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Using the Summer to Set the Tone for the Year

Summer is a weird time for those of us who follow an academic calendar. 

For much of the school year, we keep a running list of the things we’ll tackle “over the summer,” and then when summer comes, we generally take our productivity down a notch because “it’s summer.”

We shorten our hours, take longer lunch breaks, and don’t work Fridays – because we can.

Yet, that “to do” list that seemed so important over the course of the year is still there. And not getting any shorter. And, the past version of us thought the items on the list were important enough to add them for the future version of us to tackle. 

But it’s summer. And we want to be productive. And it’s still summer.

So what makes a productive summer? And how can we use the summer to set the tone for the school year?

A few places to start…

Pick your measurement

Looking at each of the items on your list, what does “done” look like? What is the bar? What is the impact you are trying to achieve? Pre-determine the answers to these questions for each item on the list and use that as your measurement. 

Seth Godin shares:

“Most of us were indoctrinated to believe that completing chores is the appropriate measure of productivity.

‘I did all my homework.’

Doing all your homework is a measure for industrial bosses.But what, precisely, did your homework ever do for you?

The actual measures of productivity that might be useful range quite a bit:

I did enough to not get fired.

I did enough to get promoted.

I did enough to get hired by a better firm.

I solved a problem for a customer who was frustrated.

I changed the system and now my peers are far more productive.

I invented something that creates new possibilities and new problems.

I created new assets that I can use (and others can as well).

I didn't waste today.

Pick your measurement and the impact of your chores will change.”

Pre-determine your measurements, and then once you reach them, accept that good enough is good enough.

Connect your tasks to your goals

For any organization, there are a million things that could (should?) get done at any moment. Brian Moran, in the book The 12 Week Year, suggests that most individuals have an average of 40 hours worth of tasks on their to-do lists each week more than they can actually get done. And while the summer may provide more uninterrupted time to work on our tasks, we still should be discerning about which tasks we tackle and ensuring they are moving us closer to our goals. Henry David Thoreau once said, “"It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" Having a clear understanding of the bigger picture and what you’re trying to accomplish can be a great filter for determining what you should be busy about. 

So look through your list and prioritize those items with a clear connection to your bigger goals.

Consider a minimum loveable product

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve never accepted the concept of a “minimum viable product” as I just never thought it was good enough. Enter Adam Grant’s concept of the “minimum loveable product” (MLP). Recognizing that there will almost always be iteration, that no plan survives contact with the real world, and that you always have to move through mediocre to be great, the summer is a great time to consider an MLP. 

Look at each item on that list and define what a MLP would be.

Ask yourself “Could AI be doing this?”

When I do professional development work related to artificial intelligence (AI), I share that the number I hear a lot is 10 hours. You need to give yourself 10 hours of experimenting with AI to start to feel comfortable enough for it to actually help you. During the school year may be a challenging time to find those 10 hours – enter summer. Look over that to-do list of yours and pick the ones that are important, but you are dreading the most and consider how AI might help you. Google it. Ask a colleague. Give yourself extra time to experiment and iterate. Remember that it’s summer, so you have a little more time. And doing this now will actually help you during the school year. 

Use summer to get into the habit of asking yourself, “Could AI be doing this?”

Be intentional with your priorities – and it’s okay to prioritize rest and joy

Summer schedules are often a little more autonomous and allow for more flexibility, giving you more space to set them around your priorities. So be mindful of your priorities (beyond that to-do list) and arrange your schedule accordingly. Steven Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” And, if you feel guilty not putting in as many hours during the summer, consider the data from things like Google’s 20% time policy (that employees are given 20% of the work week to work on their own projects of interest) that shows how much more productive employees are during the other 80%. 

Do an audit of your summer schedule and ensure that it accurately reflects your priorities, and adjust as needed. 

So much of my work with clients comes down to being more effective and efficient with the resources they have, and the tips mentioned above are good year round (not just summer). 

Summer is a great time to get started, though!

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