Somewhere around 12 percent of workers in North America get ‘summer Fridays,’ which can vary by company and either mean ‘the entire day off’ or ‘an earlier time you can leave.’ 12 percent isn’t a very high number, but it does speak to the bigger picture of most office jobs in the summer: the vibe is a little more laid-back, and people are typically out for chunks of time on vacations. (This is especially true for those with school-aged children.)
When the calendar shifts to September, business can get more serious — and quickly. For many companies, September means strategic planning for the next quarter/year, launching new initiatives, and possibly a fiscal year-end. And to add to the pressure, the fall period is also somewhat akin to a ‘sprint’ — because, in about 2.5 months, the holiday season will start.
All this poses one of the great, not-often-discussed questions of a working year: how do you move from the semi-idle days of summer to the plan-plan-plan-achieve-achieve-achieve mentality that pops up in September and still #thrive?
This has been on my mind because I took some downtime this summer to enjoy family and friends. But now it’s time to get back to writing and sharing ideas through the blog, prepping my fall webinars, launching leadership programs with clients … the list goes on.
Seriously — how do I do that?
Here are 4 approaches I’m taking and I hope you’ll find them of value. So do take 2 minutes now to read this and use these tips to save you umpteen hours this fall.
1. Use Analytics To Increase Your Productivity
Many companies these days are trying to compete on data and analytics but this data revolution can also apply to you at the individual level. Sure, you might have a FitBit, like me, or track your steps. That’s great. But what if analytics could make you more productive at work?
This approach comes from a Harvard Business Review article (I've recommended taking a ‘time picture' like this for years), and the corresponding visual looks like this:
Essentially, you track your time. Do this for the first 3-4 weeks of September. Then sit down on a Friday and analyze how your time has been spent. Your columns may look different than this, but if your “Crises and fires” column is higher than others, it might be time to re-assess how you’re spending time.
The bottom line isn’t to add more work — i.e. you having to track your time — but rather, to think critically about how you’re spending time. If you stop, think, and assess, you can move closer to true priority alignment.
2. Tune Out Distractions
Easier said than done, right? Of course. But the summer had distractions — great weather, ample opportunities for play away from the office — and the fall will too (Pumpkin Spice Lattes and foliage, anyone?). Try to reduce distractions as much as you can in September. This looks different for every individual, but a few of the big chunks include:
Spend less time on social media: While good for connectivity with friends and family, it can create a lot of wasted time and unnecessary rabbit holes you end up going down.
Justified meetings: If someone in your office (and we all have this person) keeps sending you meeting events with no real context behind them, either ask for context or don’t accept the meeting. Some people legitimately schedule meetings and calls for no real reason other than ‘That’s how business is done.’ If the meeting clearly doesn’t have a point, don’t go to it. If you get in the habit of accepting every meeting just because, you’ll end up wasting 4+ hours a week in poorly-contextualized ones.
Block your time: Research says the optimal workload ratio is 52 minutes on a task, then 17 minutes off it. So work on something for close to an hour, then quickly fraternize or check e-mail, purposely vs. randomly throughout the day. Then go back to the tasks! This is much more effective than trying to plow ahead on a six-hour work curve with random interruptions, because your productivity will continually wane if you do that. In fact, here’s a mind blowing stat: random work interruptions cost the U.S. economy about $588 billion per year. (For context, that’s the current market capitalization of Apple.)
3. Reflection and Meditation
If you hit September and realize you have strategy retreats, fiscal analyses, and more tasks than you’ve had since April, take a deep breath. Reflect. Think about what’s a priority and what isn’t. Priority management leads to productivity, and priority management has to begin from clarity — about what’s important and what isn’t. That often comes from real reflection and time spent, instead of rushing from task to task, which is often how we think about our workday.
4. Don’t Fall Into ‘The Busy Trap'
Many leaders unfortunately believe ‘busy’ and ‘productive’ are synonyms. In reality, they might be closer to antonyms than synonyms. ‘Busy’ is about task work and checking boxes; at some point at any job, you will be busy — and will need to be busy. Stuff needs to get done. But ‘productive’ is about making headway on tasks of real priority and importance to the business.
Hopefully some of these other approaches have given you ideas for ways to refocus, re-energize, and reconnect to the work after a summer of trips and early afternoon exits.
Leaders who work with Lisa as their executive leadership coach have seen great results when it comes to maximizing their productivity. Perhaps this is the next step for you?