Your office in the summertime has a strange feel to it. People are working, but maybe not as intensely as at other times of the year. It’s quieter. It’s emptier. Many of your coworkers are on vacation, so it’s hard to get groups together to work on big projects. Meetings get postponed or canceled altogether, and maybe you’re spacing out more, too. You haven’t been in school for awhile, but somehow the academic calendar you grew up with is still burned into your psyche.
Don’t beat yourself up over it, though. Chances are you’ll get a big burst of energy to get back into gear–tackling big work projects and personal goals, making major habit changes, or boosting your productivity in general–as soon as the season starts to change. But before it does, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re able to hit the ground running after Labor Day.
1. Look For Where You’ve Fallen Short Before
Your first step is to spend a little time looking for your “systematic failures”–not individual goals you’ve missed once but those you’ve missed repeatedly. Nobody achieves all of their goals. You don’t have enough time, energy, and money to accomplish everything you set out to do all the time. But part of being successful is finding a way to navigate these resource limitations and to achieve as much as you can as often as you can.
Systematic failures are a little different than these one-off misses. If there’s something you’ve tried multiple times to accomplish but have consistently fallen short, then chances are you won’t succeed at your next attempt, either–at least not without making a significant change. Summer might not be a great time to actually make the change that might improve your chances, but it’s the perfect time to nail down what that change should be.
So start by thinking about the big-picture goals that have frequently eluded you: Is there a pattern to the reasons you’ve failed? Is there one key thing that keeps standing in your way? Clear a little time on your work calendar to do a mental inventory: Are other tasks crowding out the time you need to make progress? Are you unclear about some of the steps you need to take to succeed? Are there skills you need to sharpen? What are some of these factors, and how can you tackle those first, before re-aiming for the goal itself?
2. Plan Your First Round Of Small Changes
Once you have a sense of what you’re trying to achieve and why you haven’t been able to achieve it, it’s time to plan out a course of action. You don’t have to do this alone. Sit down with a colleague or supervisor who can help you find ways to delegate, automate, or prioritize some of the obstacles you’ve identified.
Start with the small stuff–they’ll be easier for others to get behind and for you to take action on–and make a strong case for why the goal they’re meant to serve will benefit the organization, not just you. The key is just to start these conversations while the summertime slump is still in force. You don’t need to land on a solution right now, let alone act on it. But it’s wise to start planning it out; this way you’re ready to implement some changes as soon as things pick back up in the fall.
There’s one habit you can adopt now that can help you out once you do get started: Starting in the summer, consider keeping a written diary of the reasons why you feel you’re not succeeding and the steps you’ll need to take in the future. (I created a “smart change” journal just for this purpose that you can download here.) Then once you begin making headway in the autumn, you’ll already have a system for tracking your progress and a written reminder of the steps you need to take to stay on course.
3. Rethink Your Sources Of Support
Sometimes the reason for your systematic failures has to do with the advice and support you’re relying on. Lots of people gravitate toward mentors when they first start working, only to lose their grip on those relationships year by year. Others realize at some point in their careers that the mentors they have are no longer the right people to offer the advice they need. The end of summer is a great time to take stock of your mentors and look for new ones who can help you set a promising course for the end of the year.
Take a look around and find someone who’s succeeded at accomplishing the same type of goal that’s eluded you. Use the last few weeks of summer to invite that person out for lunch or a cup of coffee. Enlist their help to give you suggestions for how to tweak your schedule, sharpen a skill, or switch up your approach. Make these connections now so you can tap them when you’re ready to.
This preparation takes some time, but it’s crucial if you would like to turn your systematic failures into success stories by the end of the year. The benefit of starting now is that in a few more weeks, the days are going to get shorter and a little cooler. The school-year mind-set is going to kick back in, and you’ll soon find yourself more motivated to work–you just need to have a plan in place for when that happens.