By now, at least a few of your coworkers have traded their cubicles for a beach towel this summer, but all you can see in your future is continuous days of fluorescent lights, packed lunches, and an inbox that’s gotten only slightly less daunting. You’re headed straight for the summer slump, if you’re not in it already.
While it might be nice to lament the days when you had a three-month summer break as a kid and could take a vacation at a moment’s notice, reminiscing is only going to get you so far. (Not far enough to get you out of the office, sadly.) If you feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t have a vacation to look forward to, or yours is already a distant memory, there are ways to get ahead over the summer months that don’t include mindlessly checking your Facebook feed for the 12th time in an hour.
“Everyone gets a bit more laid-back when the weather is warmer,” Jill Jacinto, a millennial career expert and associate director of editorial and communications for career site WORKS by Nicole Williams, told LearnVest. “Don’t fall into this trap. Use the summer as a time to shine and develop new projects while your co-workers take summer Fridays and long lunches.”
In some cases, it might mean taking advantage of an emptier office or a slow schedule to reevaluate your productivity at other times of year. That way when September rolls around and everyone is shaking off sand and trying to get back into the swing of things, you’re already firing on all cylinders. In others, it might mean setting yourself up to learn new things or finding ways to create a positive atmosphere at the office, regardless of the cloudless day you’re missing outside. No matter if you’re a manager or an employee still trying to prove your worth, there are things you can be doing even in the midst of your slowest season that can have a big impact. Here’s five of them.
1. Liven up your online presence
While you’re trying to kill time on Facebook, you might as well update the platforms that can actually have an impact on your professional life. Skip the photo album of your college roommate’s trip to The Grand Canyon and instead focus on updating your professional bios.
There are three types of online bios you should revisit and revamp if necessary, workplace trainer and resume writer Catchet Prescott told LearnVest. One micro bio should be about 50 words and is useful for your professional Twitter account or platforms like it, such as Instagram. Another version should about about 100 words, which is useful for your personal website or blog. A third in-depth bio can be about 500 words or so, and is the type that might appear on your LinkedIn page or company website, depending on size and style.
If you threw these together as you were creating them without much thought, summer is the time for a major revision. The trick no matter which type you’re working on, Prescott said, is to “make sure your brand message is consistent across all platforms. Think about what you want people to know about you, who you are and what you’re doing [professionally].”
While you’re at it, give a little extra love to your LinkedIn page. A 2014 Jobvite survey found that 94% of recruiters are active on the platform. So even if you’re not looking for a new gig right now, cultivating your connections isn’t a bad idea. (LinkedIn isn’t always the right way to network, but it’s a heck of a lot better than envying the posts of Mai Tais on Instagram that all your friends on vacation are sharing.)
2. Evaluate your progress
While you have a few spare minutes, use the summer months to take a look at your work so far this year. If you’re on a team, the summer can be a good time to revisit processes that enhance working together. If you need to pick up some of the slack for people out of the office, now is the best time to make sure that documentation and communication are on point. If it’s not, come up with some ways for projects to keep moving forward without snagging every time someone else leaves for the beach. Coming up with a shared workflow document to show who is responsible when others are out of the office is a great way to keep projects from derailing, U.S. News and World Report suggests.
The summer months are also a great time to request a mid-year evaluation, suggests Lauren McGoodwin, a former Hulu recruiter and founder of the work/life site Career Contessa. “Put your request in an email, saying something like, ‘I know we set some goals in January, but can we do a mid-year check-in?’” McGoodwin told LearnVest. That way, you have a chance to evaluate your performance from your bosses’ perspective, while they’re not overwhelmed with their own to-do list. If there are things you do need to improve upon, you’ve got several months to show progress before year-end reviews (and potential raises) are at stake.
3. Find new ways to be engaged at work
Chances are, summer isn’t the only time when you’re feeling a little less than motivated to show up to work, especially if you’ve been working on the same projects for months. While things are a little more flexible, take the time to try your hand at a new task. That opportunity might turn up more than you think, as coworkers will need people to take over accounts or pick up the slack with ongoing projects while they’re away. It’s a win-win — your colleague can rest easy on their hammock, and you can learn more about what they’ve been working on. “[Your co-worker] will be happy that you’re willingly pitching in, and you’ll be able to further your skills,” Jacinto told LearnVest, adding that it’s an opportunity to shine for a new department, a new set of stakeholders, or a new supervisor.
If that’s not a common opportunity in your office, find other ways to start new projects. “Make it known that you want to take on more,” Jacinto added. “Managers always want to hear that you’re thinking about the business and ways to make it better. So if you share a great idea, and it gets positive reception at a staff meeting, don’t wait for the official assignment—get it to the rough draft phase and show it to the team.”
If you’re a manager, you also have a unique power to ensure your direct reports stay engaged in their work. Lisa Kohn, principal of Chatsworth Consulting Group, told Entrepreneur that the summer is the time to discover the strengths and interests of your employees — and use them effectively. You might not be able to switch people from their necessary roles, but you can offer chances for more learning. If an assistant shows interest in marketing, for example, allow him or her to sit in on a meeting to learn the ropes. “You could also be developing a new skill set that will benefit the company,” Entrepreneur notes.
4. Learn something new
If you’re still fighting off more yawns than normal and the minutes are crawling by, try taking some of your time to learn something new from colleagues or even connections outside of the office. On top of taking on new projects, this also might be the time to explore that idea you’ve had about switching positions in your company — or changing industries completely.
If you’ve had your eye on a new position within your company but aren’t sure how to get there, ask to schedule informal interviews with people who hold that position now. You’ll learn more about the job and get a good idea if it might be the right fit for you. If you’re toying with the idea of switching jobs completely, schedule interviews with outside connections who can tell you more about the position you want. (We’re sure your bosses would prefer that’s done outside of company time, but all the same you can be better prepared over these summer months if your actual work days aren’t that taxing.)
“Your goal for the conversation should be to walk away knowing what the day-to-day is of that job,” McGoodwin told LearnVest. “You want to gather enough information to decide ‘This is the job for me.’” McGoodwin would know. as she sent 30 LinkedIn messages to recruiters in the Los Angeles area (and met with 28 of them over seven months) before she became a recruiter herself.
5. Actually take a break
Sure, you might feel like you can’t take a true vacation. But if you have the paid time off, you should make every effort to take it. Not enough Americans do, and there can be some serious health consequences to working the steady grind for years on end. You might have the right motivations to log consistent hours and impress your boss, but research shows that taking a vacation can actually help your productivity. Try taking a week off. Or at the very least, unplugging for a day and taking a long weekend to explore your hometown.
If we can’t convince you to take off, at least make an effort to make the office a little more lively during the summer months. Create a summer-themed playlist for the break room, U.S. News suggests, or bring in summer treats for the rest of your co-workers who are also stuck at work. Leslie Yerkes, president of Catalyst Consulting Group in Cleveland and author of Fun Works: Creating Places Where People Love to Work, explained why this works. “The adrenaline and the laughter and the endorphins created in that spontaneous fun … might give [workers] the little extra boost they need to get through the day,” she said.
If you’re a manager, you have even more ability to affect the morale. In her advice to Entrepreneur, Kohn said that employees will be more motivated to work over the summer if they know there’s “play time” of some kind on the horizon. Schedule a picnic or other activity for employees, or consider closing up shop early on Fridays if employees make up that time with longer hours on other days. A growing number of American companies are implementing Summer Fridays, and finding that if the employees make up those hours on the other work days, there’s little downside.