Summer needn't be a time when your productivity grinds to a halt. Every year since 2013, I've re-released this blog post and it's accompanying checklist - '10 Ways to be Productive This Summer'.
As I pulled it out for review over these last few days, I was pretty sure that it wasn't going to look, feel or read as being relevant for this particular summer - the 'Are-We-Aren't-We-Post-Corona-Summer', if you will.
However when I re-read it, I felt it was still very helpful and relevant (even if lockdown has given us a head start on some of the suggestions I make), but with one very important addition.
Last summer, in the height of COVID, I added the video below, in which I talked through the 10 ways to be productive this summer, and added one very important additional recommendation - one that was all to do with the then current, very specific, very challenging situation.
I'm leaving the video and recommendation #11 in the post this year, and probably future years too, on the basis that although it was prompted by COVID, the underlying principle is eternal.
Every Memorial Day weekend since 2013 I have released the same blog post and an accompanying checklist where I talk about the 10 ways to be productive during the summer.
If you're watching this video on our webpage. It's right below the video here.
And you know, as I pulled it out a couple of days ago to review it, I had a sense that it wasn't going to fly this year - that the look, feel, tone of it just wasn't going to read right for this really strange summer that we're in the middle of the covid crisis.
But when I read it, I felt it was just as relevant as before, although some of the suggestions that you'll see in the checklist (that you can download as a PDF by the way), we've got ahead of ourselves with lockdown - many of us have been doing some of those things already.
Nonetheless, I think you'll find it a very helpful overview of how to stay productive during the summer season, which is sometimes a little difficult - sometimes can be a challenge because of the changes in routine that we all go through.
But as I did think about it, it occurred to me that there is one other thing that I'm doing and I'm doing with a lot of my clients this summer which I think is incredibly important, and I want to pass it on to you. And it's this:
It's to, if at all possible, step back one more level from dealing with the current situation that we're in - the health and economic emergency caused by COVID - and step up and look at what your organization's overall crisis response is like.
What have you learned in these last two to three months with regard to whatever might come next? It doesn't matter whether it's maybe a second wave of this particular thing, or another pandemic, or a complete and utter internet outage - there's a bunch of stuff out there that we "don't know we don't know". And it's that stuff that gets you.
So I want to suggest you do a little bit of a checklist-producing process, and I mean by that finding out - identifying very clearly:
- What are the three biggest strengths your organization showed up with in the face of this crisis that we're in; and
- What are the three largest vulnerabilities that were exposed?
And I encourage you to try to abstract your responses, so that they're not specific to this COVID experience.
Let me give you a real world example because I know that sounds a little abstract.
I just did this, this past week, with a senior leadership team, and that particular organization, as we spent a day teasing out what were the strongest responses they made that weren't particular to COVID, the three things that they came up with were as follows.
- First of all, they have a really robust internal challenge function - and what they meant by that specifically was they had a really healthy debate. A really solid deep debate about all of the things that they had to commit to in this current crisis, and people, you know, didn't hold back, and said what they really believed in, but once they made the decision everybody stacked hands and implemented.
- Secondly, they were delighted to see that they were a much lower fixed cost organization than they thought they were. They have much more variable cost than they felt (and we're not just talking about payroll here), just in general, they weren't lumbered with a whole bunch of fixed costs that they had to respond to, so it was a strong point.
- And the third strong point that they came up with was their communications processes and systems were really robust. They were able to put out any communications that they wanted to very quickly, and it got through the whole organization.
What were the weaknesses that were exposed by the response over the last few months? (And of course all of this is still ongoing and they'll still continue to think about this), but the three that they were fixated on as a result of the work that we did was:
- First of all, one specific part of their business (I'm not going to talk about whether was a department or division or geographical location as I don't want to give any identifying information), but there was one specific part of their business where it was clear that there was a strong in-built resistance to change. And they felt that in face of any future crisis they're going to have to work with that.
- Secondly, they suffered a lot from a lack of infrastructure. And what I mean by that is that they were putting out information that was going around. Some folks were down loading Excel spreadsheets and having to convert them to Apple Numbers. Some folks were working on laptops that weren't really up to the work that they needed to do from home. The computers - the desktops - that they had back in the office had the computing power that they needed but they didn't have it at home.
- And the third thing was they really strongly found out that they needed to decentralize their decision-making. Now that that showed up in a very specific manner: It was the sheer number of people they had to try to schedule on these interminable Zoom sessions that were all having - and what they discovered early on, was that they were having to juggle with way too many people to get on to a Zoom session to make the most straightforward decisions. And so they've got to delegate and decentralize a lot of decision-making.
So that's my suggestion for you add that to your list for this summer - go one level up, and identify the three greatest strengths and three greatest vulnerabilities that this particular crisis has exhibited in your organization so that you can begin to be ready for the next.
