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The Dog Days of Summer

Take time to smell the roses and get a fresh look at your company

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It’s August and the sun is pouring down on us. Much of the country at this time suffers through oppressive humidity sometimes interrupted by violent afternoon thunderstorms. It’s the perfect time to take a vacation. At the beach, on the lake, in the mountains. Anywhere we can get a nice little getaway and shut down the engines for a bit to recuperate.

That’s the plan, anyway. And most of the country does think like that, but in the construction industry August is often a busy month. As nasty as the heat is, it sure beats working in the subzero wind chills of January, so we jam as much work into the summer as we can.

In Europe, the whole continent shuts down for August. A few years ago, I was on the Costa Brava at the end of July and driving back to Barcelona with my family on a Saturday to catch a flight home. The lineup of cars heading to the shore stretched for miles upon miles as the Germans, French, Dutch and others descended on Spain for a month of holiday.

But, in this country, we don’t take a month off. In fact, the United States is the only developed country that doesn’t have minimum vacation laws on the books. Most companies offer paid vacation and holidays, but nothing compared to Germany, say, where workers are guaranteed 30 paid vacation days and holidays a year.

I’m not here to argue the benefits of either side of the argument, but only to point out that while others are off playing, the construction industry is putting its collective shoulder to the wheel.

But even in the midst of this work, we need to find our moments to rejuvenate. We need to shut down the mental processes and not think about work. That’s especially hard these days as our smart phones interrupt our quiet every moment of our lives.

How do you get away? Meditation? I know it works wonders for many, but meditation isn’t really my cup of tea. I can’t get my brain to turn off. But I do give myself permission to get a break by getting home a little earlier on some days during the summer so I can take advantage of the later daylight. Go for a bike ride or a run. Hang out on the deck and read a book.

I try to find those quiet moments that remove me from work. It helps. It helps me be more productive when I am at work.

Yes, I’d like to have a two- or three-week vacation. I know that it takes me about four days just to unwind to the point where I can enjoy a holiday. But if that’s not available—and who in the construction industry has that kind of time in August—those small moments become more important.

Here’s my charge to all of you. Turn your screens off—phones, tablets, computers and television— and just sit, talk or read a book. You’ll find yourself, even those brief moments, relaxing. It’s important.