stay smart over the summer

How to stay smart over the summer: 5 strategies for maintaining cognitive skills

Katie Azevedo good habits, productivity, time management

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

I first wrote 5 ways to stay smart over the summer a few years ago. Feel free to start with that original post. This post is an extension of that one. I expand on a few of those tips and add some new ones.

First and foremost, summer (or any long vacation from school) is a time to reset and recharge. If you’re a student, you deserve this time to slow the pace and enjoy the break. You might still have a busy summer with work, volunteering and other obligations, but it’s not the same rigor as school.

With that being said (lol, here it comes), summer should not be a time to shut off completely. When we stop all activities that require thinking, it’s more difficult to begin again in the fall. 

Below are 5 ways to stay smart over the summer that don’t feel like school. Because no one wants more school. I get it.

Also – if you’re a visual learner and would prefer to watch my video about this post, you can do that too!

1. Keep a calendar.

If you already have an established calendar system, then I love you and keep using it. You may not have as many appointments and things to schedule over the summer, but keep tracking whatever you can and check your calendar regularly. If you break the habit of checking your calendar, it’s difficult to start again.

If you’re new to keeping a calendar, then summer is the perfect time to start because you can ease your way into it. Find a calendar you like – either digital or paper – and use it consistently. I use a combination of Google Calendar and a paper planner. 

Here’s what you can track if you really don’t think you have the need for a calendar:

  1. Work hours
  2. Appointments
  3. Vacations
  4. Dates with friends
  5. Summer reading
  6. Literally anything

How calendars help you stay smart over the summer:

  • Time-management
  • Organization
  • Self-advocacy
  • Accountability 

2.  Have a goal and track it.

A goal does not include “going to the beach” — that’s technically a thing to do and not something lofty to strive towards. 

A goal is something that you work for, something you can break down into smaller steps and achieve over time. 

Examples of summer goals:

  1. Personal or health (run a 10k, start lifting, cook more)
  2. Financial goals (spend less, save more)
  3. Academic (take an online course, listen to more educational podcasts)
  4. Reading (read one book a week)
  5. Professional (pitch one new project, close xx deal)

Whatever you set for your goal, use reverse engineering to figure out the steps you need to achieve it. I tell you exactly how to reverse engineer goals here.

Hold up – not done yet: track your goal! Use your calendar (Tip 1) to map out when you are going to complete each step. Or if your goal is financial or health-based, find a fun tracker app to monitor your progress.

How goal-setting helps you stay smart over the summer:

  • Time-management
  • Organization
  • Goal setting
  • Planning
  • Prioritization

3. Read.

Straight up read. Nothing fancy about this. Read whatever you want, because I’m not talking about traditional summer reading lists here. Summer is a good time to branch out and try a new genre, a new author, or a new series.

Audio books count as reading, so check your local public library for a free subscription to their audio book service if you don’t want to pay for an Audible account. Almost all public libraries have free audio books.

You could also track what books you read and which ones you want to read. I use Google Keep for lists like this, and it’s a simple way to track your reading history and goals. 

If you have a goal of reading a certain amount of books by a certain time, then create a reading schedule so you stay accountable and on track. I have a free printable reading schedule template that makes this easy.

How reading (and keeping a reading schedule) helps you stay smart over the summer:

  • Reading always makes you smarter
  • Time-management
  • Goal-setting
  • Organization
  • Annotation skills (if you annotate while reading)

4. Keep a journal.

Journals take many forms these days. Some options:

  • The Five-Minute Journal: this is what I personally use
  • Gratitude journal: document 5-10 things you’re grateful for each day
  • Morning Pages: stream-of-consciousness journaling created by Julia Cameron
  • Photo journal: take one photo a day for the entire summer

To start a journal routine, it helps to journal at the same-ish time each day, so either morning or night. Leave the journal where you can see it, so that you’re reminded to use it. Or set a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget. Try to use your journal every day in order to establish the habit.

How journaling helps you stay smart over the summer:

  • Writing skills
  • Metacognition
  • Time-management
  • Self-reflection

5. Listen to podcasts.

If you’re not on the podcast train yet, omg get on it. Podcasts have changed so much over the years, and the available topics are boundless. Like, literally anything you could be interested in, there’s a podcast on it. 

Here are some potential podcast categories you could explore:

  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Lifestyle
  • Humor
  • Current events / news
  • Murder mysteries
  • Health and fitness
  • How-to 

Personally, I listen to a combination of health and fitness, business and marketing, lifestyle, learning theory, and Spanish language podcasts. (Exactly my point – there’s something for everyone.)

How podcasts help you stay smart over the summer:

  • You learn new information!

Let me come full circle to how I began this blog: summer should be a time to reset and recharge. The five tips I gave you here are easy strategies to integrate into your daily routine without feeling like work. And you never know – some of the strategies might stick around long after summer is over.

Don’t forget:

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