• Seasonal Living, Simply Slow

    Staying Focused over Summer

    10 August, 2018

    Over the last few weeks I’ve been really struggling to get anything done…not for lack of motivation or inspiration, but simply because of that summertime haze that seems to descend every year around this time. Everyone’s either going on holiday or just coming back from one, the garden and the beach are continually beckoning us away from our desks, and – this year especially – the heat has us all daydreaming of ice cream and cold water. Jack and I arrived home from America at the end of July after five weeks away (blog posts coming soon!) and it’s taken me until now to regain some semblance of normality. I know I’m not alone in this either: all over Instagram, I’ve seen the same outpourings of despair from others feeling similarly fuzzy-headed. It’s caused me to think a lot about ways to balance work with life over the final weeks of summer, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

    So if, like me, you’re finding that your levels of productivity and creativity plummet as the temperature soars, or your concentration has taken an extended summer break, here’s a little list of the things I’ve been doing lately to re-focus and get back on track:

    Write it down

    I keep a bullet journal, which really helps me to stay on top of all my various ‘to do’ lists and break things down into manageable tasks, but my recent lack of focus has meant that this habit has fallen by the wayside. I don’t know about you, but when I don’t have everything that’s whizzing around my brain written down somewhere for safekeeping, I quickly start to feel overwhelmed and anxious – so getting back to daily journalling has been key for me in taking control of my situation and allowing me to rest easy in the knowledge that all my ideas have been captured on paper. Whether you prefer journalling, lists or charts, take a few moments each day to clear your mind and calm your thoughts by writing everything down.

    Get outside

    This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. Denying yourself the chance to soak up the summer weather will only cause you to resent your work – no matter how much you may enjoy it – so it’s best to schedule in some outdoor time each day to allow you to have the best of both worlds. A morning or evening walk is a great way to do this, as it won’t disrupt your working hours and it’s also a little cooler at the end of the day! Taking an al fresco lunch break is another option, and will also give you a rest from whatever you’re working on so that you return to it feeling refreshed and ready to concentrate again.

    Adjust your working pattern

    If you have a little more flexibility with how you organise your day – for example, if you work from home – consider making some seasonal changes to your schedule. Perhaps you could start earlier so that you can finish earlier too, to make the most of the summer evenings, or if you’re a night owl then you could leave the afternoons free for adventures (or naps!) and continue working after dark. I’m usually much more alert in the mornings and prefer to switch off come late afternoon, but a while ago I remembered that when my husband and I were at university together – back in the days before he was actually my husband, that is – we spent the summer of our final year enjoying the sunshine during the day and revising for our exams in the library at night. It was the polar opposite of my normal pattern, but the time it gave us outdoors and the resulting healthy work/life balance far outweighed the slight struggle involved in changing my habits. I’ve since found that tailoring my working hours to suit the seasons is a brilliantly effective tool for creating a day that keeps both the head and the heart happy.

    Bring summer inside

    If shaking up your schedule isn’t an option, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the season whilst continuing with your regular routine. Brighten up your workspace with wildflowers or nature illustrations, make yourself a fancy summery lunch, add cucumber or berries to your water bottle, or listen to a sunny-sounding playlist. Of course these things won’t change the fact that you’d probably rather be outside, but bringing a few touches of summer to your day will mean you’re more likely to enjoy the time you spend on your work and more able to concentrate on the task at hand, instead of worrying that you’re missing out on all the fun.

    Be gentle with your expectations

    Not everyone may agree with me on this one, but I’m a firm believer that each season has its own effects on our moods and behaviours and that we should be permitted (and permit ourselves) to ebb and flow in harmony with the changes. Spring and autumn seem natural times for renewed inspiration and creativity, while the lull of winter creates a mood of inward reflection and hibernation. Summer, however, brings a strange mix of energy and lethargy that can be hard to manage within the traditional perception of a ‘successful’ working day. It’s hot, and our social media feeds are filled with wanderlust-inducing holiday snaps: our bodies want to lie down in a darkened room, while our brains are planning the next adventure. Is it any wonder that we start to feel a little all over the place? With this in mind, it seems to me that summer should be a time for taking it slow and steady – setting ourselves realistic and manageable workloads by prioritising tasks and accepting the fact that it’s not a season of hustle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard: we’re often bound by external deadlines, we’re afraid of judgement, and – above all – we’re taught from an early age that busy is best, time is money, and money is power. This social conditioning leads to all kinds of feelings of guilt, weakness or failure when we try to break free of convention and define our own version of success. But, in spite of it all, I truly believe that slowing down over summer is not only a nicety, but a necessity. It takes the pressure off, allows us to recharge, and means we can focus on quality over quantity in terms of the work we produce. So, if you can, take a look at your workload and take steps to ensure it’s manageable for you in this season. Give yourself permission to rest, let your thoughts wander when they need to, and know that your focus will return as the leaves begin to fall.

    Make plans for your free time

    It sounds obvious, but I always find that having tangible plans for my free time really helps me to lay boundaries and to define the periods in which I need to double down on work. If I set aside a little time to research and organise the things I want to do over the summer in advance, it minimises the hours I might otherwise have spent wishing and daydreaming, and means I can rest easy in the knowledge that there will be plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures. Having something to look forward to is also a great motivator – there’s nothing like the thought of a few days away to encourage the ticking off of lists and the clearing of inboxes!

    Seek out inspiration

    If you’re feeling a bit flat, sometimes it can help to turn to others for inspiration. Books, blog posts and podcast episodes can all offer encouragement and words of wisdom – whether you’re stuck on a particular problem or just need to know you’re not alone in how you feel. I often find that when I’m struggling to concentrate and I’m not getting anything done, my positivity – and with it my enthusiasm for my work – starts to dwindle. Reading or listening to the words of others always kickstarts my creativity, reminds me why I do what I do, and resets my attitude so that I can go back to my own tasks and ideas with renewed passion and purpose.

    Look after yourself

    Last but not least, it’s especially important in the summer months to remember to take care of yourself: stay cool, drink plenty of water, eat good food, take breaks, and get enough sleep. It’s easy for these things to slip down our list of priorities when it’s sunny outside and we’re raring to get out and explore, but I’ve found from experience that losing sight of them can lead to feeling run down and unmotivated – which, of course, makes it much harder to focus on work.

    Is there anything you’d add to my list? I’d love to hear how you stay balanced and focused over the summer, too.

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