The August Doldrums

The August Doldrums

My on-line dictionary defines “Doldrums” as “a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression.” For many people, “Doldrums” is also synonymous with “August.”

From a personal perspective, I definitely suffer from the August doldrums, though not the depression piece because I enjoy August in Washington, D.C. (which is where I live). The city clears out, other than some hearty, usually sweating, tourists. People slow down and are generally friendlier. There is much less traffic, and you can get into all sorts of restaurants, shows, and movies without a lot of hassle. It reminds me of growing up here, when the city was a smaller, quieter place. And – here is the dirty little secret about August in D.C. – August is actually less hot than July.

That being said, I definitely go through a major period of “inactivity and stagnation” in August. I simply cannot get motivated. I look at my to-do list. I reorganize my to-do list. I download a nifty new app that will help me manage my to-do list better. The only thing that I do not do is any of the items that are actually on my to-do list.

I don’t think I am alone in my inability to get motivated. The fact that so many people are unmotivated in August is probably one reason D.C. is more relaxing this month. But I go on vacation in July, which means that technically I am supposed to be accomplishing things in August. And it is so frustrating to spend a day sitting in the office, getting basically nothing done, and then realizing at the end of the day that I might as well have gone to the pool or a matinee or a really long lunch with a friend. In fact, it would have been better if I had done that – my day would have been much less “wasted.”

The Doldrums are essentially a lack of motivation, which differs from procrastination. When you are procrastinating, you have a task that you have to get done, it has a deadline, and you are delaying until the last minute. You will ultimately get it done, it’s just going to be a messy and probably stressful process and your end product might be less good than it would have been had you allowed sufficient time. (If you would like to see an earlier newsletter on Procrastination, click here:

Lack of motivation is actually more insidious than procrastination because it is internal. It affects all those projects that you were sure you would accomplish once you had some free time. And now you do have free time, but you still can’t get them done. Since they are not mandatory projects, there is no external deadline to force you to do anything. You have to try to force yourself. Every. Single. Day. Of. August.

You know that the day after Labor Day is going to roll around when, at least in D.C., everyone all of a sudden, on the very same day, gets completely stressed out. The traffic becomes unbearable – there are tons of cars and people are busy speeding, honking at one another, and cutting each other off. Everyone is rushing everywhere; people aren’t smiling or stopping to talk to one another; stores and sidewalks are crowded. Basically, it is a good time to leave town if you can.

So what should you do?

Honestly, if you can, just throw in the towel now. Work fewer hours. Take that long lunch with your friend. Skip out early some afternoons and go for a swim or to the movies. Organizations that work half days on Fridays in August have the right idea. Let’s face it – your employees aren’t getting anything done. You might as well embrace that and get some credit for it. So if you’re in a senior position and your business allows it, shut your offices early one day a week or even for an entire day a week.

If you can’t cut back, August is a good time to do those things that you don’t have time to get to in busier seasons, but that aren’t painful to do. For example, August can be a good time for longer business development lunches because people (assuming they are in town) have more time to meet. It can also be a good time for one of those “clean up the office” days, where everyone shows up in jeans and throws stuff away while talking to one another and listening to music and ordering in big unhealthy lunches.

Finally, take an honest look at your to-do list. If there are things on it that were on it last August and will likely be on it next August, just delete them. You are not going to do them. And by deleting them you have succeeded in making your list shorter.



In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.

Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.