PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

By Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP, EVP, Workaholic Zealot

Sometimes, I envy those of you who live across the pond. For those of you who have never dealt with teams on the European continent in July and August, you don't. Really. You don't. Why? Because they're on holiday! That's right, virtually an entire continent takes two months off to enjoy the sun, sand and surf. From the Swedes heading for Malmö to the Brits heading for the Mediterranean, it's a cultural phenomenon.

What do many of us in the States do for much of the summer? Work. We are the workaholic zealots of the planet. When others are gallivanting, we are hunched over our laptops or behind the wheel, taking on the same levels of work we were tackling back in February and March. As a self-confessed workaholic, I tend to see us as "in the right." My wife, however, has a radically different perspective. She says there's a lot to be said for taking it easy. In the never-ending quest for a reasonable middle, I'd like to offer these suggestions for folks living my dilemma -- the workaholics surrounded by a European ethos:

  • Become semi-European
  • Remember September
  • Find workaholic outlets
  • Set the stage for heroism

Becoming Semi-European

Europeans don't have any problem taking a couple of months off because they have the leave time, and it's rewarded in their culture. Many of us have accrued leave counted in the months, not days. It's time to start using it! But if leaving the office for a couple of months in a row freaks you out, consider weaning yourself off work with a two-week, one-week vacation. The big complaint that many Americans have about vacations is that it takes a week to recuperate when you return. So include that week in your vacation! Don't plan on flying in from the mountains on Sunday and returning to work Monday. Take the week after off. It's time to recover, plan, sleep in, and feel guilty about not getting back to work.

Remembering September

If you are feeling guilty, the guilt can be assuaged a bit by not crowding your summer calendar. From a peer of mine in the consulting business, I learned the magic word they use in Europe: September. Someone suggests a big meeting? September. Someone suggests a focus group? September. Someone wants to have a site visit? September. It's a lot easier to say with practice. The more you say it, the more reasonable it sounds (even though it's mid-July right now).

Finding Workaholic Outlets

All this September scheduling feels more reasonable to a workaholic when we know we're going to be filling the time we have. In our house, there are always 40 chores that have languished for years on the "to-do" list. Time to get them done. For me, less important chores take on heightened importance during my week-after vacation. Polishing the chrome mag wheels on my PT Cruiser is a regular on that list. It doesn't matter to anyone except me, but I take a quiet satisfaction in it. (This, by the way, is also part of becoming our parents. I remember my father hedge-trimming the yew within an inch of its life every summer. With summer in full tilt, I know my yews are now shuddering in fear.) It's actually energizing to take on work that satisfies only us and our households. It's a vacation from work, dripping in work!

Setting the Stage for Heroism

If you can't bring yourself to walk away from your real job, use your "down time" to set the stage for greater success when you get back to the mill. We often reinvent wheels on a ritual basis because we don't have the time to document our first invention. If none of the other suggestions for surviving a workaholic's summer succeed here, consider these three tricks to set the stage for being better, faster, and more efficient when vacation season draws to a close:

  1. The "Best of" You! Go through your last two years' of outbound e-mail (if you're a workaholic, I know you've archived them all) and find all the classic answers. This includes answers that were sheer genius, as well as answers you keep using over and over and over again. Load all of these responses into a single document with good keywords. You'll have a wholly searchable document that lets you give your best, most thoughtful responses consistently and quickly. Plus, you'll avoid the problems created by giving different answers to different correspondents. (Editors' note: Consider the "signatures" function in your email client as a means of creating macro answers, too!)
  2. Write ahead. If a major topic, knowledge area, subject, or concern is pending for later in the year, write a blog article about it. Even if you never post it, you have it. When the issue comes to the fore, you get to pull it out of your ... er ... hat, pass it to the person asking you about it, and say, "That's so funny! I've been putting together my thoughts in an article on that very subject! What a shock. Would you mind looking it over and seeing if we're on the same page?" Suddenly, you've gone from being just another staffer to being the individual who thinks far enough ahead to have an article in the works on the precise topic everyone is talking about. And, your own thoughts are coalesced around your (prescient) article.
  3. Read or Catch a Movie. As gifted as your insights might be, dive in and read the insights of others. Articles, hot business books, even the latest update in the DaVinci Code saga are all valid fodder. Why? Because they afford cultural references. They provide the ability to converse easily about business authors, Dan Brown, or the Man of Steel. Being culturally broad means you can relate to a broader audience and draw comparisons, inferences, and analogies that solidify your reputation as a person of substance.

None of these activities, by themselves, cure all ills. But they do open the door to serving a few critical summertime goals -- the most important of which may be to keep you away from your desk and/or your laptop. It's summertime, remember? The living is supposed to be easy.

Carl Pritchard is working in Frederick, Maryland. From his home base he lectures, trains and consults for clients around the world. He also tries to take it easy. Join him for a working cruise to Aruba next April! 24 PDUs, 7 days of cruising, and plenty of time to make the living easy. He welcomes your e-mail at

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Nobody ever wished on their death bed that they had stayed in the office longer. Life requires balance. When I end up in situations where it seems impossible to spend time on family, my own wellbeing, or R&R, I stop to ask myself if this is a situation of my own making/fantasy or if it's caused by forces I really can't control. If it's A, then I impose boundaries. If it's B, I impose boundaries. I had a job where I basically lost a year of family time due to surprise overtime and ongoing technical problems. I realized it wasn't worth it. I was missing my kids grow up. My spousal relationship was suffering. Those people were worth more than any job to me. Those are the people who care if I live or die. An employer can replace me, but not my family. I ended up going somewhere better. I'm more inclined to believe the Europeans are onto something.

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