Winter is in full swing. The days are shorter, darker and colder—and some workers will experience the “winter blues.” You might be more tired than usual, less active or unmotivated—and your level of productivity in the office may decline significantly.
“People struggle with being productive in the winter for a number of reasons,” says Casey Moore, The Productivity Coach. “In January especially there can be a post-holiday let-down. In areas where it’s quite cold or very wet, people feel confined to the indoors, which leads to illness or cabin fever,” she adds. “Still, other people find that they’ve already broken their New Year’s resolutions and feel discouraged about themselves. And finally, those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or other mental health conditions can find the darkness of winter especially difficult, making them less productive and interested in work.”
If you’re feeling a little blue, don’t just sit with it; take action, says Ned Russell, an executive vice president at Publicis Groupe. “Either try one of the following tips (see below) or speak with your doctor,” he says. “It may be just what you need to shed light on making the dark months of winter more productive.”
It’s important to stay productive through the bleak winter months for the same reason it’s important to stay productive during the rest of the year, says Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “You have a job to do and you’re always expected to produce great results, no matter what time of the year it is.” You’re not getting paid any less just because it’s wintertime; your supervisor doesn’t expect any less of you because it’s cold outside; and your clients don’t care what the weather is like, he says. “They just want results.”
Plus, your productivity early in the year can affect your attitude, and even performance, later on, Moore adds.
Here are 12 tips for staying productive at work through the bleak winter months:
Get physical. Moving your body with regular exercise before, after or during work, especially outdoors, helps reduce stress and improve sleep, Russell says. “And the sunshine you feel from being outside may give your spirits a much-needed lift.”
Start your year over. If you think you’ve ‘blown it’ for 2013 because you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions, think again, Moore says. “First, simplify so you focus only on one or two. Next, start your new year today. January 1st is arbitrary anyway. Forget the old all-or-nothing thinking and restart your new habit any time you slip into old behaviors.” This may give you the motivation you need to be more productive at work.
Spend time outside. If you suffer from SAD–and even if you don’t–get ten minutes of sunshine every day if possible, Moore says. “Getting outside, if only for a little while, changes your perspective and reminds you that spring is just a little ways away.”
Russell agrees. He says to take a break, if possible, with a brief stroll around the block of your office building. “The exposure will not only clear your head, it’ll brighten your outlook,” he says.
Keep your office or cubicle warm. If you live in a colder climate and you’re chilly at work, your focus will be on how to get warm instead of how best to complete your next project, Teach says. “It’s important to have a comfortable work environment, so find out where the thermostat is in your office and perhaps more importantly, find out who controls the thermostat and make sure they keep it at a comfortable temperature for you and your co-workers.”
Eat well. Watch what you eat and drink, says executive coach Marian Morgan of Coaching That Works. “Comfort foods and sugary drinks will leave you sluggish and bloated. A heavy meal leading to a nap may sound like a good idea on the weekend, but especially during the week you’ll want to watch your sugar and carbohydrates intake,” she says. Warm yourself up with a cup of green tea to refresh, instead.
Set goals. The wintertime is ideal for focusing on new projects, Russell says. Even if you’re feeling a bit sluggish, set new goals and volunteer for a new assignment that excites you. Your initiative will not only give you a sense of accomplishment and make you more productive, but it will most likely impress your boss.
“Spring Clean” during the winter. “Many people wait until the weather warms up before they do their spring cleaning at home, but you can do it at work when it’s freezing outside,” Teach says. Take advantage of the fact that you prefer to be inside at this time of year. Go through your hard files and computer files and throw out or delete anything that is no longer useful to you. You will be less overwhelmed and feel less stressed out if you do.
Stay healthy. More people get sick during the winter months than the rest of the year with flu, colds, etc., Teach says. “If you miss work due to illness, it only makes it that much harder when you go back and you’re constantly trying to catch up. It hurts your productivity.” While it’s sometimes difficult or impossible to not to get sick when everyone else is, do what you can (i.e. take vitamins, wash you hands) to prevent it.
Take breaks. One of the best ways to increase productivity is to schedule planned breaks. A change in routine always nets positive results, especially from the winter doldrums, Morgan says. "A weekend away is renewing and energizing - whether it's boosting your vitamin D with an escape to sunny South Beach, or hitting the slopes in Vermont for some winter fun. If you plan ahead you will save some money."
Short on time and cash? Plan a personal day to visit museums, have lunch with a friend, enjoy a day of pampering. Breaking your routine will reward you in so many ways, she says.
Follow weather reports closely. There’s nothing worse than being late for work because of the weather, Teach says. “If it’s going to rain, sleet, hail, or snow the next day, then leave earlier so that you can arrive to work on time and not be stressed out first thing in the morning.” If you’re prepared, you’ll be more focused and productive when you arrive.
Be social. Avoid eating lunch at your desk alone. Ask co-workers to join you in the cafeteria or at a nearby restaurant, Russell says. “Being social helps break your isolation and connect in new ways with others at work.” The happier you are, the more productive you’ll be.
Stay later. There are only so many hours in the day but if you work late more often, you can be more productive and get more things done, Teach says. “During the summer when it’s warm out and doesn’t get dark until 8 pm, you want to get out of work as soon as possible to take advantage of the weather. During the winter months, what do you have to look forward to if you leave on time? Dark, cold nights? You might as well stay in your warm office and work a little overtime so you can get more work done and make a great impression on your boss.”