(MoneyWatch) As the season heats up, the office tends to slow down. Bosses and colleagues take vacation days and Summer Fridays, and it can be all too easy to relax and catch up on blog reading, Facebook and other not-so-professional pursuits. But these downtimes offer the chance to not only catch up on long-term "to-do" lists but also work on projects that you want to work on (but never have time for). Getting ahead may also mean a lower-stress and higher-productivity fall. Here are four ways to do this:
Organize your physical space
Look around and ask yourself, What changes to my area will make me happier and more productive? "Take this time to organize your desk, filing cabinet, drawers and even your wall space," says efficiency expert Andrew Jensen, founder & CEO of Sozo Firm Inc., a business consulting firm.
Declutter your digital world
Now that your workspace is in tip-top shape, turn your attention to your computer. "Go through your e-mail inbox and remove ancient clutter, and organize your computer's desktop and its folders," says Jensen. The IT department may also be freed up, so take this slower time to ask them to help you put through any upgrades you've been meaning to implement.
Revise your to-do lists
If you made career goals for yourself in January, take a few moments to read and revise them. "Develop a short- term list (for projects in the next 30 days) as well as a long-term list (for projects in the next 90 days); begin brainstorming with the short-term list and develop questions that apply to each project (who, what, where, why, how, with whom, etc.) along with answers (if you already know them)," suggests Jensen.
Continue your professional education
Whether it's taking a workshop, reading an industry-related book or just catching up on news that relates to your job, summer is a great time to get up to speed, says Jensen. "Take thorough notes, particularly regarding ways you could personally implement what you learned."
Take these four steps now and your fall will be much more productive than if you spent the summer slacking off.