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8 Ways to Beat the Summer Productivity Slump

published2 months ago
7 min read

I know I’m not alone when it comes to feeling a bit less productive in the warmer months, especially as the end of summer rolls around. We’ve all experienced those gorgeous days when it feels like a shame to stay cooped up in the office. Then there are those stiflingly hot days, where even just walking into your workplace seems to drain your energy. Or maybe you’re just distracted with some FOMO from seeing your friends or colleagues post their vacation photos all day long.

No matter what’s causing your “summer slump,” there’s no denying that it can have a very real impact on your performance at work. One study found that during the summer, employee productivity decreases by 20% and work turnaround time increases by 13%. A similar 2012 study by Harvard Business School found that increasingly sunny days are directly related to a decrease in worker efficiency and productivity.

While it’s completely normal for your energy levels to ebb and flow during the year, sometimes you need to be able to stay productive and on-task. So let’s jump right in — here are 8 ideas to help you combat the summer productivity slump:

1. Don’t let your physical activity levels drop off

One of the ways I recharge during the workday is by going for a walk or jog — there’s nothing better than getting some fresh air on a beautiful day. But during the summer, the temperatures can be stifling, to the point where even going for a walk would leave me exhausted for the rest of the afternoon.

However, I know that getting some movement in is really important for my energy levels and my ability to focus. And I’m not alone — one study found that on days when employees visited the gym during their workday, they managed their time more effectively, were more productive, had smoother interactions with their colleagues, and felt more satisfied with their day.

So even though I don’t love the treadmill, I try to get in a few miles most days of the week. But you might find motivation in other ways. For example, you could take fitness classes, hire a personal trainer, download a workout app, or join a group to help you stay on-track. Or maybe now’s the time to splurge on that spin bike or walking desk you’ve been eyeing — it’s never a bad idea to invest in your health!

2. Eat and drink the right things to keep your energy levels high

While getting enough activity is arguably the most important way to keep you focused, it’s also critical that you pay attention to what you’re consuming during the day. Here are a few tips:

  • Stay hydrated: It’s easy to get dehydrated during the summer months, but even mild dehydration (a body water loss of between 1% - 2%) has been shown to impair cognitive performance. Even worse, 3% - 4% dehydration can decrease your productivity by up to 25%. So park your water bottle next to your laptop, add some ice or fruit to make it more appealing, and you could even set yourself reminders to drink if you’re struggling with this.
  • Use caffeine (wisely): There’s no getting around the fact that a mid-afternoon latte or energy drink can go a long way toward getting you through the workday. Just make sure that you time it wisely, since caffeine can disrupt your sleep up to six hours after consuming it, leading to an hour or more lost in rest. So if you’re aiming to go to bed around 10pm, avoid drinking coffee after 4pm.
  • Eat the right snacks: Avoid processed, high-sugar foods, which can lead to a quick energy burst followed by a crash. Instead, look for options that pair protein with healthy carbs, like yogurt or fruit with nuts. It’s also a good idea to up your intake of water-based fruits and veggies, since these will also help you stay hydrated.

3. Change up your scenery

While some of us thrive on routine, mixing things up a bit can help get you out of that mid-summer rut. If you’re in the office, try working from a different location like the company café. If you’re working remotely, it might be a good idea to get out of your house entirely to shake things up.

There are a couple of reasons why heading to a café, coffee shop, or other public location like a co-working space can boost your productivity. If you’re a remote worker, there’s the obvious reason — you won’t have any of your usual distractions, like kids who are home for the summer. There’s also the fact that many people work more effectively (and are more creative) when there’s a moderate level of ambient noise, which is precisely the kind of environment you’ll find at a coffee shop.

Another study, highlighted years ago in this piece in The Atlantic, hits on a different reason why you might get more work done when you’re in a public setting. As it turns out, a bit of social pressure can go a long way — we want others around us to see that we’re busy, and we also don’t want coffee-shop owners to think we’re loitering. I say if it works, why not try it!

4. Optimize your work environment

Sometimes the difference between being productive and feeling unfocused all boils down to a few small adjustments to your work environment. First things first — it’s a good idea to tidy up your office. Research has shown that constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources, reduce our ability to focus and process information, and decrease our productivity.

