For those of us with self-directed jobs and side projects, summer can be a productivity nightmare…but does it have to be?
Irecently had a conversation with a friend in which I lamented how little “real” work I’ve been getting done post-Independence Day. Sure, I’m meeting deadlines for already established projects, but I’m slacking off when it comes to moving bigger internal projects forward.
Could it really be that *gasp* I don’t want to spend these beautiful summer months staring at Quickbooks?!
The guilt I feel for not being as productive as I normally am is very real. So real, in fact, that I’ve been finding myself overdoing it on iced coffees in an effort to force an eight-hour day to bear fruit, which then makes me stay up all night, which then makes me drink more iced coffee, which then…you get the picture.
My friend, a full time freelance writer, has been having the same experience. Everyone feels a lag during the summer months, but I think that those of us with self-directed jobs or side projects feel especially guilty about that drop in productivity. Here we are with a few months to dig deep into our projects and then…that motivation just isn’t there.
The truth is that the summer months are meant to crawl by at a snail’s pace. Everything from people to work to motivation are supposed to be in slow motion.
And it’s sad for those of us with self-led projects, but true; we’re just not at our most productive during the summer. So why not embrace it?
I think the natural instinct is to push back hard against the summer slump — we have entire days ahead of us and we’re just supposed to let them just float by like that? — but a recent article from the W/W Club kind of made me feel better, or at least less guilty about the whole thing.
The idea is that you can adopt the pace of summer as your own and let that leisurely energy carry your efforts through until fall. Use the summer months to refuel and set yourself up for when we start to snap out of the lull in September.
The trick to pulling off a seamless summer-to-fall transition without turning into a human potato is to know the difference between “not doing” and “non-doing.”
Not doing means actively avoiding an activity in favor of remaining at rest. Example: my clean laundry has been chilling in the clothes chair in the corner of my room for about a week because I’m not doing anything about it. I can feel it watching me, judging me, and yet I’m staying strong in my inaction. (Really, I’m kind of curious how long I can keep this up…)
Non-doing, on the other hand, means you’re engaged, but not necessarily concentrating any effort toward any specific activity. This is the Taoist principle of Wu Wei — you’re letting the ebb and flow of the world around you be your rudder and giving in to spontaneity and effortlessness. Think less structure, more fluidity.
For writers, a summer of non-doing is a great time to focus on the ~flowier~ parts of your craft.
There are plenty of ways to be productive without battling your seasonal apathy, and there’s a lot more to writing than *just* writing. Researching, brainstorming, and getting to know your story and its characters are all important for creating something great, and don’t necessarily involve committing words to the page at all. Hell, even if you’re just thinking about your book, you’re still making progress. If you feel called to write then write, but if you’re forcing those words to come, your time might be better spent reading and exploring instead of fretting over your keyboard.
I do have a quick word of caution for any writers in the submission phase with their book: hold off on sending out submissions until the fall.
Publishing, especially during August, is in a lull. People are out of the office, on vacation, getting kids ready to go back to school, and experiencing the same drop in energy levels as everyone else. The excitement to work and take work seriously isn’t as present as it usually is, and you want to give your book its best shot at being noticed. Plus, if you wait until September, you’ve got another month to whip your submission package into the best shape possible.
Now, go forth and take it easy (at least until approximately mid-September). Reenergize, read, and relax. If you feel like writing, by all means do so; but if you’re like the majority of us and you’re feeling the lag, maybe let yourself ride out the rest of the summer. You’ll be at your most kickass and creative when you feel rested and you’ve spent some time letting your mind wander.
Lauren Taylor Shute is the Founder and CEO of Lauren Taylor Shute Editorial Inc., a full-service editorial firm based in New York City that helps authors around the world develop their ideas, perfect their manuscripts, and find representation or publication for their work. She speaks regularly at writing conferences and has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and Glamour magazine.