Making the most of the summer slowdown

Projects can grind to a halt when colleagues are all taking one last end-of-summer vacation. Here’s how to stay productive when you have some unexpected downtime.

August marks the dog days of summer, when a slower pace tends to be par for the course — and the workplace is often no exception.

With some colleagues rounding out the end of summer with one last vacation, team projects may be on hold until their return. Similarly, clients and other contacts may be harder to reach as the summer winds down. Fortunately, this summer slowdown offers professionals the chance to dive into opportunities they typically only wish they had time for.

Staying active when things at work are slower than usual isn’t about looking busy to your manager, however. It’s also about more than fighting boredom when you’re the only one at the office on a sunny afternoon. It’s about using your time effectively to set yourself up for success.

Many employees keep a running list of professional goals they’d like to accomplish in their downtime, notes Jim Jeffers, metro market manager of staffing firm Robert Half in Madison. These goals include the upkeep of distribution lists, making time to do research on some hot leads, or brushing up on best practices for their field.

According to Jeffers, workers can take advantage of this downtime in a handful of ways:

  • Get involved. Join associations or organizations that focus on your profession. You may learn something new at an industry event that can improve your skill set or job performance.
  • Make time to read. Catch up on all those articles you’ve been meaning to read in key industry publications, as well as books that relate to your field of work.
  • Connect with people. Get more active on LinkedIn by posting about your positive career experiences and sharing articles that are relevant to your network.
  • Be open to new experiences. Invest in opportunities such as conferences and workshops. You may even want to consider getting a certification or advanced degree.
  • Elevate your reputation at work. Ask your manager if there are any additional projects you can assist with. Jumping in to help wherever you are able to can significantly increase your visibility.

“When the office is a little quieter than usual during the hot summer months, workers should take steps to enhance themselves in all the ways they’ve been meaning to,” says Jeffers. “By joining a professional organization, attending a workshop, or helping with more projects at work, employees may find greater career satisfaction and improved job performance overall. Take advantage of the summer slowdown and you’ll be thanking yourself later.”

It also pays to know when you’re most productive and take advantage of those times to get your most pressing projects done.

While Sunday nights can be scary before the work week begins, Monday and Tuesday, especially in the morning, are when employees are most productive, suggests new research from staffing firm Accountemps, a division of Robert Half.

More than half of workers surveyed said their productivity peaks at the beginning of the week, with Monday (29 percent) edging out Tuesday (27 percent) by two points. After Wednesday (20 percent), worker productivity dips: 13 percent of employees do their best work on Thursdays, followed by just 11 percent on Fridays.

Many professionals said they accomplish more work at the start of the day: 44 percent are most productive in the early morning and 31 percent in late morning, compared to 2 percent who like to burn the midnight oil. It’s also probably best to avoid scheduling meetings at noon: only 2 percent of workers surveyed said they get the most work done at lunchtime.

For peak productivity, where is as important as when to work, but employees are divided:

  • Those ages 55 and older have the strongest preference for working in an office, with nearly half (45 percent) reporting they work best in a private office with a closed door, according to the survey.
  • Meanwhile, working in an open office (38 percent) was the top response among 18- to 34-year-olds.
  • Telecommuting was a close second choice for younger workers, at 36 percent, compared to 26 percent of professionals ages 35–54 and 17 percent of employees 55 and up.

“Employers can play to the unique strengths of their team by knowing when and how they’re most productive,” says Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of Accountemps. “If you can provide access to their preferred workspaces or bring in temporary professionals to help staff reach peak productivity, do it. What matters most for the bottom line is the work employees get done — not where and when.”

Employees were also asked about the single biggest distraction that impacts their productivity during the workday. Co-workers who are too chatty and social topped the list (32 percent), followed by office noise (22 percent), unnecessary conference calls and meetings (20 percent), cell phone use (15 percent), and unnecessary emails (11 percent).

Steinitz adds that workers should hold themselves accountable for their own productivity and offered suggestions for minimizing disruptions: “Employees should focus on important assignments when they’re most alert and energized, and if necessary, consider posting a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign at their desk or switching team chat status to ‘Busy.’ Finding ways to shut out distractions can help maximize productivity, no matter the day, time, or place.”

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