5 Tips to Help Designers Avoid the Summer Doldrums

Work comes to a crawl in summer for some designers, while others are busier than ever. Learn 5 strategies to avoid the summer doldrums by taking advantage of extra hours or carving out some fun time in your hectic schedule.

The warm-weather months bring with them many enjoyable things: the smell of freshly cut grass, a dip in a lake on a hot day and the taste of hamburgers fresh off the grill, to name a few.

But the dog days of summer can make work seem decidedly less enticing. Designers in industries with year-end promotions might find July and August to be some of their busiest months as they toil away on catalogs and advertisements. Alternatively, designers whose firms or clients shift into low gear during the summer may find themselves suffering from the summer doldrums or scrambling to find work to do. Add to this the fact that the warmest months are generally considered a time for having fun (vs. plugging away on the job) and summer can fall short of our expectations and become, well, a bummer.

“From early on in our lives, we’re socialized that summer is a time for more play, so work can feel less engaging by contrast,” says Pamela Meyer, a Chicago-based creativity consultant and author of several books, including, “Permission: A Guide to Generating More Ideas, Being More of Yourself and Having More Fun at Work.”

When work seems less stimulating, feelings of malaise may arise, resulting in a summertime slump. Fortunately, you can have your hot-off-the-grill hamburger and eat it, too, if you take steps to keep things interesting. The five following tips can help.

1. Become a Change Agent

Designers are naturally creative, but that doesn’t mean this spirit of innovation always finds its way into the office. “Sometimes we need reminders of the things we can do differently,” Meyer says. “This is particularly true when we’re working on tight deadlines or feeling disengaged, or we’ve been working with the same people for a long time and all know each other in a certain way.”

To prevent the doldrums from taking hold, try to incorporate new or different practices into the workweek. One of Meyer’s clients, for example, offers yoga at the office every day via a DVD player. “It’s about setting the stage and creating the space for engagement and fun,” she says.

Even if you already have an inviting office atmosphere, change is still good. “There are organizations that put a lot of money into creating a lively environment, which is great, but once you’ve been in that environment for a while, it’s just part of the scenery,” Meyer cautions. In other words, if you already have foosball and Ping-Pong tables, consider heading outside for some kickball or a group stroll. The goal is to make a change that can jump-start your creative energy and infuse the summer months with a little more fun.

2. Do a Meeting Makeover

Few things are less fun than long, drawn-out meetings, especially if your conference room comes with a view of people basking under the sun. To make meetings more meaningful, consider warming up with a creative exercise, like an improvisational skit or story-telling activity. “This not only creates energy, but also a space for engagement where people are really attuned and ready to build on each others’ ideas,” Meyer says.

Think about holding brainstorming meetings outside or bringing in summertime snacks—corn dogs or ice cream, for example. Also, once you dive into the topic at hand, keep your meeting moving forward. To help with this, some companies hold gatherings where all attendees stand vs. sit. While this may seem awkward, having people stray from the ordinary—even if it’s just staying on their feet—can liven things up and provide motivation to keep the group on task.

3. Give Yourself the Gift of Time

If a summer lull has you feeling down, think about what you could do to make the most of the situation. “Don’t ever look at free time as a slump,” says Leslie Yerkes, president of Cleveland-based Catalyst Consulting Group and the author of several books, including, “Fun Works: Creating Places Where People Love to Work.” “Extra time is actually a gift, something that helps not just with business balance, but also life balance,” she says.

Yerkes recommends doing pro-bono work to fill in any project gaps, a strategy she’s employed herself. “When I did gratis projects, my work was getting out there and getting exposure, and those relationships paid off in the long run,” she says. AIGA’s Design for Good movement offers resources to help you use your talent to assist organizations in need.

Along with helping others, don’t forget to help yourself during slowdowns, whether it’s by updating self-promotional materials (including your portfolio), re-establishing connections with your contacts (in-person meetings are best), or upgrading your skills via classes, seminars or conferences. “You want to take advantage of the quiet and use it really mindfully,” Yerkes advises.

If a lack of cash flow is causing you anxiety during a lull, you also might consider using a staffing firm to find project work. “Summer can be a busy time for many companies, and businesses often bring in independent designers to assist with overflow projects,” says Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. “Taking on this type of work is a great way to diversify your portfolio and make new connections while earning a paycheck.”


4. Choose Your Own Adventure

Another advantage of a slowdown may be the opportunity to enjoy a brief escape. Although impromptu trips can be fun, the joys of organizing travel shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, research has shown that people get more satisfaction from planning a trip than they do from taking the actual vacation. So, at the start of summer, be sure to plan a getaway or two. Arranging your holiday early not only will give you the opportunity to savor what’s to come, but also increase your chances of getting your desired vacation days off.

Think about planning a trip where you can leave your smartphone and other devices behind: A survey by The Creative Group shows that six out of 10 advertising and marketing executives check in with the office daily during a vacation. Spending too much time attending to business can undercut the restorative effects of your time away. “Every time you check in, your attention turns away from the new or relaxing experiences you’re having, which can hinder your ability to recharge,” Farrugia says. “If you must stay connected, consider scheduling specific times that you’ll be in touch with the office to minimize interruptions.”

5. Tend to Your ‘Garden’

For those who are too busy to get away—and are burning the candle at both ends during the summer months—some hardcore self-care is in order. For Yerkes, nurturing yourself mentally, socially, physically and spiritually is the key to staying engaged and active. “On a quarterly basis, I look at those points as if on a wheel,” she says. “What am I doing with my craft? What am I doing socially? What am I doing physically? What am I doing  spiritually?” Each area needs to be tended regularly in order to bloom as a design professional. “It’s like a garden that you tend to a little bit each day,” she says.

If you feel you don’t have enough time to tend to your work—much less your personal needs—try taking small steps to avoid burnout, like spending an afternoon at a new museum exhibit or eating lunch at your favorite restaurant. “Find those natural places where you start to breathe and laugh again,” Yerkes says. “Find the thing that gets you jazzed up or excited, and do more of that.”

As children, summer is a time to break free of school routines and fill your senses with new sights and sounds. Although it can be more challenging to engage in new activities as adults, making small changes, such as embellishing your office environment or planning a brief retreat, can generate some of the pleasures typically associated with the warmer months. And, by giving yourself permission to shake things up this summer, you may discover that your work becomes all the better for it.