Do you find yourself focusing more on where you could be rather than the work in front of you? Do images of boats, beaches and tall cool drinks with little umbrellas in them keep flashing across your vision? Are you prone to constantly checking a clock, the state of the weather, or your Facebook page?
You have a case of summer slowdown – a condition that saps your work motivation and productivity until, in the worst case scenario, molasses moving uphill looks fast and your clients would be better off trying to hire the plastic talking clown that takes orders at the local drive-through.
So what can you do to beat summer slowdown and get back to being the productive dynamo people want to hire again?
1) Remind yourself the cliché is true (partly).
The bird that's there will get the worms. It doesn't particularly matter if you're early when a whole bunch of the other birds are off at the cabin or the beach. You just have to be there. Historically, I've gotten most of my jobs and clients in the summer. I am good but I’m sure that there’s an availability factor at work, too; I'm willing and able to get it done in the summer when a lot of my competition isn't and can't.
2) Switch your schedule.
If it's possible in your business, change your working hours to give yourself enough of the outside sunny time that you need. For instance, I like to work a "donut day" when the weather is nice, taking the afternoons off and working mornings and evenings instead. With this kind of schedule, it's still easy to meet with clients.
Or you might take a particular day off each week. Or even (although this one makes me shudder) learn how to make the most of your pre-breakfast hours (Inc.) (Remember to let your clients know about it if your schedule changes affect your availability.)
3) Choose work that suits your slowed-down state.
For instance, Bettie Martindale organizes her work to let herself recharge for the more active season to follow. "I don't do customer-deadline driven work in the summer", she says, "but lots of setup, preparation and accumulation that allows time flexibility. Then, come October, re-energized and ready, I can go nuts with lots of 'driven' indoor work."
4) Make and use to-do lists.
Even if you don’t do it at all the rest of the year, you should make and use daily to-do lists during the summer. First, it will keep you organized and on-task. It's a hundred times harder to waste time checking your Facebook stream for cute cat pictures when you have a to-do list that needs doing. Second, there’s nothing as motivating as ticking 'done' items off a list! (Tip: For maximum effectiveness, keep your to-do list in front of you so you can’t ignore it.)
5) Retreat into the work cave.
Having a man cave is nice I'm sure. But having a work cave is much more important when you need to shut out all the fun summer things that you could be doing. You don’t need to work in a dark room with the drapes drawn, but you do need to have a dedicated work space inside where you can go and be alone and focus on your work.
I know you've read lots and lots of advice about taking your work outside in the summer and seen photos of people tapping away on their iPads or laptops lakeside but those people are models. All that really happens when you try to work outside is that you're going to be distracted by:
- a) people around you who are not working,
- b) scenic sights and sounds, and
- c) bugs.
Inside and secluded is the key to getting it done.
6) Inspire yourself.
When you're self-employed, your work day is essentially a series of decisions. But when your decision making process turns to sludge, sometimes even deciding what to do is a gargantuan effort. In Slow Summer Season? 12 Things to Do With the Downtime (YEC), twelve entrepreneurs tell what they do to keep busy during slow periods; at least one of their suggestions will be something you can do to get going again and move past the question of what to do to how to do it.
My favourite response is Ryan Holmes’s, the CEO of HootSuite, who uses slow time to continue reading, researching, and learning related to his business. Taking one of the five ecourses on increasing your small business’s success that I offer (all are free) might be a good starting point for you.
And success stories are always inspiring – especially of successful business people who have, as Merrin Muxlow puts it, "created empires from virtually nothing." Her article, 12 Amazing Success Stories of Unlikely Entrepreneurs (Business Pundit,) provides a dozen inspiring examples to get your entrepreneurial juices flowing again.
7) Take a real vacation.
Truly getting away will help you set a clear boundary between your work and personal life and recharge you so when you return from vacation, you've got the summer slows out of your system and are able to get back to your usual productive self. But only if you truly get away. (How to Have a Worry-Free Vacation explains how you can do this.) No cheating and taking the work with you. If you must check in/ answer emails etc. limit yourself to being in work mode for a set limited time – and be severe about it!
Don't Let the Slows Sabotage Your Summer
In a perfect world, we’d all be able to take a full two months off in the summer and still keep all our clients and customers happy. Until the world becomes a perfect place, though, most of us who are self-employed will have to continue to resist the siren call of beaches and cabins and continue to work. Using the tips above will help you beat summer slowdown and actually be productive while you do it.