The classic Gershwin song reminds us each year around this time that it’s “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” While those “fish are jumpin’,” the pace at work tends to slow down; the office dress code tends to get more casual; bosses, co-workers, and clients disappear on vacation; and most everyone tries to sneak out early on Fridays.
So, you’re thinking: Why not join the club, chillax, and shift into cruise control for the next couple of months?
But instead, what if, this summer, you decided to shift gears and do the opposite!
While everyone else is out getting their second Mister Softee or third iced coffee of the day, why not carpe the diem and take at least some of this downtime to do some of those things that you’ve been putting off all year long? That is, instead of cruising through the summer as many do and then wondering where the time went, why not put the pedal to the metal, and take advantage of these lazy, hazy, days of summer to get ahead…
How? By – in addition to, of course, allowing yourself to take some well-earned and much-needed time off for yourself – you may want to consider dedicating at least a few of those dog days of summer – the period between the Fourth of July and Labor Day – to focus on these four imporant, career-enhancing activities:
- Developing yourself
- Developing your relationships
- Developing your people
- Developing your team
The Time Management Matrix model I mentioned in a previous post (“Start the New Year Off Right with 7 Simple Productivity and Time Management Tips“) demonstrates that we spend most of our time in either Quadrant 1 (Urgent & Important tasks) or Quadrant 3 (Urgent and Unimportant tasks). For good reason, it’s often referred to as “the tyranny of the urgent” because we let external demands and time constraints dictate where and how we spend so much of our time.
But with things slowing down a little and often with fewer Q1 & Q3 fires to put out, summertime just might be the right time to focus on Q2 (Important, but Non-Urgent tasks and projects)…and even allow us to spend some mindless Q4 downtime (Unimportant, and Non-Urgent) on ourselves.
So regarding those four items I mentioned earlier, which quadrant do they fit into? Yes, Quadrant 2!
Q2 is where the bigger picture, longer term, strategic, and developmental things happen. So, developing ourselves, developing our relationships, developing our people, and developing our teams are four high-payoff activities that often end up on our Wish List rather than on our To-Do List. Why? Because, by definition, though they are of high importance, they simply are not “urgent”…and it is the urgent and time-sensitive things that always command our primary attention, often leaving us with no time, or energy, to spend in the all-important Quadrant 2.
And what about Q4 – the unimportant and non-urgent? Well, we cannot live by work alone! There is definitely a need to recharge and refresh ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And summertime is the perfect time to try to carve out some time to do that…yes, during the workweek. After how hard we work throughout most of the year, don’t we kind of owe it to ourselves to take advantage of this downtime…and this beautiful weather? And, though Q4 activities are categorized as “Time-Wasters and Escapes,” as the saying goes, “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time.”
HOW TO CREATE YOUR SUMMERTIME Q2 & Q4 TO-DO LIST
So, to help you seize the day and develop yourself, your relationships, your people, and/or your team this summer, here are just a few of a potentially unlimited number of possible suggestions (in no particular order) that you may want to consider adding to your summertime To-Do list:
While racing to meet deadlines and focusing on getting your work done throughout most of the year, it’s easy to forget about working on yourself. So make the time and take the time this summer to get organized, to create processes and systems that will help you to be more efficient and effective, and, especially, to learn something new. Here are just a few suggestions to help you develop yourself at work this summer:
- Pick out a business book (or non-business book) and read while having a leisurely lunch somewhere outdoors.
- Whether online or offline, get in the habit of finding time to read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and/or the key periodicals and trade journals of your industry. As President Truman once said, “Leaders are readers.”
- Sign up for a few work-related blogs and e-newsletters and read 3-5 per day (for example, some of my favorites are: Seth Godin’s blog, Harvard Management Tip of the Day, and SmartBrief).
- Take some time everyday to watch a couple of TED Talks (these will not only increase your knowledge, but will also help you to improve your presentation and communication skills).
- Look up a work-related topic on YouTube and watch a few different videos to get different perspectives.
- Find out if your company has access to book summaries (e.g., summary.com or getAbstract) or other valuable e-learning resources (e.g., Udemy), and, if so, take advantage of them.
- Learn to speak “the language of your business” by looking up jargon and terminology you’ve heard that you don’t know the meaning of (e.g., the Investopedia dictionary is a good source for improving your financial industry vocabulary, and there’s always Wikipedia as a good starting point for everything else).
- Take some time to de-clutter and organize your workspace (including your computer desktop). I’ve found that a clean desk contributes to a clear mind. (And if you’re allowed to, perhaps you can take your laptop outside to do your work while, at the same time, getting some fresh air and sunshine!)
- Initiate informal conversations with various people in your office to learn more about them and to leverage the wisdom of their experience. (As well as being willing to share yours with them.) As business author Dan Pink recently wrote, “Anytime you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’ve just proved that you’re not.” Or, as philospher Thomas Carlyle (and, later, Emerson) put it, “Every man (*or woman) is my superior in that I may learn from him (*or her).”
