With a slower schedule, no school and people in vacation mode, summertime is a wonderful way to relax and be present with the people who matter most to you. But like the rest of life, these months go by quickly. If you aren’t intentional, you’ll rush from now until August—busy and distracted. Before you know it, it’ll be back-to-school season.
Being present doesn’t happen automatically. You have to choose to tune out the noise and focus on what’s right in front of you. Here are eight practical tips to make the most of these long summer days.
1. Ditch the guilt.
We spend way too much time feeling nervous about all of the obligations and errands and appointments we have lined up for the week. When you’re with your kids, you’re worried about work. When you’re at work, you’re thinking about your dinner party with friends. When you’re at dinner, you’re worried about what your kids are up to.
Whatever it is, you feel guilty. Instead of enjoying where you are, you’re thinking about where you aren’t. The FOMO that haunts us isn’t just about the fear of missing out—it’s also about focusing on missing out.
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You don’t have to live with an undercurrent of guilt. Wherever you are, be there. And don’t carry the guilt of things you can’t take care of at the moment.
2. Stop multitasking.
Multitasking is a myth. It not only causes you to get less done—it also makes you stressed and anxious. Stop multitasking and start focusing on one thing at a time instead, whether that’s the silly joke your child is telling you or the pancakes you’re making for your family on Saturday morning.
We all think multitasking is the solution to maximizing our time, but all that does is minimize our connections with each other. Don’t cook, work, or do other things while you’re also trying to have quality time with your family.
3. Take time to play.
Summertime is a great reminder for us to have fun. My kids and I play hard during the summer. Somehow, they end up sweaty and dirty, running around naked or in their bathing suits in the backyard (yes, we take a lot of baths and do lots of laundry). We go all out. And I love it.
No matter your age, you’ll never outgrow the need for play. When you have fun, you’re more joyful, relaxed and connected with the people around you. Playfulness creates laughter in your relationships and memories you’ll never forget.
Give yourself permission to brainstorm and be creative with this. Host your own family Olympics or teach your kids how to grill hotdogs. Another way to have fun is to try something new—explore a new park or library or eat at a new restaurant. We’re all naturally creatures of habit. And while this is efficient, it also can get boring. Half of the fun is in the adventure of the unknown.
4. Set boundaries around your phone.
Our phones are probably our biggest obstacle to being present. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss my life because I’m watching someone else live theirs.
Tech boundaries look different for every family, so here are a few suggestions you can try:
Put your phone in a box.
When I get home from work each day, my phone goes in a box on my kitchen counter, and it doesn’t come out until my kids go to bed. If I was carrying my phone around with me all evening, I would check it repeatedly. And the scary part is, I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it! All the while, I’d be missing out on what really mattered.
Use Do Not Disturb mode.
Sometimes you want to have your phone on hand in case of emergency or just to take cute pictures of your kids. But if your phone is connected to the outside world, then you’re connected too. Without even meaning to, you’ll be distracted by a notification and lose your connection to the present moment.
Instantly improve your family time by putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode. You can even change your settings to allow calls from certain people to come through.
Ask this simple question.
A few years ago, when I realized I needed to stop checking my phone so often, I decided to start asking myself a question every time I was tempted to pick it up:
Is it more important that I know what the outside world is doing right now, or is it more important that I experience what I am doing right now?
This question always answers itself. This not only helps me put things into perspective, but also helps me put down my phone and be truly present with family, friends or coworkers.
Try “The Pivot.”
Author Arlene Pellicane has practical advice for tech boundaries. One of her suggestions in her book Calm, Cool, and Connected is to use “The Pivot.” When you’re using a screen and someone walks into the room, that human being takes priority. Your head should physically pivot from your phone or TV to acknowledge the person, and you should give them your full attention. This sends the message that they are more important than what you’re looking at on your phone—which they are.
5. Get rid of distractions.
Sometimes we set aside time for specific things, but then we allow distractions to hijack our plans. You can’t be present when you’re distracted.
Phones are usually the biggest distraction (see number 4), but other things compete for our attention too. It could be having the TV on 24/7 or trying to answer a few work emails when you’re spending time with family.
Sometimes, the people closest to you are the biggest distraction of all. If you’ve got little ones at home, work on setting clear boundaries with them when you need to be away to get something done. Or if you need a few moments to connect with your spouse after a long workday, don’t be afraid to go to your room, shut the door, and tell your kids that you need some adult time.
6. Don’t let your thoughts wander.
On any given day, at any given time, your brain is in overdrive. Your mind is bouncing around like a pinball: What did I need to get at the grocery store? Is the swim meet this weekend or next? Have I paid that medical bill yet?
A Harvard study found that people aren’t really paying attention to what’s right in front of them 47% of the time!1
The good news is, you don’t have to feel like your brain is running off the rails all the time. You have the power to control your thoughts and direct them (and redirect them as needed) to what’s right in front of you. Learning how to control your thoughts and focus on what’s right in front of you is what psychologists call mindfulness.
One simple way that I try to practice mindfulness is to ask myself a very obvious question: What is right in front of me? By reminding myself of what’s right in front of me, I bring it back into focus, front and center, and redirect my thoughts to it. When I practice mindfulness, I allow myself to experience and actually enjoy the moment I’m in.
7. Look people in the eyes.
When your spouse tells you about their workday or your kid tugs your sleeve to get your attention, look them in the eyes. You don’t have to stare them in the eyes all day—that would be weird, and you wouldn’t get anything else done. But when you’re trying to have quality time with them, really pay attention to them. Making the most of your time happens when you’re fully present, and that includes looking your loved ones in the eyes.
8. Ask questions.
Your friends and family crave your attention, and one of the best ways to give them your attention is by asking questions. Show you’re interested in your kids’ thoughts, feelings and ideas by asking lots of questions and listening to their answers. You might just be amazed at what’s going on in that little head of theirs—something you may have never known had you not simply asked.
Need More Time in Your Week?
Sometimes we have a hard time being present because we’re doing too many things. We jam-pack our schedules to overflowing . . . and then try to squeeze in just a few more things. You can’t be present if you’re stressed and out of balance.
If you want more time to do the things you love, I invite you to read my book, Take Back Your Time. It will help you prioritize and say no to what doesn't matter, walk you through each of the things you do want to accomplish, and schedule everything perfectly into place.