Wherever you are in your life, you know what this time of the year means: the summer season is right around the corner. Throughout the spring, I always hear that people can’t wait for summer so they could take a vacation or get more stuff done. And yet, every September I hear from just as many folks lamenting about how quickly another summer has passed and once again, they failed to make progress on their projects. As we head into summer, I’m feeling motivated to help eradicate end-of-summer regret!
While we often fantasize about the freedom that summer represents, there are some important challenges to consider during the summer months. The most important challenge is the deception of unstructured time. Warmer weather, seemingly longer days, and more social functions can create the illusion that we have lots of time. Imagining that we have infinite time can lead us to procrastinate and/or belabor tasks unnecessarily. Putting off doing certain things until the summer can create intense pressure to complete a years’ worth of work in just 12 short weeks.
Childcare poses yet another challenge to being productive over the summer. Schedule changes for school-aged children, gaps between the end of school and the beginning of summer camps, and the increased expense of additional childcare during the summer months can leave some parents struggling to manage additional childcare and a taking care of their own business. Finally, some of you are simply exhausted from the intensity of the “regular” year and, more than anything else, you feel the need to address all the neglected areas of your physical health, social life, and personal relationships during the summer months.
While it’s important to understand the challenges people face during summer breaks, they point to the keys for a productive summer. I believe those are: 1) knowing what your needs are and what you need to accomplish, 2) creating a realistic plan to meet all of your needs, and 3) connecting with the type of community, support, and accountability that will sustain you through the summer months. This week I want to encourage you to set aside 30-60 minutes, grab your calendar and a piece of paper, and develop a clear and concrete plan.
How to Create a Summer Plan
When you have a plan for your personal goals this summer, you automatically lower the possibility of experiencing end-of-summer regret because you will have proactively and consciously chosen activities that lead to specific endpoints. A summer plan allows you to define your goals, identify the activities that will help you achieve them, and provides you with the confidence that when September rolls around, you will have accomplished all the things that are important to you and your future success.
Step #1: Start With Your Goals
Start by writing down all of your personal and professional goals for the summer. I make sure my goals are SMART goals. In other words, I try to state my goals in Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-Framed statements. So, instead of listing “make progress on my book” and “learn how to cook” as goals, I write “complete the first draft of chapter 2 by August 1st” and “take one cooking class each month.” Listing your goals is the fun part, so enjoy it.
Step #2: Outline The Tasks That Are Required To Achieve Your Goals
For each of your end-of-summer goals, determine all the tasks necessary to achieve the goal. For example, if one of your goals is to submit that manuscript that’s been in your head all year, then ask yourself: What specific tasks do I need to complete in order to create a draft and submit my manuscript? Your list could look something like the following:
- Find an editor & review whatever comments they make.
- Cry a little.
- Create a list of necessary revisions.
- Read for revision.
- Revise the writing and make updates.
- Draft a cover letter explaining how you addressed the reviewers’ comments.
- Submit the revised manuscript to the journal.
- Celebrate the submission.
Each of your goals will require specific tasks in order to be accomplished by the Fall. If you’re a visual person (as opposed to a list-maker), then try mapping out a flow chart for each of your goals. Some will be simple and others will be complex; the main point is that if all you’re doing is setting goals without identifying all the small steps that are necessary to achieve them, you are unlikely to finish the summer with much progress or productivity.
Step #3: Map Your Projects Onto Time
Here’s where it always gets ugly. Take a long hard look at your calendar and make sure you have blocked out all of your summer commitments (vacation, travel, childcare, summer work conferences, etc.). What is left is the time you realistically have to complete all the projects necessary to accomplish your goals. Use your best estimate as to how long your projects will take and find specific weeks in your calendar when this work will get done.
I believe that this is where things get ugly because inevitably you will have more projects than will fit into 12 weeks. In fact, your summer may suddenly seem shockingly short! Don’t worry, this happens to everyone, and the point of this exercise is to force this realization now (as opposed to August) because now you can proactively make decisions about the work that doesn’t fit into your calendar by scaling back your goals, re-negotiating deadlines, requesting additional support, prioritizing, delegating, and/or letting some things go. Whatever you decide, you will feel far more empowered making your decisions in advance than simply hoping you’ll meet all of your goals and then ending another summer disappointed and frustrated over all the work that didn’t get done.
Step #4: Execute The Plan On A Daily Basis
Once you have a plan for your summer activities, it’s up to you to actually do it! I sit down at the beginning of each week to review what tasks I have planned for that week and figure out what specific day and time I will complete them. We are all motivated by different things, so try to figure out what motivates YOU and build it into your daily life. Personally, I am motivated by a good tasting snack, so when I finish my tasks, I like to snack on a little chips & salsa or popcorn. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant; they’re just a little dose of personal pleasure for a job completed.
Step #5: Create Support And Accountability
Summer is a time when you will need extra support and accountability because a lot of activities start to heat up. This is an ideal time to start an accountability group, seek help or even turn to your mentor. Whatever you do, don’t try to go it alone! There are many wonderful communities of support that already exist, and you have the power to create them in your own local environment.
As always, adapt these steps to fit your life circumstances and personal needs. And once you have a plan, I encourage you to share it with your mentors to get their suggestions, feedback, and ideas. This way, no matter how your “regular” year ended, you know that this summer, you have a clear plan!
I hope that going through the process of making a summer plan will help you to identify your priorities, clarify how all of your personal and professional needs can get met, and energize you for the summer months.