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Expert Source: Joe Robinson, trainer in work–life balance, founder of Optimal Performance Strategies, and author of Don’t Miss Your Life.

Ah, summer! As kids, we waited for it all year long. It meant liberation from school and months of swimming, seeing friends, and sleeping in.

For most adults, though, the bloom is off.

Today’s workplaces tend to operate on a schedule that knows no season, and for those with children, parenting responsibilities increase exponentially when classes are out. We may even begin to dread the onset of the summer months because of their added demands.

And yet when September rolls around, we feel sad — like we’ve missed yet another season that should have been filled with relaxation, joy, and lots of sunshine.

The situation doesn’t have to be hopeless, though, says work–life balance expert Joe Robinson. Some of the frustrations we feel arise when we assume that without a summer vacation, we can’t have any summer fun.

Robinson explains that even if we can’t reclaim the expansive hours of summers past, we can still find some time to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate — and never “lose” the season again.

Challenges to Overcome

  • Undervaluing free time. “Americans often simply don’t know how to value free time,” Robinson says, “so we don’t make it a priority.” You may also believe that if free time isn’t spontaneous, it isn’t free. But if you plan your summer and never schedule any open time, it won’t happen.
  • Guilt about taking time off. Even deeper than the tendency to undervalue free time is the nagging anxiety that taking time off will have negative consequences. “We have to fill every moment with something productive,” he says, or we feel guilty for slacking off. And it doesn’t stop with work. This anxiety “goes for your life outside the job as well, and that’s where it’s the most insidious.”
  • Defensive working. You may feel that you have to work “defensively,” as Robinson puts it — logging long hours to show that you’re indispensable. This is especially common in workplaces that are competitive or structurally unsettled.
  • The “I’m too busy” mindset. Even if you perceive free time as valuable, you may feel so frazzled by a perceived lack of time that you get caught up in the mental Vise-Grip of busyness and stay perpetually occupied, Robinson says. “This state of mind actually makes people think that every minute of the day is an emergency — and it’s not, of course.”
  • Overcommitted parenting. If you have kids at home for the summer, you might feel it’s up to you to fill their every minute with activities, which requires extensive chauffeuring and supervision. But remember how fun it was to just hang out in the backyard when you were a kid?
  • The lure of screens. Spending a lot of time checking Facebook, shopping online, and watching your smartphone can have its own impact on how you experience summer (or don’t). By keeping you inside, or at least distracted, Robinson notes, these artificial “time-off” modes become an obstacle to summer’s three-dimensional delights.

Strategies for Success

  • Respect your need for autonomy.What does summer really evoke for most of us?” Robinson asks. “A sense of total freedom. Freedom is autonomy, and autonomy is one of our core psychological needs.”
  • Put downtime on the calendar. “Approach your daily life with the same kind of planning that you use for your career,” he suggests. “Set up a ‘play calendar’ early in the year, and figure out when the long weekends are and when you can set up mini-vacations” during the summer. Locking down plans early has the added benefit of allowing you to look forward to them.
  • Inquire about summer hours. Many workplaces allow more flextime or alternative schedules during the summer months. “Talk to your supervisor,” says Robinson, to see if you can revise your schedule to allow for longer stretches of time off — like four 10-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour ones.
  • Take breaks all year. One of the best ways to set up for summer fun is to take time off at regular intervals throughout the year. This makes you less vulnerable to misplaced guilt about slacking off (you’ve proven to yourself that you can fulfill your responsibilities and take breaks). It also keeps you from falling into an energy deficit that can be cured only by weeks of vacation. “You can’t wait for summer to take care of all your needs,” Robinson says.
  • Cultivate pastimes. Robinson recommends pursuing hobbies you really love. Investing creative energy in something other than work keeps you in the habit of reserving time for yourself. Not sure what would be worth your time? “Maybe it’s something you’ve been interested in but haven’t pursued yet,” he suggests. Or it could be something you used to do and still love — like playing basketball, or gardening, or going for bird-watching walks.
  • Remember what matters. When your inner critic goes after you for taking time off, Robinson urges perspective. He suggests remembering the advice of psychologist Erik Erikson: There are three questions we’re going to ask ourselves at the end of our lives: Did I do what I wanted? Did I get what I came here for? And was it a good time?
Illustration by: Lucy Davey

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