Although it sometimes feels like the summer won't ever come, the months of sunshine, family vacations and camps are just around the corner. While it's all fun and games with family and friends, inside the four walls of an office, it can feel like anything but. There's no denying the summer slump: that odd effect that sees the pace of work slow while the weather outside improves.
If you're staring at a computer screen with more work than you can imagine, while daydreaming of your upcoming trip to the cottage, don't fear. The summer lull doesn't have to affect your ability to get things done or hold you back from moving your projects forward.
Consider these helpful ways to get more done when you (maybe not so secretly) want to do anything but:
1. Stop Multitasking
While we often celebrate our ability to do all sorts of things at once – answer emails while taking a call or fielding questions while fine tuning a spreadsheet – this actually makes us less effective than focusing on one thing at a time. In a 2009 study, Stanford researchers tested the effectiveness of multitaskers and found that they performed poorly at all three tasks they were asked to complete. What’s worse, when they were asked to focus on a single task, they under-performed there as well as their brains were being used less effectively.
Productivity expert and founder of Working Simply Carson Tate explains how multitasking is much more of a weakness than a strength. “Multitasking is a bad habit that never improves your productivity because it undermines your ability to focus," Tate says. "So, anyone who wants to stop multitasking needs to shift his or her time and attention to refocusing.” She suggests visualizing a reset button in your brain, closing your email or simply taking a deep breath to refocus on a single task.
2. Be Intentional With Your Breaks
When working on a big project we often want to simply “power through” for the sake of time, but doing so can actually inhibit our accuracy and speed in the long run. A study published in Cognition found that brief mental breaks can dramatically improve your ability to focus on a task and accomplish it. If you're trying to figure out when and where to take a break, Tate suggests tuning into your body. “Physiological conditions can impact your energy level positively or negatively," she said. "So, if you're tired when you need to do something taxing, you're already fighting an uphill battle that'll take twice as long – and that's all before you've even started the task at hand. So, instead of thinking about when it makes strategic or logical sense to take a break, think about when your body and your brain need a break.”
3. Avoid Serious Time Sucks
Between email and social media, there are many things reducing our ability to be productive. But do any of us realize just how much time we are losing? A 2012 McKinsey Global Institute study found that the average worker spends 28 percent of the week reading and answering emails. That adds up to 580 hours a year! Research done by the Danwood Group showed that recovering from an email interruption, regardless of how important it is, takes an average of 64 seconds. Thus, batch emailing becomes key to making progress throughout the day. Career expert Ashley Stahl is a big supporter of the batching strategy. “I highly recommend scheduling one or two hours each day to answer email... If the nature of your work lends itself to urgency, schedule a time in the morning and the afternoon to do it. On the time you schedule to focus on projects, shut that phone off and remove yourself from the beloved inbox,” she says.
4. Optimize Your Environment
Where and how you're working day in and day out has a strong correlation to how focused you are throughout the day. Research done at the University of Miami showed that people who completed tasks while listening to music did so more quickly and generated better ideas because their mood was improved. Similarly, the study "Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life" showed that if you have more exposure to daylight in your office, your sleep, activity and overall quality of life will improve. So pick your favourite tunes and get near a window if you want to become a happier and more efficient you.
Getting more done this summer doesn't have to mean more hours in the office. These small, scientifically-backed changes can create major leaps in your productivity allowing you to get out there and make the most of the season!