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 go 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. Do 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.
What's that? You can't? Then I suspect you have deeper problems. Unless you're managing a start-up that's still in the 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 single pre-eminent goal.
Leaders who achieve great things almost always have a Single Pre-Eminent Goal (SPG)--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.
SPG'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.
Bio: Les McKeown advises CEOs and senior leaders of organizations on how to achieve scalable, sustainable growth, speaks to Fortune 500 companies about his breakthrough strategies, and is the author of three books on growth leadership. Download a free chapter from the author's book, "The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success"