You might also want to consider whether you’re working in an environment that’s a bit too quiet. Music has been found to improve both productivity and cognitive performance, especially in adults. Whether you prefer calming background melodies or more upbeat tunes, this could be a helpful way to keep you focused.

Another surprising culprit for your lethargy could be the temperature. Although OSHA recommends that offices be kept between 68°F and 76°F, a Cornell study revealed that you might want to err on the warmer side of that range. When the researchers increased office temperatures from 68° to 77°, typing errors fell by 44% and typing output jumped 150%. While 77° is a bit warm for me, it’s worth investigating whether a small change in temperature might improve your effectiveness.

5. Focus on boosting your "relational energy"

If you’re a knowledge worker, the bulk of your day is likely comprised of heads-down, focused work at your computer. But while staying on-task might be easy during other times of the year, you could find yourself listlessly gazing out of the window during those slow summer months.

Connecting with others, whether it’s your co-workers or someone in your extended network, is a great way to mix things up during the day. Not only that, “relational energy” — the positive feeling you experience when you interact with someone — is a very real construct that affects our performance and engagement at work.

So schedule a lunch or coffee meeting with that co-worker you’ve been meaning to get to know better. Seek out (or offer) mentoring opportunities, or find other ways to connect with like-minded people at work. And if you’re in a management role, now is a great time to schedule check-ins with your staff, even if it’s just to see how their summer has been going.

6. Maximize your workday to be more productive

No matter what season it is, I think it’s critically important to structure your workday so you can make the most of your time. We’ve all experienced the feeling of working on a task late in the day and having it drag it on for hours, knowing that it could have been accomplished much more quickly if we’d tackled it in the morning.

This is a lesson I’ve applied in my own life, for good reason — I work for myself, so time is money! So since I’m a morning person, I always like to schedule my more creative or demanding tasks early in the day, usually between 7am and noon. In the afternoons, I set aside time for administrative work or things that don’t require much mental capacity.

Of course, this approach doesn’t always work out perfectly each day, and sometimes it’s not possible at all. But it’s something I keep in mind, especially in the summer when my energy levels tend to fade more quickly or I’m too tempted by the nice weather to stay indoors all day.

7. Work in short bursts and take breaks

In addition to optimizing my day around different types of tasks, I also like to break up my schedule into more manageable chunks of time. Typically, I aim to work on a task for at least an hour, but when things start to really drag I might only be able to muster up 30 minutes of focused work. I hope I’m not alone!

In between these time blocks, I take breaks — and lots of them, especially in the summer. I might go for a walk if the weather allows for it, cross a chore off my to-do list, or get started on prepping dinner. Other people I’ve spoken with like to read, meditate, stretch, take a quick nap, run errands, or listen to music.

Again, my logic here is that time is money. So if I can get a project done in a total of 2 hours with breaks versus 3 hours without breaks, the first approach is the one I’ll choose every time. I know I’m fortunate that my work allows me to have full control over my schedule, but remember — even just taking micro-breaks can do wonders for your ability to focus.

8. When all else fails, embrace the summer slump and take some time off

Sometimes no amount of motivation will get you out of a productivity slump. But here’s the thing — I know far too many people who’d rather slog through the summer at half-speed rather than take time off to recharge. In fact, 55% of U.S. workers don’t use all of their paid leave each year. That means a whopping 768 million vacation days are being left on the table each year!

I realize that sometimes work just has to get done and taking off isn’t an option. But what I’ve also seen is that many people feel an intense pressure to be “always on” and prove that they’re dedicated to their job. Let’s face it though — that approach isn’t doing you or your company any favors. We’re all human, and it’s normal for your energy and motivation levels to fluctuate with the seasons.

So use your well-earned vacation days. Go lay on the beach, spend time with your family and friends, or just take a “staycation” and catch up on some reality TV (no judgement here!). The work will still be there when you get back, and you’ll be able to tackle it much more effectively — perhaps even joyfully — if you’ve taken a break.

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your tips to combat summer work fatigue!