Last week was Memorial Day--the unofficial kick-off to summer. For many people, Memorial Day is a welcome respite after months without a federal holiday. So unless you had the presence of mind to take a spring vacation (and even if you did!), you might be feeling a little burnt out.
This summer, I'd bet money that you'd like to spend less time at the office--or as my brilliant colleague Tony Schwartz calls it, the "White-Collar Salt Mine." But this is no laughing matter: His research, published in Friday's New York Times, indicates that 40 percent of people (almost half!) find it difficult to disengage from work.
To me, this is especially depressing in the summer months. Remember what your summers looked like in high school and college? Even for those of us who worked, our main focus was always to have the Best Summer Ever. (All you have to do to remember this feeling is watch the movie Grease.)
As a working adult, how can this summer be your Best Summer Ever? Let's do a quick exercise to figure out what that might look like. Imagine that it's a Monday evening in July. You've had a great day -- you feel accomplished, relaxed and really enjoyed yourself. What did your day look like? How many hours did you work? What did you do besides work?
For example, my perfect summer day would be insanely productive -- but it would also include a long bike ride and a leisurely meal with friends. And I'd close my laptop by 5 p.m. and not touch it until the next day -- perhaps because I was enjoying happy hour on a shady patio somewhere. Sigh...
How far from your best summer Monday is your actual summer Monday? For most people, they're pretty different. I recently met one executive who has a terrible habit of working late in the summer, much to the chagrin of his family. He has a sticky note on his office wall that futilely orders him, "Go Home!" I bet you can guess how well that strategy is working for him. Yep, not so well.
Why does work so often keep us from play? In the United States, our jobs are a large part of our identity, and we feel important when we're busy. Staying at the office until 7 p.m. is a badge of honor. In contrast, Danish people work an average of 37 hours a week. In Denmark, staying in the office until 7 p.m. is seen as inefficient -- imagine how we Americans must look to the average Dane! Pretty scary, right?
But there's good news. This summer, you have a clean slate. You can make it your Best Summer Ever. Even if you can't head home at noon every day, how much more fun would you have with a few extra hours per week? This isn't shooting for the moon, people -- it's very, very possible, and quite simple. If you were more efficient at the office, you'd have more time to enjoy the season.
This summer, here are three tips to help you spend less time at the office, but get just as much -- or more -- done:
1. Harness the Zen of timing. In life and at work, success is often dependent upon good timing. Are you making smart decisions about when to do things at work? For example, do you commute during rush hour? Do you set yourself up for failure by trying to focus on important tasks during your post-lunch slump? Are you ending your day with epic, unproductive conference calls when your inbox is screaming to be cleared out? If you feel like something is taking you too long -- or is simply frustrating you -- ask, "If I timed this task differently, would I be more efficient?"
2. Block off non-meeting time. Do you find yourself in meetings all day, with only the evenings to catch up on actual work? For most people, what's calendared is what gets done. Find at least an hour each day to guard on your calendar for e-mail and other work you need to do. To avoid the temptation of letting others steal this time back, announce your plan. For example, "Starting next week, I'll be in my office with the door closed on Friday mornings. Nothing personal -- I just need to get a few things done."
3. Tighten up your day. One secret of efficient professionals is that they "bunch up" their schedules. There's nothing worse than having a day full of meetings with one hour between each of them. That time isn't enough to get anything done, but it's just enough to drain your day. Try to set up meetings back-to-back so you can keep larger chunks of time free. And make sure to use those chunks of time to actually work -- if being efficient is really important, stop cruising on Facebook, taking personal calls and engaging in unnecessary office chit-chat!
I hope these tips will help you carve out more time for fun this summer. If this feels difficult, you can probably muster the energy by remembering what you'll gain -- more time at the pool, with your family, on the golf course, etc. When you think about it that way, how could you not be more efficient at the office this summer?
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste. Learn more