Summertime and the Workin’ is Easy: The Five Ps of a Productive Summer

June 1, 2017

By Leandra Parris, Illinois State University & Tamika P. La Salle, University of Connecticut

We all make those lofty summertime goals in academia, thinking the reduced or nonexistent teaching load plus the relative absence of students will free us up for other projects. Writing those manuscripts that have been brewing on the back burner, finally getting in that R&R, or polishing off that grant you’ve been eyeing.  You just know this is going to be the summer that you get your academic and personal life together, attend to your mental health, go on vacations, tackle those personal projects, and hit the gym every day.

Yes, summertime is a great time for work. But it’s also a great time for refreshing your tired academic mind and body. The problem is that, just like the pint of ice cream in the back of the freezer, a small taste of down time is never, ever enough. And with your academic life winning the battle for most of the year, it’s understandable that when work and personal time clash in the summer you tend to opt for that afternoon by the pool instead of revising yet another manuscript or prepping for a new class. So, what is an early career professional to do?

The trick, as always, is balance and structure. We’ve put together some ideas that may help you keep or improve your productivity in the summer while also making sure that you don’t burn-out before the next school year even begins.

Prioritize. Throughout the year, you have probably had thoughts or made statements along the lines of “that sounds like a good thing to do in the summer” or “I can get to that in the summer.” By May your list is fairly long, as is the list of conferences, weddings, family reunions, camps, and vacations that you plan to attend. This is when it is time to practice what we preach and make a list of priorities.
· Things with due dates are easy enough, but things that are simply “need to be done by August” can be more difficult. Set a date for certain tasks that you think is the best-case scenario, and add two weeks to it.
· The mistake that a lot of early career professionals make is that they don’t include their personal projects in their list of priorities. What is more important for the whole of your life: repainting the basement or reviewing a manuscript so you can send it back to your co-authors? Depending on the day, that answer can vary! Steve Truscott, Professor at Georgia State University reminds us to “remember to spend some time with people you love and like. You are working so hard to succeed that it is easy to forget that you need some people around who make all the success worthwhile.”

Personal. The summer is time to focus on you. Really, focus on you. Unencumbered by the typical day-to-day running of programs, teaching, advising, and supervision, you can do the things that are truly important and valuable to you. Whether it’s writing, reviewing, designing research, conducting research, or improving your skills as a trainer, use this time to focus on the things that you are passionate about. Doing so will not only springboard you into the fall with renewed energy for your career, but will also make working in the summer feel more enjoyable, and less like…working. Reconnect with what brought you to this field and let it flourish in the open space of summer. “Mix a little pleasure with a little work. I find ethnographies to read in the summer so it feels more like a novel” says Tara Raines, Assistant Professor at the University of Denver. The same is true for your personal summer goals. Make them about you, your family, etc., –whatever is going to improve your well-being and give you enough me-time to prepare for when fall rolls around again.

Pragmatic. Being pragmatic should come naturally to school psychologists. We are trained to do what is most reasonable, makes the most sense, and is evidence-based to be efficient and effective. Which means we all know that the overworked mind will eventually begin to interfere with any hope of productivity. And yet we continue to hesitate to say no to requests, take on multiple projects, overextend our commitments, and triple book our calendars. Early career professionals are notorious for not refusing any opportunities to add a line to their vitae. But it is important to be pragmatic in your approach to summer. What is reasonable? What is ideal? What is reinforcing? What does your academic to-do list look like up against your psychological well-being need list? How many manuscripts do you really need out this summer, how many grants have to be in during this round? Give yourself space, and time, to address the inevitable surprise or forgotten deadline. “Don’t plan anything from mid August on as that is all class and prep for the semester. Use May-June to get your biggest writing advantage times” says Sandy Chafouleas, Professor at the University of Connecticut.

Pace. Pacing is key. Some people function well by charging through their academic goals during the first of the summer, leaving the last half for family, fun, and self-care. Others find that working daily, playing daily, and spreading out their down time is more effective. It really is dependent on your work style, your summer deadlines, and the rest of the world’s schedule. If you go with the first option, keep to a daily schedule that maximizes your time in the office. Melissa Bray, Professor at the University of Connecticut says “My advice is to write very day- or ever other (1/2 page to a page at a time only). This makes a world of difference in getting articles done and out.”  A daily to-do list is a must and you will want very clear start-and-stop dates for projects. If you can do the slow-and-steady approach, there is some flexibility in how you approach tasks. For example, one schedule may include writing for 2 hours every morning Tuesday-Thursday, working on grants in the afternoon, and using the four-day weekend to work around the house, engage in hobbies, or take smaller vacations. If a larger vacation is planned, then the three-day work week can easily be shifted to a full work week to compensate. You can also find the small moments throughout your travels – plane rides, long care rides – to do smaller tasks that will add up to large, meaningful contributions to your work.

Play. Get out and do the things that you love and that you could not do during a typical semester. Remind yourself that work is not all that you are, and be okay with taking the afternoon, or even the week, to get back to those old hobbies. Lisa Sanetti, Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut says, “ For me it’s also important to schedule in true breaks from work. I will take my work e-mail off my phone and just relax with family during scheduled times.” All the reminders that academia is more than just a job will be waiting for you in the fall. You need to engage in some serious self-care, and whether you do that throughout the summer or during one set time period, make sure that when you decide it’s time for your personal life that you take it very seriously. It should be just as important throughout the year, but summer is the time to really set up those boundaries and protect the time that you need to refresh, recovery, and prepare.

Hopefully these tips can help you accomplish your goals for the summer and get you prepared, professionally and personally, for Fall 2017. In the mean time, if you have any additional tips for your fellow early career academics, please comment below to share!

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