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5 Productivity Hacks to Beat the Winter Blues

Topics: Career Advice
winter blues
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Do you feel down during the winter months — less energetic, moodier, plagued by poor concentration and sluggishness? You might be dealing with seasonal affective disorder or the winter blues.

“Six percent of the US population, primarily in northern climates, is affected by SAD in its most marked form,” said Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, whose team first described seasonal affective disorder, in an interview with the journal Psychiatry. “Another 14 percent of the adult US population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues.”

Even without suffering from a recognized disorder, some people might feel less than motivated during the winter months. It makes sense: it’s cold and gloomy outside and those brief golden hours of sunlight take place when most working people are inside, earning a living.

However, work doesn’t stop just because your enthusiasm has ebbed. Your boss, clients and coworkers all demand the same level of dedication in winter as in summer. There are a few productivity hacks that can help you chase the winter blues away (or at least, maintain some level of motivation until spring arrives and renews your drive to get stuff done).

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1. Work When Other People Aren’t Working

early bird

Years ago, I had a colleague who came in to the office two hours before everyone else. He claimed that he got most of his work done during these early morning hours, when there was no one else around.

I’m inclined to believe him. If you work in an office or another physical workplace, like a store, you know that socializing eats a lot of the workday. This is true even if you aren’t a particularly social person. (Let’s all spare a thought for our introverted colleagues, who endure the chatter even though it doesn’t provide them with immediate rewards in terms of energy.)

Plenty of productivity gurus will advise you to do this the way my coworker did, by getting to work early — but not everyone is an early riser. If the thought of getting up in the wee hours like Oprah or Tim Cook makes you want to pull the duvet over your head, don’t despair. There’s evidence that trying to force yourself into rising earlier than your normal wakeup time can be counterproductive.

Per the BBC:

“If people are left to their naturally preferred times, they feel much better. They say that they are much more productive. The mental capacity they have is much broader,” says Oxford University biologist Katharina Wulff, who studies chronobiology and sleep. On the other hand, she says, pushing people too far out of their natural preference can be harmful. When they wake early, for example, night owls are still producing melatonin. “Then you disrupt it and push the body to be in the daytime mode. That can have lots of negative physiological consequences,” Wulff says, like a different sensitivity to insulin and glucose – which can cause weight gain.

Rather than focusing on early rising, look for times to work when other people aren’t around. Maybe that means staying later instead of coming in earlier or taking your lunch at another hour than the rest of your team. You might even find that your boss is amenable to the idea of a flexible schedule, allowing you to change your working hours so that your day begins or ends at a different time.

However you do it, the goal is to maximize those working hours when no one else is around to pester you.

2. Have a Morning Ritual

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No matter when your day begins, it’s worth it to set aside some time to get yourself together before you start work in earnest. For many people, this takes the form of a morning ritual.

You probably have one yourself, even though you might not have noticed it. Maybe you start the day with a cup of coffee and a quick look at the newspaper — or a terrified one-eye peek at the headlines on your phone while you’re still hiding under the covers.

Note that example. One of those methods is a lot more deliberate and pleasant than the other. By being intentional about your morning ritual, you can set yourself up for a better, calmer start to your day.

Again, you don’t have to make yourself into a yoga and mediation person if that’s not your speed. But you deserve a few minutes to collect yourself before the stresses of the day descend. Give yourself permission to take that time.

3. Delete Social Media

social media distractions

OK, fine: If you work in an office environment, have a small business or are an entrepreneur, you probably can’t afford to delete social media. It’s relatively hard to build and maintain a personal brand in the 21st century with no social media presence whatsoever. In fact, many hiring managers say that they would think twice about hiring a candidate who had no social media footprint. In a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, over half of employers said they wouldn’t hire someone who didn’t have an online presence.

But you can look for ways to gain control over social media and manage its impact on your personal and professional life. The first step is to become aware of the damage it can do to your productivity, reputation and happiness at work.

For starters, social media is a time-suck. Over the course of a lifetime, the average person will spend more than five years on social networks, according to a Mediakix study. Think about what you could do with an extra five years, even parceled out in a few minutes a day. You could optimize your resume, apply to jobs, sign up for a class. You could take a walk or a nap or just a break from screens (something most Americans sorely need, given that we spend more than 11 hours a day staring at glowing rectangles, according to Nielsen).

And sure, some of those things can be accomplished via social media (the applying-for-jobs part, not the nap). But reducing the amount of time you spend just clicking around will give you back precious minutes of your life.

Ironically, apps might be able to help you reduce your dependency on apps.

“Use the Freedom App to block specific social media sites from your computer and mobile devices,” recommends entrepreneur Ryan Robinson. “Set limits for yourself and be more productive with extra hours in your day.”

4. Make Your Health a Priority

RyanJLayne/Getty Images

What’s the first thing you skip, if you’re too busy to cross off every item on your to-do list? If you’re like most of us, it’s something to do with your health. Maybe you put off going to the gym for one more day (which turns into a week, which turns into a month). Perhaps you skip that dentist appointment or yearly checkup, because you’re just too busy to go.

Then there are the less obvious ways we shortchange our health, when we’re busy. Maybe you put off making plans with friends, for example, because it feels frivolous to block off time for dinner and drinks or an evening watching your local sports franchise whomp the competition. But, social connections are important, too. Not only are they the way we build and maintain our professional networks, but they’re what makes us human. We’re social animals — without social contact, we get lonely and, eventually, depressed. Not exactly a recipe for productivity.

There’s a reason why you see so many of those “X things to try when you’re feeling down” lists floating around. People need exercise, healthy food, social contact, rest and sunshine in order to feel (and do) their best.

You can get away with neglecting your physical body for a little while, but if you push it too long, you’ll wind up burned out, unhealthy and unmotivated. Make time now to take care of yourself.

5. Have Something to Look Forward To

time off
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What are you looking forward to right now? If you can’t think of anything, it’s no wonder that you’re having trouble getting out of your own way, productivity-wise.

“My First Splendid Truth is: to tackle happiness, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth,” writes Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert and author of The Happiness Project. “Having something to look forward to makes you ‘feel good’ and may also give an ‘atmosphere of growth’ to your life, because the future seems bright.”

This can mean setting professional goals, e.g. asking for a raise or getting a certification that will help you move up the corporate ladder. But it can also mean taking care of the life part of your work-life balance by scheduling a vacation (now’s a great time of year to start thinking about putting in a request for time off) or taking a class just because you’re passionate about the subject.

When your whole life is your to-do list, getting stuff done becomes a slog. To lighten things up, you need to make sure that work isn’t the only thing you do — or at least, that it isn’t always the only thing you do.

Make some plans for the future. It’ll make right now feel a lot more manageable. And that will make it easier to be get stuff done.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have productivity hacks to add to this list? We want to hear from you. Share your tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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