Let's have a great week.
During the dog days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, most of us become accustomed to the inevitable summer slow-down. Key people aren’t available (holidays); projects stall, waiting for Fall to roll around, and a general sense of lassitude begins to creep in.
Summer doesn’t need to be a write-off however. Here are 10 ways you can use those months to get ahead of the game:
1. Conduct your personal annual review.
There’s something seemingly magical about the calendar year end that has us all trapped in its spell. We see the turn of the year as a time for reflection and a time to plan the year ahead. But the reality is, the calendar year-end is an entirely mechanistic construction.
An annual review (looking back at what you learned, what you achieved, what you missed out on, and rearranging priorities for the incoming year) is an incredibly useful exercise, but there’s absolutely no reason your need to conduct it in the middle of a much-needed holiday, and during what is a busy time for all of us.
Do what I do. Move your personal annual review to the summer. You still get to review the entire previous year, but you also get to do it in a much less frenzied state, and with much more likelihood that you will actually implement the lessons you learn (remember all those never-happened new years’ resolutions?).
Most of us read less than we ought to. Time constraints notwithstanding, there’s something about cracking open the spine of a book (or double-clicking on an ebook file) that sparks low-level guilt pangs in many leaders.
The sense that there must be something more important, or urgent, to do robs us of the opportunity to learn from others. Grab just two books from the pile you’ve been meaning to get to, and build a daily reading time into your summer schedule.
Read consciously, deliberately, and read to learn. If you’ve been too busy to even set aside some books, there are many fine lists out there, and at a pinch this book and this book are as good a place to start as any.
3. Review your project list.
You should know by now which of your current-year projects are bearing fruit, which are dead in the water, and which are still teetering between the two.
Use the summer dead-time to review your project list (if you don’t have a master list of every project you’re involved in, start by making a brain dump of them all. This exercise in itself will prove invaluable) and use the principles I outlined in this article to re-prioritize them.
4. Get to and learn to maintain inbox zero.
If there was ever a time to finally get on top of your email overload, it’s the summer, when both email volume and (perhaps) demands on your time goes down. I’m a big proponent of David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done‘ (GTD) methodology. It just plain works, but at the cost of an initial time investment. Get the book, set aside two or three days, and get started.
Most importantly, use the dog days of summer to stay on the inbox zero horse, and groove the GTD principles.
5. Complete your annual budget.
If your responsibilities include the construction and oversight of an annual budget, you may well be able to do a large percentage of the underlying prior-year analysis and budget construction during the summer months. Why wait until the fall, when everyone is once more up to their eyes? Unless there are unavoidable reasons otherwise (the need for seasonal information, for example), get started now.
6. Take a break.
A real break. Not one of those “I’m away but I’ll be checking my email and voicemail” martyr deals.
Whats that? You can’t? Then I suspect you have deeper problems. Unless you’re managing a start-up that’s still in Early Struggle, you’re either a lousy leader who can’t hire or delegate well, or you have an inflated need to be needed. Maybe you should spend your summer working on that.
7. Reset your Overarching Medium-Term goal.
Leaders who achieve great things almost always have a Overarching Medium-Term Goal (OMG)–a clear, unambiguous deliverable that sits below their 50,000-ft objectives, and which dictates and prioritizes their activities on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.
OMG's should be reviewed about twice a year, so why not use this article to do just that over the summer?
8. Do something “it’s never the right time for”.
Go paperless. Change accountant. Take up yoga. What projects are on your “someday/maybe” list that you wanted to start, but felt “this isn’t the right time to start”.
Well, now’s the time. Pull up that list of deferred projects (or spend 10 minutes recollecting and listing them), pick one, and get started.
9. Rebuild your working environment.
Look around you. Chances are your working environment is less than ideal for high-quality, highly creative work. The summer months are a perfect opportunity to fix that.
Over time, we let crud accumulate in our working environment. Files for since-aborted projects; books, papers and other reading materials we’ll never get around to; Old, unused tech; Souvenirs, gizmos and tchotchkes that once seemed cute, but which now just get in the way.
Grab a trash bag and flush the lot. Stick it all in storage if you’re queasy about throwing it away. Now take another look around. What else can you do to refresh your working pace for great productivity?
10. Give back.
Many leaders I know are generous of heart and spirit, but are so consumed with daily responsibilities that their ability to give back to the wider community shrinks, often to the point of becoming inactive.
If the last occasion you can recall doing something altruistic and substantial is over a year ago, why not make this summer the time to change that? Don’t make the giving back (necessarily) about money. Instead, gift what is most valuable to you: your time. Volunteer, mentor, coach, encourage. I guarantee that you – and therefore your business – will be the better for it.