Develop Your Relationships
Initiatiating conversations with your co-workers will not only increase your knowledge and develop yourself, but will help you to develop and strengthen those relationships. As the saying goes, in the business world it’s not just what you know…but who you know – as well as who wants to know you. And as the best way to be seen as “interesting” is to be “interested,” seek to ask questions and make an effort to get to know people on a sincere, genuine, and human level. A few ways to build your network and deepen your relationships this summer:
- Go out to lunch with people in your office. Suggest sitting outside (e.g., at a sidewalk café or in Bryant Park, Union Square, etc.) or take a walk around the block (or along the High Line or across the Brooklyn Bridge). This is a great way to exercise your body while exercising your mind and your people skills.
- Reconnect and meet up with old friends and colleagues. Look them up on LinkedIn and/or Facebook to see WHAT they’re doing…and then shoot them a note to find out HOW they’re doing…and ask if they’d like to get together sometime. It could be just for fun, or you never know where your next business connection might come from. Last summer I met up with a guy who was my best friend growing up in Queens, and who I last saw when we were 12 years old. It was a really nice reconnection and a lot of fun to reminisce about old times.
- Speaking of LinkedIn, another way to develop relationships is to join a few LinkedIn discussion groups and dive into the conversation. It’s a great way to increase your visibility, build your brand, and establish yourself as a subject matter expert or thought-leader in your field. And, again, while doing so you never know whom you might meet.
- After work, look for opportunities to attend networking events. Often held in the summer at outdoor venues or rooftop bars, it’s a great way to socialize and enjoy the great outdoors while developing your relationships.
Develop Your People
The biggest objection I get when trying to sell clients on my training services is not “We don’t have the budget,” but “We just don’t have the time.” Unfortunately, the reality is that “NOW” is never a good time. So if you sincerely want to develop your people, you simply have to make the time, and the commitment, to do so. If you truly want to attract, retain, engage, and motivate your people, one of the best ways to do that is to invest in their personal and professional development. And summertime just might be a good time to squeeze in some training, coaching, mentoring, and more:
- Set aside some time to meet informally with each of your people to simply ask, “How’s it going?” Most conversations between bosses and their employees focus on tasks and projects. Or only happen two times a year during formal performance reviews. But this is all about them. Finding out what makes each individual tick will help you to engage and motivate them, and set them up for success. Find out what they want to be coached on, and – whether it’s by you or someone else – get them the coaching and/or mentoring and/or training they need to take their game to the next level.
- Initiate a mentoring program or buddy system that will encourage people to pair up with others in your organization solely for learning and development purposes. This is a great way to increase cross-functional knowledge sharing and collaboration, as well as upward and downward conversations.
- Create a “learning library” – both online and offline – to provide employees with free access to books, videos, articles, etc. for them to learn what they want, at their own pace. Making this minimal financial investment goes a long way towards creating a learning culture in your organization. And don’t you want your people to be as smart and knowledgeable as they can be?
Btw, while some managers ask, “What will happen if we invest in developing them and they leave?” the other question to consider is, “What will happen if we DON’T, and they stay?”
Develop Your Team
Developing each individual is the first step, but when you develop people to become a high performing team, you’ll find that as a T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More. As I wrote in my post, “Team BONDING Needs To Come Before Team BUILDING,” to build a championship team takes time and attention. Time that you may be able to take advantage of during the summer:
- One of the easiest and most common ways to create a team environment is to bring people together to bond over lunch. Whether they brown bag it or whether you bring in pizza and salads or something else, creating an opportunity for your people to break bread together in a casual setting will help them connect, exchange ideas, and get to know one another better. If you want to be creative and turn it into a learning experience as well, show a TED Talk, share an article beforehand, or start a summer book club…to get the conversation going.
- Get out of the office either for an extra-long lunch or allow people to leave just a little bit early to meet up for afterwork drinks at a local rooftop or waterside bar. Social media is one way of connecting; social-izing live, in-person is another.
- Plan a more structured teambuilding offsite event. Whether you facilitate it yourself or bring in an outside expert, it’s a great way to simultaneously develop your people as individuals and collectively as a team.
- One other, random, fun way to help people bond: “T-shirt Fridays.” If if suits your culture, pick a different theme for each Friday and invite people to wear a t-shirt that day that represents “My favorite….blank.” One week is “Wear your favorite band or concert t-shirt (e.g., The Ramones); the next week wear your favorite sports team t-shirt (e.g., Mets or Yankees); favorite vacation t-shirt; favorite superhero or cartoon character; etc. This is a fun and no-cost way to break down barriers, help people find commonalities, and initiate conversations.
While there are a million more possibilities, I’ll stop here. If you have other ideas, please share them with us!
In closing, as the inspirational magnet on my refrigerator advises: “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Which implies that if you do just some of the things listed above, your “September Self” will appreciate and thank your “Summer Self” for setting you up for a successful remainder of the year.
And again, while you’re busily making progress on your Q2 to-do list, remember to also take some Q4 time to reward yourself…especially if or when you hear that hypnotic and mesmerizing Mister Softee theme song calling your name.