Summer, ahh. It’s a popular time to go on vacation, take long weekends, maybe skip out of work early on a Friday, leave by 5 PM on a random Tuesday. If your boss is traveling too and just generally spending less face-time in the office, you might find yourself with a reduced workload, fewer pressing deadlines, and less pressure to work on meaty projects.
Given the somewhat easier atmosphere, you may find it difficult to focus and motivate yourself beyond getting the bare minimum done. There’s no one right way to deal with a slow time at work, and our esteemed career coaches are here to offer you myriad ideas—from refiguring processes to relaxing without the guilt—for maximizing the season.
1. Plan Ahead
Seasonal slowdowns at work are an opportunity to think higher-level and contribute to your company internally. Since you have the rare time and space to think more strategically and less tactically, start planning for your busy season and begin developing new ideas. For example, if your trade-show season is in the spring, use the summer months to debrief on last season and consider what new ideas could elevate your company at next year’s shows. This is also a good time to contribute to your company internally by getting involved in committees or volunteering to draft content on behalf of the organization.
2. Maximize Efficiency
Many use their down-time to work on new or pet projects, and that’s great. But even better would be using that time to improve existing processes and projects. Take advantage of the slow time to make processes more efficient, add data to that database that’s months behind, and implement improvements to existing projects that you’ve always talked about but never acted on. You can do this through benchmarking similar processes at other organizations, or by just experimenting to find what works better. It may not sound fun, but when the busy season arrives and it takes much less time to complete your tasks based on your efforts, you’ll be glad you spent your summer maximizing efficiency!
3. Widen Career Horizons
The summer slow season is anything but—if you don’t let conventional, know-it-all thinking get in your way. If things are quiet, consider it a golden opportunity to widen your career horizons. Why not take a General Assembly or Udemy course for a skill you really need or that promotion you want? Or how about reaching out to people you really admire that could be mentors or future employers? While everyone’s frying at the beach or grabbing iced coffees and waiting to kick it up a notch come fall, you could be knocking on (or even breaking down) the door to that dream job.
4. Make Connections
Use this opportunity to develop relationships with people. It can be difficult to get on a calendar of a successful person during the fall, winter, or spring months when conferences, holidays, and networking events are in full swing. Use your down time to connect with people in your network. You might be surprised how welcome your invitation to grab a coffee or drink is during the less-frenetic summer when even perpetually busy people seem more relaxed.
5. Sharpen the Axe
Anytime you have a respite, I suggest you reflect and sharpen the axe. Review the last several months, maybe even years, and ask yourself what’s working and what’s not. Take stock of the situation, how your feeling about it and what big picture adjustments you may need to make. Take the time to develop skills, do research, and organize. Think like Bill Gates: Take a week and read everything you’ve been meaning to. And don’t forget to spend some time on the areas of your life you may have been neglecting: family, kids, friends, maybe your ‘you’ time.
6. Seek New Opportunities
If you’re feeling burned out after a stressful, busy period but an extended, out-of-office career break isn’t an option (financially or logistically), consider an “in-house sabbatical” to refocus or try on new responsibilities. For example, you could put aside administrative duties and focus on the writing project you’ve been putting off. Another option is to ask your boss to join a different department for a few weeks or find a mentor to shadow. Getting buy-in to pursue in-house sabbatical is more likely during a slow period when it won’t compete with other priorities—as long as you can make the case for how it’ll help you learn or build new skills.
7. Take Notes—Take Them All the Time
Your brain turns out some of its best ideas when it’s relaxed, so don’t let them go to waste. If you have a “eureka!” moment at a barbecue, just scoot to a quiet corner of the yard and jot your thoughts down. Maybe you’re inspired to write a blog post, find a new way to tackle the company traffic report, or hold weekly meetings with your team. Come fall, you’ll have a collection of effortless brilliance right in your pocket.
8. Focus on Friendship
If you have a tight-knit circle of friends and colleagues who genuinely like and respect you, that’s going to unlock all kinds of doors for you. During the slow summer months, take your free time and pour it into your friendships. Invite a colleague for a lunch-time walk. Knock back a cold beer with your team. Write handwritten thank-you notes to past professors and colleagues. When you invest in your relationships, you’re investing in your career in a powerful way—and as an added bonus, it’s also really fun!
9. Start a Side Gig
Just because your job has slowed down, it doesn’t mean your brain has to slow down too. Passion projects keep your creative juices flowing, help you to build relationships, and prove that you’re more than just your job title. Identify what kind of work you can do on the side that you feel passionately about.
10. Get Social
Summer offers numerous opportunities for informal networking: parties, barbecues, family get-togethers. The atmosphere is generally relaxed, and you’ll have a chance to talk to people outside your usual work sphere. Some of the most productive contacts and job leads often come from the most unlikely sources.
I’m a huge proponent of volunteering and if you’re on a board, this a great time to accomplish things that you might be too busy to get done in the fall. And if you’ve always wanted to volunteer but haven’t been able to make the time, do it now when you can roll in a little later on Fridays or leave early on Wednesdays. If you invest the time and effort now, you’ll figure out a way to fit it in once things pick back up again.
Take the time to enjoy the slow season by going on vacation and spending time with loved ones. If you can avoid checking your email or phone messages, do it. You’ve earned a break, take time to recharge and refresh. Don’t be one of many Americans who fails to use his vacation days.
13. Prioritize Self-Care
Take time for regular self-care. Recharge your batteries by actually leaving at 5 PM and enjoying the outdoors and plethora of free events offered over the summer. You’ll go back to the office feeling less stressed and more refreshed- and your tank will be filled when the next round of busy-ness hits!
14. Find a New App
Slow times at work are the best times to review your responsibilities or a task to find ways to make your work or processes more efficient. For example, if you’re responsible for gathering information from your colleagues for a monthly or general task, research tools to help you manage the project better. There are several free and useful applications to help teams and individuals stay organized. Finding one that works for your team will save you time and frustration during the ‘busy’ season.
Photo of woman working on a summer day courtesy of Mint Images/Getty Images
Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author