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June 2, 2015

How to Stay Focused in the Summer


The temps are rising, grills are firing up throughout the neighborhood, and Memorial Day has come and gone: summertime is officially here! Summer brings family activities, fun trips and adventures, pleasant weather, and BBQs with friends. But summer can also be a stressful time, especially for the entrepreneur—how are you supposed to maintain productivity with so much other stuff going on? With trips to take, family to see, weddings to attend, and mountains to conquer, I used to wonder how to stay focused in the summer. But I’ve made a few changes to how I approach this season, and now it is one of my most productive! Check out my summer-specific tips to stay on task and enjoy what the season has to offer.


Seriously, give yourself permission to take a vacation. This is what you work so hard for the rest of the year! You and your family/friends should take the time to enjoy yourselves, whether that means vegging out on the beach, getting active with some mountain biking, or finding some zen out in the wilderness. (You might even make new, meaningful connections along the way, like I did when I visited Costa Rica last year with Under30Experiences.) Decide what amount of time you can spare—a week? two? a couple of long weekends?—and allow yourself to truly relax, rejuvenate, and remind yourself what all your hard work is for. Bonus: periods of rest are actually nourishing to the busy brain. Only by fully stepping away from our work can we return to it later with fresh eyes and renewed energy.

(And hey, if you're the type of person who likes to feel professionally stimulated even during the off times, use your vacation as an opportunity to take in other perspectives and gain advice in a relaxed way: listen to an inspiring podcast as you run on the beach, fish off of the dock, or lounge on the porch.)


Even when you’re not on vacation, you can still make time for fun outdoor activities. As summer heats up, it’s nice to get outdoors in the morning hours to take advantage of slightly cooler temperatures. Don’t be afraid to shake up your work schedule as the seasons shift. I tend to shift my workday slightly later in the summer, so I can go out for a hike or a run in the mild morning weather and then stay cool in my air-conditioned office during the hottest part of the afternoon. (In winter, I do the opposite, sliding work earlier in the day to allow me to get outside before the sun sets.) If you have the freedom, as an entrepreneur, to shift your schedule just slightly, this is a really good way to keep from feeling like you’re missing out on the summer fun.



Another way to tweak your schedule for the summer months is to break up your day into concentrated units. There’s more going on socially during the summer and, if you work from a home office, a lot more potential distractions around. Instead of long periods of uninterrupted time, you might have to do work in shorter spurts—rather than being a challenge, this in fact increases many people’s productivity. I'm a longtime fan of the Pomodoro Technique, which directs you to divide your attention into 25-minutes sprints. I’m always surprised by how much I can get done in just 25 minutes! There are books you can consult, or you can just go straight to mytomatoes.com and start your first “tomato”! This site allows you to take notes about what you did during each 25-minute stretch, which is a nice way to visualize your productivity and also helps refresh your memory when you sit back down to work after a break.


If you have school-age kids, summertime might mean that the house gets that much fuller and that much louder. See if you can enlist your family into your new summer work schedule. For instance, everybody “works” (i.e., reads a book / plays a game / listens to music) for your 25-minute sprint and then you all get together for a 10-minute snack break! If your kids are old enough, you could get them even more involved, using the summertime as an opportunity to teach them about your business and maybe even spark their own entrepreneurial spirit. Pay them a salary (a.k.a. allowance) to help you out with some simple tasks for an hour or so each week—they’ll learn more about your work life, and you’ll get some extra time with them.



If summertime allows (or sometimes demands) us to change up when we work, it also might require us to be versatile in where we work. Try reorganizing your workload to make it easier to be productive from a variety of locales. Specifically, I recommend sorting tasks into online (emailing, invoicing) versus offline (brainstorming, scheduling), and try to spend more time this summer on the offline stuff. Sometimes we get so caught up in the high-paced online world of emails and gchats that we get stuck in the day-to-day (or minute-to-minute). Stepping back will free you up to think bigger—to assess practices and productivity, check in with projects and to-do lists, and fine-tune big-picture plans and goals. Plus, pounding out the online tasks in a dedicated time slot at the beginning or end of the workday will free you up to do the offline tasks in an alternative setting—say, by the pool or on the patio.



Finally, make sure that you are spending your time on the tasks and projects that really matter and not getting bogged down trying to accomplish everything. This is Greg McKeown’s argument in his book Essentialism. McKeown's philosophy of saying “no” to inessential tasks in order to succeed at those that really deserve a “yes” is a refreshing reminder to those of us who have a habit of taking on too much. While you're tweaking your schedule and/or your locale this summer, you can also begin to tweak that bad habit. Let the summer be your check-in time, when you pare down your list to include only the essentials and then start to reap the benefits of that focus. (Pro-tip: if you get McKeown's audiobook, you can listen to it on a road trip, during morning hikes, or lying poolside. Summertime multi-tasking at its best!)

With these tips, you can not only maintain but actually increase productivity over the summer months! And you just might form new habits that help you with your business long after the beach balls and bathing suits have been put away for the year.

Happy summer, and thanks for reading… and don’t forget to share these tips with your fellow entrepreneurs who deserve a fun and productive summer as much as you do!

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