During vacation season, making even the slightest progress can seem like a Sisyphean task. You can’t schedule that important meeting, because the key players are on holiday. You have no idea where to find the data you need, because your analytics staffers are off the grid. And you can’t finalize the pitch deck, because your boss isn’t around to greenlight it. Being at work can seem pointless and frustrating when you’re the only one trying to keep things on track.
In the midst of the summer doldrums, how can you stay motivated and actually make your time at the office count? Here are three strategies to keep in mind.
Embrace “deep work.” Georgetown computer science professor Cal Newport argues that “shallow work” — the brainless tasks that occupy our day, like responding to email — is often necessary to avoid getting fired. But, he says, the secret to attaining disproportionate professional success is our ability to engage in what he calls “deep work.” With professionals sending and receiving an average of 122 emails per day, it can be hard to carve out the space to work on meaningful tasks, like developing your go-to-market strategy or launching a new podcast. But when everyone else is on vacation, the level of inbound messages drops dramatically. That gives you more freedom to schedule uninterrupted blocks of time to tackle important projects you’ve been putting off, but which could significantly benefit your career.
Clean up minor tasks. If you’re feeling too languid from the summer doldrums to face the prospect of deep work, you could also make good use of your time by going in the opposite direction: devoting a day or two to clean up minor tasks that have been impeding your productivity throughout the year. We all have a list of projects that ought to be done, but never rise to the top of your to-do list. Perhaps it’s cleaning off your desk, so you can find your files when you need them, instead of wasting minutes every day fumbling through a teetering stack. It could be handling those expense reports that accounting has been hounding you for, or writing a recommendation letter for your former intern, or updating your LinkedIn profile. Those tasks are never going to be as valuable as focused effort put toward your top strategic priorities. But they still need to be done, eventually. If you’re feeling temporarily unmotivated, they’ll give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, as a legion of niggling to-dos has been wiped from your slate.
Build your network. Networking is another task that many people consider important, but gets short shrift when work heats up. When many of your colleagues are out of the office, however, it means that fewer people are expecting an immediate response to their messages, and no one is looking over your shoulder to see how long your lunch break is. Languid summer days may be the perfect time to reach out to other colleagues, inside or outside your organization. If they’re also still in town, they may be more receptive than usual to your invitation to meet up. That can enable you to solidify connections and gain new market insights than can help make you more valuable to your colleagues when they return from their holiday.
It can feel dispiriting when every message you send is met with an autoresponder reminding you that you’re the only one who’s not on vacation. But the reward for holding down the fort is uninterrupted time to embrace meaningful work, clear out the cobwebs that have been hindering your productivity, and extra time to connect with colleagues and build a robust network. Those are all tasks we should embrace throughout the year, but too often, we get caught in the hurly-burly of immediate demands.
Obviously, it’s more fun if you’re the one who’s on vacation. But even if you’re not, you can still reap the benefits of others taking time off.