stacking her day. “Core hours at my place of work in the summer are 10-4, so that means I have to be in the office for those hours, but only those hours.”. She rises at the usual time, getting ready for work, and then she takes her morning coffee and her laptop out to her sunny patio and starts her workday there. “I know I’ll have to be into work for 10 AM, but putting in a few hours of work in the morning…enjoying the peace and sunshine on my patio feels decadent, a real treat, and I am just as productive, maybe even more so, because I shifted my day.” She is also rewarded with a 20-minute commute to the office instead of the usual 45 minutes because she is driving in at off-peak times. “I work hard to be able to afford a patio and other nice things, but all that means nothing if I cannot enjoy them…work to live, not live to work, right?”
Another colleague of mine is not so lucky, his place of employment’s core hours don’t change in the summer and are not flexible enough to allow him to work from home for a portion of his morning, but he is also taking advantage of the best of what summer has to offer. “Working in the downtown core has some disadvantages, commuter traffic and long hours are part of the culture here, so it is easy to lose sight of the advantages it does have.” He likes to take his lunch-hour (all 60 minutes of it) and enjoy the fine weather, parks and free outdoor concerts that are close to his place of work. “I always have my mobile with me, so it is not like I am missing anything critical at work, plus I am more energized when I get back to the office, invigorated.” He also takes along a few teammates from work, or uses the opportunity to do some professional networking at restaurant patios. “People are more open and creative when they are relaxed, more opportunities and ideas have opened up for me and my team because we take a few lunch-hours a week to go enjoy summer. It fosters a different kind of productivity that is really valuable.”
We often struggle to squeeze a Friday or a Monday off of work (or just trying to leave a few hours early) fretting about the work not done because of our selfish desire to enjoy a bit more of the good weather. As long we continue to look at time off as “nice to have not need to have” we won’t enjoy the time away from work. Once you have made the decision to re-stack your day or to enjoy your full lunch beak (or leave work early), commit to it or you’ll receive no benefit from it. You need this - you are worth it. Summer is a great time to build within you the capacity to take a meaningful break by putting your work down. Work will always be waiting for you when you get back, that isn’t going to change. Attend to how you treat yourself. Being compassionate and letting yourself enjoy all that this world has to offer you through simple acts of self-care, self-compassion and some childlike curiosity about what would happen if you went for a walk, feeling the sun warming your skin (instead of toiling away at your desk under florescent light) has much to offer you. It may surprise you with what it has to offer your ingenuity and productivity too.
The other great advantage to creating these little pockets of summer for yourself in your workday is you will be much more able to enjoy your vacation, leaving your work mobile at home and fully immersing yourself in free time and fun. If you only get one longer vacation a year (as many of us do) then this is something you need to practice in advance or you will spend the first half of your summer vacation trying not to think about work. The “muscle” of letting your work leave your mind while you are enjoying a snippet of summer during the week prepares you to be better able to let it all go when you leave on a vacation. No one may be able to help you with (or change) the exploding in-box, but letting it ruin your vacation is a real travesty. Practice letting your work sit by finding ways to enjoy your whole summer and your vacation will have a bigger impact on your well being, allowing you to tackle that wily inbox with gusto and heart when you get back to the office (sporting your fabulous summer tan).
Plan to enjoy every last drop of your summer.