Summer vacation is finally here.  You’ve got all the time in the world…and what happens?

You waste it!

Summer vacation is the moment every teacher’s been waiting for!   Six to eight weeks of pure uninterrupted time off to do all the things you’ve been desperate to accomplish during the year.

But what really ends up happening?  I forget all the things I wanted to do, and before I know it, I’m driving back to school with a pile of stuff still undone.

At least that’s how it seems to go for me.

Don’t let that happen to you!

How do you stay productive when you just want to melt in a corner and recover from your busy year?

How do you reinspire and reinvigorate?

How do you avoid the “I’m bored, what now?” trap that kills summer vacation off little by little, guaranteeing you get nothing done?

Take action immediately before that “I just need a day to recoup” turns into the summer doldrums, or worse yet, the summer blues.

You need a few days to recover

Before you think about accomplishing one single thing, you need a few days to recover.  Every teacher does.

Recovery is that day–or three–after school ends where you can’t believe you have no papers to grade, proms to attend, last-minute requirements, or people coming at you from all angles.  You’re not worried about catching the dode balls, about next year’s schedule, curriculum, or testing. Your only goal is to decompress.

I decompress by sitting, writing, drinking way too much coffee, and half-doing a bunch of tasks I’ve been meaning to do, not really caring if I finish anything.

But I don’t want a pile of half-done things staring me in the face–I want feel productive.  So, after a day or two of floating around in a half-conscious state, it’s time to get started.

Let the summer productivity begin!

Make a list

First, and most important, I make a list of every single thing I want to accomplish over the summer.  Everything–no matter how big or small–goes on this list.  If not, I forget.

Your list can be in your calendar, in an app like Wunderlist or Asana, or in an old-fashioned notebook.  The method is up to you–just make that list.

Sort the list

After a day or two of crafting my list, it looks as messy as my desk.  (I add “clean desk” to the list).  A messy list is a guarantee I’ll get nothing done.  It’s time to sort the list.

My list has three categories.  “To do,” “To learn” “For fun.” Yours might be a little different.  Three or four solid categories with subcategories under each section will help prioritize important things and get rid of the clutter.

Once you write things down, rank each item with a letter–A’s must get done, B’s should really get done, and C’s get done if you’ve got spare time.

Don’t feel guilty about demoting items or deleting things that aren’t as important as you originally thought. It’s actually a good thing to get rid of obligations that serve no purpose.  It’s something all teachers need to remember to do.

To Do

I labeled the first section of my list “To do.” Simple enough.

Then, I made subsections underneath that, like “to write,” since I have a lot of writing projects midstream and “to schedule” since I live and die by my calendars.

“To schedule” is important.  It should be on your list a couple times a year.  This is all doctor’s appointments, vets, and other things I need to get done, as well as coffee dates, lunches, and outings with friends.

My last subcategories under the main list are “research” and “miscellaneous.”  “Research” is things like “Find a new doctor” or “Sign Declan up for a swimming class.”  These items have a few steps to them, so I have to block off a bit of time to get them done properly.  Miscellaneous is everything else.  Whenever possible, I break items down into steps. This helps me be clear about the time I’m going to need, but the truth is I feel better when I get to cross eight things off the list instead of just one.

To Learn

My “To Learn” list is fun.  If you don’t have a “To Learn” list, try it out.  It can be anything from a reading list to a dream sheet of skills and hobbies you’ve always wanted to explore.  I have physical list of skills, courses, and proficiencies I’m working on at any given time as well as things I’m learning for fun.  I list resources under each one.  These could be courses, videos, books, websites, or podcasts.

Since so many of the things on the “To Learn” list have podcasts, I have a note on my phone with links.

This way, if I’m running, driving, or cleaning, I can open up the note and click on a podcast. It’s all on one note so I can jot down a few bullet points or remember valuable podcasts to revisit later.  More importantly, I’m using formerly dead time to learn.

A word of advice when planning your summer learning:

  1. Be realistic–there’s only so much you can learn, read, or absorb.  Slow and steady is the key for learning new skills. Dedicate a certain amount of time per week with bonus time during summer vacation.  Plan to continue your learning during the school year.
  2. Be ready to let things go–Interests change. If something no longer serves you or turns out to be a chore, replace it with something valuable or fun.
  3. Be consistent–dedicate consistent and regular time to your learning and practice.
  4. Measure twice a year. It seems like every six months I’ve learned a new skill or mindset.  Have fun with your learning, but don’t pressure yourself.  Before you know it, you’ll reinvent yourself, showing progress in your new skills.

For Me

My “For Me” list includes running, writing, biking, and time in the garden.  Just like the “to learn” list, I’m ready to update this at will.  My interests change, and as long as I’m getting the important things done–like physical fitness and relaxation, changing the actual activities is perfectly okay.

This list is the most fun–but also the easiest to cheat yourself out of when you get busy or overwhelmed.  Don’t. Your “me” list may not seem important but it’s what keeps your body and heart happy and sane.

Use your Calendar

Once you’ve got your summer vacation lists all set, you need to calendar this stuff in.

Google Calendar is my best friend. I’ve also used Basecamp and Asana, both of which send notifiers to calendars.  Checking calendars might seem like work, not summer vacation, but trust me, it’s critical.  It’ll help you get three times more done than a checklist alone.  Using a calendar sets up a commitment to the activity and a routine that helps you knock things off the list quickly.

Writing it down is the key to success.

If you have lists, then put things on your calendar, you won’t be cramming a whole summer into the last week of summer vacation–or worse yet driving back to school in August or September thinking about all the things you never ended up doing.

You’ll end your summer vacation feeling like Rocky Balboa at the top of the steps, ready to go for the next school year.


Photo credit: Kent Larsson