Friday, May 25, 2012

How to have a productive summer by working four hours a day

It’s summertime and the living is pretty…. Or, at least it should be!

How can you have a remarkably productive summer and return to the school year feeling refreshed and like you had a break? To do this, you need to plan to be productive and to  plan to leave time to enjoy life. The thing is, if you plan to work all  the time, you are likely to feel guilty every moment you aren’t  working. And, who wants to feel guilty all of the time?

Plan to be productive

To plan to be productive, first you have to decide what you will accomplish over the summer. Make a list of all of the things you would like to do this summer. Include everything – from revising book chapters to analyzing data to submitting articles to finalizing your syllabi.

Once you have your list, decide when you are going to complete these things. Start with the most important items first. How long do you think it will take you to turn that dissertation chapter into an article? How long will it take for you to come up with a draft for your next book project or grant proposal? Now, map those tasks onto the remaining summer weeks. What will you do between May 29 and June 2? Between June 5 and June 9?

Prioritize your Tasks

Once you map your tasks onto your calendar, you likely will realize that you have more tasks than time. But, believe me, it is better to realize this now than at the end of the summer. At this point, you still have time to prioritize. What is most important? What items have deadlines? What can wait until the Fall or until next summer? What can’t wait? What can you delete, defer, or delegate?

Make a Schedule – and stick to it

The next step is to come up with a work schedule. When will you work and when will you play? Many people work best in the mornings; others are best late at night. How many hours will you work each day? How much time will you spend writing each day? When and where will you do your writing?

If you wish to return to the semester relaxed and refreshed, I recommend trying to work every day for just four hours. That’s right – just four hours! You see, academic work is mentally exhausting and if you try to work all day, every day, you most likely will get burned out. Instead, if you try to work for just four hours every day, you will have the rest of the day to re-energize and are less likely to burn out.

Limit your working hours

Believe me - you can have a very productive summer if you work for four focused hours each morning. The thing is – you do have to focus during that time. And, it works best if your time really is limited. Last summer, for example, I worked early in the mornings before the kids got too restless. This meant that I had from 7am to 11am each day to work. My husband and I have agreed that, during that time, I will be allowed to concentrate and focus on my work, and that the kids could not bother me. I had all the rest of the day to complete household tasks, surf the Internet, hang out with the kids, got to the beach, and to relax.

Make time for yourself each day

As academics, we all need time to process our ideas, thoughts, plans, emotions, and experiences. It is crucial that you carve at least an hour out of each day for yourself when you can process all of your thoughts. This time allows you to make plans, to come up to solutions to theoretical puzzles, and to relax your mind.

If you have children, finding alone time can be tricky. But, there usually is a way. When my children were small, I took them to the gym each day – where they had a daycare where I could leave the children while I exercised. Now that they are older, I take them to the park where I can walk around the track while they play. Other ideas would be to put a DVD on for the children while you meditate or run on your treadmill. In my mind, me-time each day involves exercise, but others may prefer to garden, sew, crochet, knit, paint, or work on model airplanes. So long as it is an activity that allows you to think and reflect, it should work.

If you doubt my suggestion that you can be productive working just four hours a day, I encourage you to try it and see what happens.  And, let me know how it goes….


  1. Some of the most productive sociologists I know routinely write in the mornings or late evenings all summer. I don't get summers off in my position, but the focused writing time still pays off. My husband I often use this approach over spring break with the kids and for some semi-vacations in the summer.

  2. I'm a fan of the "a few hours everyday" approach when it comes to creative/intellectual work. I have friends who always want to binge on work -- or who set themselves up for unrealistic goals -- and then end up burning out.

    Slow and steady, etc.

  3. Love this approach!

  4. Great post Tanya. I have been working on using my time in a more focussed way confirms some ideas I have been having.

    I am new to your blog and really enjoying it. Thanks.