Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — As temperatures soar outside, the summer slump begins inside.
When desk jockeys and cubicle dwellers should be crunching numbers, making sales or writing articles, they are daydreaming about the beach or pool.
Stuck in an office while others play in the sunshine, we turn on autopilot and muddle through our workday rather than tackling projects that require creativity and motivation.
Not good for businesses that need a productive workforce year-round.
And not good for workers, who can miss deadlines and quotas and end up feeling guilty for daydreaming, surfing the web and general slumpish behavior.
So how can employees stay focused and productive during the dog days of summer?
Nice to meet me: Get to know yourself, says Dr. Erin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Catawba College.
“Map where you are in time,” Wood said. “Most of us already know this stuff, but you must be honest with yourself.”
Know whether you’re a morning person or night owl. Do you crash mid-morning or late afternoon? Take note, and make plans to accommodate your daily and weekly rhythms.
“This will maximize your strong times during the day and take into account weaker times,” Wood said.
Schedule meetings and phone calls for times when you’re naturally more alert. If a major deadline falls on a day when you know you’ll come to work exhausted from activities the night before, turn the project in early.
Reach high but not too far: Make reasonable goals, Wood said. It’s not realistic to say you’ll stay on task 100 percent of the workday.
“Inevitably, you’re going to fail, and then you’re going to feel bad and that creates a feedback loop,” she said.
Break down large projects into sub-goals. Every time you reach one, give yourself a small reward.
“This allows you to see yourself as productive,” Wood said.
Get up and out: Throughout the day, take small breaks and leave your desk for at least five minutes.
“Walk around, go outside even if it’s just to walk inside and say ‘Thank God we have air conditioning,’ ” Wood said.
Breaks should last no longer than 10 minutes.
You don’t have mail: Limit distractions by closing down all windows on your computer that are not task-related, including email, for a certain period.
Turn off your smart phone: Let your family, babysitter and co-workers know you will work for a length of time without distractions, and then you will be available for interruptions at, say, the top of every hour.
“Tell your officemate, I will meet you in 60 minutes at the water cooler,” Wood said.
Everyone needs to gossip, vent and talk about topics other than work. Don’t feel guilty about this, but don’t let it control your workday, she said.
“Put aside that nagging piece. Put it over here to the side and say I will address you, but not right now,” she said. “Right now, I’m going to give my full attention to the task at hand.”
Take a mini-vacation: During the summer, give yourself more treats when you’re not at work, says Marc Williams, a licensed professional counselor.
Workers need to do something enjoyable away from the office, Williams said, so they don’t feel like all they do is work.
“This also gives them something to look forward to when they get home,” he said.
Exercising outdoors, going for ice cream cone or taking a trip to a water park or pool can help people who must work during the summer feel like they’re still enjoying the season.
“Do more fun things at home, so it’s not considered to be such a deprivation,” Williams said.
No more forbidden fruit: Allow yourself time to daydream at work. Like a diet that bans all sweets, denying yourself guilty pleasures while in the office will fail.
“We think that good, hardworking people don’t spend their time on such frivolous things,” Wood said.
But if you don’t give yourself time to think about a vacation or visit a favorite website, “it will demand it from you,” she said. “It will crawl into your brain and make you think about nothing but hanging out at the pool or the Friday afternoon margarita.”
The key, just like a successful diet, is moderation, Wood said.
Wiggle your toes: Your body, not just your mind, needs breaks throughout the day for optimum productivity.
The more you move, the better you think, Wood said. Increased blood flow means more focused attention.
Pay attention to tight muscles. Stretch your back. Roll your shoulders. Shake your hands. If you can, lie on the floor for a few minutes.
“If we pretend the summer slump is purely mental, then we are ignoring one of the greatest weapons against it,” Wood said. “The body.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.