How To Use A Summer Slowdown To Advance Your Career
For some people, summer is a busy time. If you’re in real estate or construction, or run a camp, June through August will be frantic. Many other organizations, though, operate at a different pace. People don’t start new projects because critical people are on vacation, or sometimes just mentally checked out until September. Why host that conference if half the people won’t come?
A summer slowdown can be unsettling from a revenue perspective, but viewed in a different light, this extra time is a great opportunity to take care of things that don’t happen when life is frenzied. Here are some strategies for making smart use of a slump.
Many people tell themselves they are overworked because they are during a busy season. But those weeks are probably no more emblematic of life than slower times. If you have been telling yourself you have no time for fun, a slowdown can provide countering evidence, and with it, the opportunity to think of yourself as the kind of person who can volunteer, or exercise. Go ahead and do these things. You’ll probably enjoy them so much you’ll find a way to stick with them once work picks up again.
Create your own mini-retreat to ponder what you want your career to look like in the long term, and how you might get there. Or read to open your mind to big questions. Heidi Reimer-Epp, founder and CEO of Botanical PaperWorks, says, “I use the slower pace of summer to read widely. Fiction, business books, psychology, science. I go where my curiosity takes me.” There is often a business benefit; fiction, she says, helps her understand consumer behavior.
You can also use this time to study the world and how it works. Conversations with friends and family about what they’re into can spark ideas for future projects. Send yourself to summer school. Mary Beth Patnaude, a college professor, is using the summer to take two classes, as she’s studying for her doctorate. “I also take advantage of the slower time to plan my class revisions for the school year,” she says.
When you’re working like crazy, marketing is easy to skip. A slowdown presents an opportunity to contact people you’ve worked with in the past. Freelance journalist Diana Kelly says she uses the slower summer months to “look at clients I worked with last year who I’ve been too busy to check in with” and to “reach out to contacts who are in new positions to see what they’re up to.” Not everyone is on vacation; summer is a good time to schedule coffees and lunches with people you haven’t seen in a while. If your business is such that you’re turning away work during busy months, you could try calling longtime clients and offering a better rate if they’ll move some work to August.
Of course, you don’t have to fill time. Kelly says, “I also tell myself not to take low-paying gigs that aren’t right for me, and to trust the process that bigger, better assignments and clients will come along that I’ll want those hours for.” Take some long lunches, or take a personal day and get to the beach.
A summer slowdown is a great time to start that long-term project that you know would help your career but isn’t directly billable (a choice that is easier to make when it is not competing with billable time). Start that networking group, or volunteer to plan an office event.
Brainstorm ideas for establishing thought leadership credentials (writing a book? starting a blog? giving speeches?) and spend your downtime bringing these to fruition. You can also tackle personal projects. Patnaude says, “I am trying to help my oldest son get ahead in the college application process”—something it is always harder to make time for during the rush of fall sports and activities. You can plan your winter or spring vacations for the next year, and be enough ahead of the game to have your pick of hotels and flights.
You will have to do your administrative work eventually, and these low-energy tasks are a good fit for lazy summer days. Organize all receipts and expenses from the first half of the year. Pull together documentation of what you’ve accomplished so you’re half done for any year-end reviews.
And if you’re in charge and employing people? Rosemary Gousman, a partner at labor law firm Fisher Phillips, recommends using summer downtime to re-evaluate your documents and policies. A few states have new paid sick leave rules, and the federal government recently issued new regulations on who can be paid salaries and who must be paid for overtime. It’s also possible that, since you assume no one reads the employee handbook, you haven’t updated it since social media and texting came along. “You really need to look at the handbook and say, ‘Has this kept pace with technology?’” Even looking around the office and making sure any posters are updated and broken equipment fixed can fill a summer slump.