5 steps to a productive summer (even with kids home)

Summertime is here! With kids home from school, new schedules and routines, and fun activities vying for your attention, summer can put many bloggers into a holding pattern where they just get the bare minimum done each day.

And that might be okay! If you plan your year to intentionally take a sabbatical or blog break during the summer, go ahead and close this post and get back to sipping iced tea while your kids frolic in the sprinkler! (No, seriously, go!)

But if your summer plans include work, you don’t have to throw up your hands in despair. In fact, summer can be a great time to knock out some of the projects nagging at you. Blog traffic is down, many of your business contacts are traveling or working reduced hours, and there aren’t as many campaigns or launches. That leaves you more time to focus on special projects.

So how do you make the most of the summer? Here are five tips for having a productive summer, even with kids home:

1. Start with a brain dump

Most bloggers have more ideas than time, and your brain is probably overflowing with both regular tasks and project ideas. How do you know which deserve your attention this summer? Now is a great time for a brain dump, where you quickly write down … well, pretty much everything. This isn’t a chance to brainstorm as much as it’s an opportunity to simply clear your head.

A brain dump lets you get everything onto paper so you can stop worrying about forgetting something. It’s like setting down a heavy backpack—you’ll feel lighter and be better able to think clearly!

Remember, a brain dump isn’t supposed to be pretty or organized. You’ll worry about making a “pretty” to-do list later. The key to successfully brain dumping is to actually write down every little thing that’s on your mind—no matter how small, silly, or inconsequential. You probably won’t transfer everything over to your actual to-do list. But writing them down means you no longer have to think about them so you can focus on actually getting things done.

2. Clear the nagging tasks and create your to-do list

Now, this next step is really important. Chances are there are several different kinds of tasks on your brain dump. Before you write out a pretty to-do list or project plan, start by clearing the nagging tasks. Some of these you need to cross off because they’re just not important enough for you to make time for them. Others will only take a few minutes but you’ve been putting them off for so long that they feel like a huge obstacle (for me, phone calls often fall into this category!).

Cross off the ones you’re giving yourself permission not to do. The physical act of writing them down and crossing them off will help you get them out of your brain so you can focus on more important things.

Then, make your lists:

  • the small, nagging tasks you can knock out this week, a few minutes at a time,
  • daily and weekly tasks that are necessary to keep your business running,
  • and the larger projects you’d like to focus on in July and August. (Bonus points for writing these in order of priority so you can work through them one at a time)

Finally, take a peek at your nagging tasks and daily/weekly task lists one more time. Is there anything else you can cross off, even if it’s just for the summer?

3. Organize your projects in Trello

We’re fans of Trello for organizing both your blog and your life. It’s a great tool for creating daily and weekly to-do lists, organizing the steps for individual projects, creating your content calendar, and more. And with desktop and mobile apps that provide a tactile experience, it’s almost as good as a handwritten list, with the added bonus of being accessible wherever you are.

4. Set aside time to focus each day

Now that you’ve defined your to-do list and project list, it’s time to get started. The goal here is to get your work done without sacrificing your whole summer. And the key is setting aside a couple of hours for focused work each day. Having a defined “work time”—even when it’s less time than you think you need—actually helps you be more focused and productive. (See Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”)

Okay, okay, but how do you actually find this focused work time if your kids are home and alternately complaining of starvation and boredom? Admittedly, it may take some creativity and discipline on your part, but here are a few ideas to start:

  • Get up early before the kids are awake
  • Use mandatory afternoon quiet times
  • Save screen time for the kids for during your work hours
  • Work in the evenings once the kids are in bed
  • Trade childcare with another work-at-home parent

Because the best laid plans rarely work out exactly as we expect them to, you may need to try a combination of the above strategies depending on the day of the week and what else is scheduled. Figure out what works for you … and be willing to adjust if something isn’t working!

5. Avoid multitasking

Finally, when it’s time for your scheduled work time, make sure you actually focus on the tasks you’ve prioritized … one at a time. Despite the positive spin we often put on it, multitasking is actually a focus killer that requires you to rapidly switch between tasks. Each time you switch from one task to another, your brain has to refocus on the task at hand, which takes time and mental resources. In turn, you feel really busy—maybe even really productive—but you’re actually getting less done!

To make the most of your limited work hours, commit to doing just one thing at a time rather than switching between tasks. And be sure you’re working through your predefined task lists and not getting caught up in unnecessary tasks that steal your time.

Working at home with kids underfoot isn’t easy, and this post isn’t meant as a panacea. But with creativity, discipline, and a good ol’ fashioned dose of realism, you can enjoy summer and still get things done!

What do your summer plans look like?

We’d love to know what strategies you use to balance summer fun with work while maintaining your sanity!

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