Summer is almost upon us, and I’m here to offer a suggestion for making it an amazing one – one where you can look back and reminisce on how much you did and how much fun you had.

To share this suggestion, I need to start with a story that goes back to the days when I worked as an actuary. Actuaries, according to the official definition*, “manage risk by doing ultra-complex statistical analysis behind computer screens, without social interaction or thanks, while simultaneously inflicting pain upon themselves by taking some of the most rigorous professional exams out there over the course of a cool decade.”

Sounds fun, right? It’s not. Well, maybe for some people it is (and some of my former coworkers were much better at it than I was), but for me it meant three months of intense studying on top of 40-80 hour workweeks, followed by three months of long workweeks without the studying, then back to both work and studying, then work without studying, on repeat…over and over again. Now, I’m not complaining. I chose that life and am grateful that I graduated from college in 2009 with a job and gained valuable experience that has helped me significantly in future jobs.

But let’s get back to summer! I promise this relates. I took an actuary exam in May of 2011, which was to be followed by three months of non-studying (June, July, and August) before I had to ramp up the studying again in September. Despite three months of relative freedom, I was already dreading September. And so, I did something relatively simple to help make the most of my three months of study-free summer, and it turned out to have a significant impact.

I made a list!

Specifically, I made a list of the 50 things I wanted to do that summer, typed it up, printed it out, and hung it up in the common area of my apartment. Here are some exact examples from my list, which included things both big and small, things that had already been planned ahead of time and others that were ideas left for spontaneous evenings and weekends:

  • #5 Hike Old Rag
  • #7 Eat at Two Amy’s
  • #10 King’s Dominion with Family
  • #15 Go to Another Country
  • #19 Bike the National Mall
  • #29 Sunday Brunch
  • #35 Play Tennis (I am a huge tennis fan! Recently I have even been thinking about getting involved in online tennis betting. I just love guessing who is going to win)
  • #36 Go to a Drive-In Movie
  • #43 Read the Hunger Games Trilogy

Here are the biggest benefits I found from making that list:

  1. It didn’t take a lot of time to do – making the list was actually something I enjoyed doing – so the upfront work was minimal compared to the benefits I received.
  2. Whenever I had free time, I could look to my list and find something I wanted to do – and then go do it, knowing I had the time now but wouldn’t in a few months.
  3. Because I included things I had already planned to do throughout the summer, I had things to look forward to before studying would begin again.
  4. By checking items off as I did them and keeping the list in a visible place, I was consistently reminded of all the fun I was having.
  5. I still have that list today, which is a quick way reflect back on the highlights from that time.
  6. I started to improve at my hobbies. By actually finding time for them, I started to get better at them. For example, I was biking quicker and aching less afterwards, and my tennis skills got a lot better. I coud prove it as I took a tennis assessment at the start and end of summer, and I had improved.
  7. An unintended consequence was that many people noticed the list when they came over and would want to talk about it. “You went hiking in the Shenandoahs! Where did you go? I’ve never been.” Or, “I’ve always wanted to try that restaurant. Do you want to go together?” Or, “We should definitely plan a beach trip together.” It became a way to connect with friends and make more plans happen.
  8. In the end I celebrated summer by completing 40 out of 50 items on the list, which made for a great reminder, come the following September when I started studying again, of all the ways I maximized fun during that time. By using my non-study time to the fullest, studying that time around didn’t feel so awful.

If you’re looking ahead to summer – with excitement, or even dread – making a list of the things you want to do throughout the summer might help you make it an amazing one.

  • If you’re dreading something (maybe you don’t like summer or the end of summer means going back to school), make a list so you can use the free time you do to have to do fun things.
  • If you’re excited, make a list so you plan for the things you especially want to do.
  • If you’re trying to limit your spending, make a list of all the fun things you want to do that cost little to no money.

I have found that when I take the time to record the fun things I do I am better able to notice and appreciate how extravagant and fun my life is. When I don’t pause to reflect, it seems like I’m just going through the motions of life (and for me, routine is the enemy of time).

In a previous post, I shared 50 things you could do on a weekend without spending money. That should give you some ideas. Here are 10 more low-to-no-cost ideas, with summer in mind:

  1. Fire up the grill and share a delicious meal with friends
  2. Host a game of kickball or wiffle ball
  3. Take a day trip to the beach
  4. Move your workouts from the gym to the great outdoors (running, hiking, cycling, kayaking, tennis, etc.)
  5. Spend a day (or as many days as possible) at the pool
  6. Attend a baseball game in your city (Go Nats!)
  7. Plant some flowers
  8. Attend the screening of an outdoor movie (for my DC friends, here’s a helpful website)
  9. Build a bonfire
  10. Create a giant slip ‘n slide (if someone does this, please invite me)

What do you think? Would making a list help you maximize summer 2017?

Your list should play by your rules. Maybe it only needs to include your one highest priority. Maybe it includes 100 things. Do what works best for you.

As you think about this, let me know. What’s on your summer list? What should be on mine?

Until next time,


*This is not the official definition.

PS – To everyone who supported me during my actuary exam years, thank you!

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