Early Career Psychologist Column

Planning a productive summer

Five tips for increasing productivity.

By Andrea Robinson, PhD

Summer “break” is here. For most of us that means it is time to buckle down and be productive while our schedules have more flexibility. However, I sometimes find the unstructured time, exhaustion from the intensity of the academic year and the need to address neglected areas of life can make being productive in the summer difficult. So here are a few ideas to help you have the most productive summer yet.

1. Make a plan and prioritize.

First, generate a list of tasks you would like to complete by the end of the summer. Think about your goals for the upcoming year and what you would like to accomplish. Next, prioritize the tasks on the list given your goals. Are there any deadlines approaching for grant proposals or conference abstract submissions? Do you have data that need to be analyzed or manuscripts that need to be submitted? Do you need to revamp or prep a course for the fall semester? Think about what tasks are most important to you that can reasonably be accomplished. Keep in mind some tasks may have to wait for the fall or next summer break.

2. Break it down.

Break your tasks down into manageable pieces. Big projects can be intimidating, and you might be more likely to put them off if you feel overwhelmed. You will finish your projects faster if you work on them a little bit every day.

3. Develop a daily routine.

Setting a daily routine is especially important during the summer months when our schedules have more freedom. Organize each day by creating a to-do list and put your most important tasks at the top of the list. Determine which hours of the day you are more focused and productive and set that time aside to tackle your most difficult projects. Make sure you turn off all distractions during this time. Multitasking is a myth; if you need to produce excellent work, you must remove the distractions, including email alerts, and devote quality time to important activities.

4. Be held accountable.

Making a daily to-do list is a great way to hold yourself accountable. The more you can remind yourself of the goals you have set the more likely you are to stick to them. But do not underestimate the power of the buddy system. Find a colleague who might appreciate some reciprocal accountability and set up weekly meetings to check in. It is much harder to blow off writing that manuscript if your friend or colleague expects you to have it done. There are also several writing groups online that can help you stay motivated and prevent procrastination.

5. Enjoy your summer.

Make sure you reward yourself for all your hard work. Rewarding yourself for completing tasks or writing assignments will go a long way to keeping you motivated all summer long. So go ahead and play outside, have a few beers after work or take a weekend getaway. You've earned it.