Are You Experiencing a Late Summer Slow-Down?
The summer months tend to stretch out for most businesses, but for some (and for many individuals), they fly by! From the shorter work weeks and trying to squeeze everything in between vacation days to the hours spent daydreaming about the shore and sitting in traffic on the expressway, it’s common to wonder where your hours went. And when time seems to escape you, it gets harder for you to escape from deadlines. So if the pressure of the impending 4th quarter has you feeling like you’ve hit a speed bump, ease off the brakes with these seven steps toward combating seasonal sluggishness.
1. Create an oasis in your office (or at home!)
A change of scenery is proven to have positive effects on your mood and energy, which may very well spur productivity. Sprucing up your surroundings with plants, pops of color, invigorating scents, lively music, or accessories that reflect your personality will make even the most tired work space more inviting. If your cubicle isn’t conducive to creativity, it’s time to mix things up! Try playing some fun tunes, spraying some citrus fragrance, and buying sticky notes or pens in your favorite color.
2. Adopt some creature comforts
It’s important to be comfortable while you work. Being too hot or cold hinders activity, and being overwhelmed by typical office encumbrances like tangled wires and lack of desk space will only feed distractions. Adding a fan (or bringing a sweater), CableDrops or other cord-keeping knick-knacks, and space-saving gadgets like a clip-on cup holder or solar phone charger to your work-space will reduce interruptions and help you focus.
3. Get moving!
If you’re like most people (or maybe just me), it seems like there are even more excuses in the summertime to skip exercise. But sitting at a desk all day can be a major detriment to our long-term health. This is why a growing number of professionals are taking matters into their own hands by ditching their desk chairs. Sitting on a medicine ball while working will maintain engagement of your core muscles, improving balance, strength and posture – even if it’s only for an hour a day.
Small spikes in physical activity may also boost your ability to concentrate at work. Start simple with quick, low-impact exercises you can do at your desk, like stretches, calf raises, wall push-ups, squats, and wall-sits. If your office building has stairs, take a little walk and make a couple trips up and down the stairs to get your blood pumping. If your energy tends to plummet in the afternoon, try breaking up the day by taking a 15-20 minute exercise break around 2:30 or 3 pm. You don’t have to break a sweat but, if you do, a quick splash of cool water on the face and a cold drink will help to invigorate you. Then, once you freshen up, you should feel recharged and ready to wrap up your day.
4. Map out the week ahead
Sometimes when all you want to do is forge ahead and push yourself, it’s important to take a step back and set some boundaries. An email application that’s constantly open or pinging, along with a phone that keeps on ringing, will wreak havoc on your organization and efficiency. It might sound counter-intuitive, but consciously scheduling 15-minute intervals of email and phone-checking time throughout the day will help you feel more grounded and accountable for your time.
I’m a huge advocate of list-making, too. Making lists on a regular basis helps me re-prioritize and regain control when the day starts to spin away from me. Making a list every night before bed for the next day can also help you sleep better. This way, you will feel more energized the next morning and more on-point than usual because your memory will already know what it needs to focus on.
5. Step out for sanity’s sake
Being cooped up in an office all day when it’s glorious outside is like tempting a toddler with a toy or candy and then yanking it away before they can reach it. To avoid having a mental meltdown, be sure to step outdoors from some fresh air once every hour, even if just for a minute or two. If you’re having trouble focusing, staring at the screen or the page until your eyes start to cross will not help. Don’t punish yourself – sometimes removing yourself from your environment is just what the doctor ordered. Schedule a fun, quick lunch with a friend once a week to break things up, run out for a fruit smoothie, or tackle a quick errand when you’re feeling under-stimulated and restless. I guarantee you’ll return to your desk with renewed motivation.
6. Find little reasons to celebrate
Acknowledging personal victories, no matter how small, is crucial to our well-being and sense of confidence. With all the deadlines and pressures we grow accustomed to, it can be difficult to cultivate such an indulgent habit. One way I like to fit celebration into my work is by creating weekday themes, like Tropical Tuesday (chips and mango salsa, anyone?) or Thankful Thursday (take a few minutes to count your blessings, especially when you’re frustrated – it helps). Why not spice up an otherwise mundane square on the calendar with a little excitement and anticipation? Embracing themes is a fun way to practice savoring and relishing the little things in order to reset your brain. So give yourself a break and come up with a fun, festive theme (and if you’re feeling really bold, write it in your planner in brightly colored ink)!
Spreading joy and kindness around the office will also make each day more pleasant. Science has shown that the majority of humans feel happiest when making others happy. In fact, the psychological benefits of happiness are so powerful, that experts recommend going out of your way to smile at people and perform random acts of kindness. In the workplace, this can be as simple as holding the door for Susan, complimenting Carol, offering to pick up a snack or beverage for Tom while you’re out, or wishing George a happy birthday.
7. Mitigate the mess
Clutter graces us in many forms. There’s digital clutter, physical clutter, and clutter of the mental kind. It’s never too late for a little spring cleaning when it comes to your work space. Start with your email inbox: categorize the messages you still need into folders, and delete everything old and irrelevant. Try creating a “read later” folder for everything you’re unsure of, and set up some inbox filters that send distracting content to a certain folder without alerting you or clogging up your main inbox. Clean up your computer’s desktop icons and group as many individual documents and photos as possible into folders. Sort through your drives and upload space-consuming documents and projects to digital storage, like Dropbox, so that you can free up memory on your machine.
Your desk and work area are a reflection of how your brain feels when you’re sitting there. I’ll admit, when it comes to my desk and other work surfaces, I am guilty of Post-it note pollution! I have chicken scratch and scribbles on more notepads and sticky notes than I can count or make sense of. Once a week I toss the ones that are no longer applicable, and then combine the reminders I still need in a more neat and organized way. I always feel better when I don’t have 100 things floating around my desk (and brain). I also do a somewhat regular inventory audit of accumulated office supplies, trashing eraser-less pencils, dead pens, and dried-up highlighters (or just dumping my mound of paper clips and rubber bands into a jar). And that always-growing stack of business cards? Work on entering those contacts into your database promptly, and then filing the cards in a Rolodex, card binder, or throwing them away. You really don’t need them all.
And lastly, brain clutter (which is partly made up of the things we’ve discussed up to this point): clutter of the mind will steal your focus, drain your energy, and rob you of creativity. Finding ways to de-stress and regroup at work is crucial to your success. Whether you practice deep breathing, meditation, verbal affirmations, visualization, or some kind of yoga pose, identify what works best for you and put it into action daily. Incorporating these mind exercises into your breaks instead of spending 45 minutes scrolling through the black hole of Facebook (which you thought you were only doing for 15 minutes) is a way to keep in touch with your humanity.