30 Ways to Stay Insanely Productive Through the Winter Blues
Don't let the off season get you down.
If you’re one of the half a million people in the United States who deal with the winter blues—otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—you know the struggle of keeping your energy levels and motivation up in those drawn-out dark and cold months of increased sadness, anxiety, loss of interest, and inability to concentrate, among other not-so-fun symptoms. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can combat the common disorder and keep up with your to-do list all season long, and these are the best ways to stay insanely productive.
Take a Midday Workout Break
Instead of working out in the morning or evening, save your workout for a midday pick-me-up. If you’re feeling kind of down and your productivity levels have taken a serious dip for the worst, getting those endorphins running through your body could be just the boost you need—both for your mood and your energy levels.
Take Mental Health Days
If you already know the dark days of winter get you down, plan ahead and take off sporadic days throughout the season to better your mental health. Not only will they give you something to look forward to during those chilly months, but they’ll also give you the time to do the things you need to in order to reset and re-energize your body. Once you go back to work, that time off will help you be much more productive.
Stick to Healthy Food Choices
When it’s dreary and freezing outside, the last thing you want to do is eat a cold salad. And don’t worry—you don’t have to. One smart way to make sure you stay productive through the winter blues is to make sure you’re filling your body with wholesome foods, whether that’s a veggie-packed soup, a warm bowl of fruit-and nut-topped oatmeal, or a loaded baked sweet potato. If you stick to junk food, it’s only going to make you feel even more tired and sluggish.
Drink More Water
When it’s cold outside, chugging water isn’t exactly as soothing as something like hot chocolate—but it has to be done. If you stay hydrated and make sure you’re drinking at least eight glasses (or more!) a day, you’ll be able to keep your energy levels up, boost your mood, and make sure your brain power is working full-force—all things that make it much easier to keep doing what you need to do.
Don’t Spend Too Much Time by Yourself
As nice as it is to keep to yourself, winter isn’t the time to do it. If you work in an office, make sure you’re taking breaks to talk to your co-workers. And if you work remotely, do so from a coffee shop or co-working space—not from your couch. The winter blues and isolation aren’t exactly a great combo, so keeping your mood up by being around others can help keep your productivity levels in check, too.
Get Some Sunshine
Sure, this isn’t the easiest thing to do during winter, because the sun practically disappears for days on end. Any day the sun is shining, though, take full advantage by getting outside—even though it’s cold: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, sunlight plays a major role in productivity and work performance, as well as your general quality of life.
Use Light Therapy
If getting real sunshine isn’t an option—winter is the worst!—there’s still hope. According to the National Institutes of Health, light therapy is a great way to help beat the winter blues and keep yourself energized and productive. It doesn’t take much effort, either: Just sit in front of a light box—something you can easily grab on Amazon—for 30 minutes every morning while you’re eating your breakfast, which has been shown to help 70 percent of patients increase their happiness levels in just a few weeks. And for more ways to maximize your processing power, steal these 60 Best 60-Second Productivity Hacks.
Go for a Walk Outside—Or Even Down the Hallway
It probably doesn’t seem like there’s anything worse than going for a nice leisurely stroll in the snow, but it can actually help increase your productivity levels. The cold temp can seriously wake you up, and that fresh air does all sorts of good for your wellbeing. In fact a 2016 study published in the journal Emotion found going on a walk can act as a mood-booster—even if that’s indoors. Take a break when you need it and you’ll be much more in the headspace to work once you’re back.
Stop Eating So Much Sugar
It’s hard to avoid sugar—especially around the holidays—but doing so could drastically improve your productivity levels. A 2012 study out of UCLA found eating a super-sugary diet can majorly affect your brain power, even negatively impacting your learning and memory skills. To make sure you stay in the right headspace over the season (and don’t have anything weighing you down on top of the weather!), stick to healthier snacks and desserts.
Keep Things Exciting
If your work is getting dull, winter is the perfect time to start taking on projects that excite you. When you’re already feeling down, doing the same assignments over and over can have an especially big impact on your overall mood. To spice things up, talk to your boss and see if you can take on something new. It’ll give you just that extra oomph you need.
Make Sure Your Home Isn’t Cluttered
It’s easy to let things go in the winter. When it’s cold out, you spend a lot of time indoors and things probably get a little messy and unorganized because of that. When it comes to your mental health, one of the best things you can do is make sure your space is clean. When everything is put away with no clutter lying around, your mood will shift and you’ll be able to breathe a little easier, plus have the much-needed motivation to get things done.
Do a Daily Meditation
There’s an important reason to add a daily meditation to your schedule, especially if you’re dealing with the winter blues. According to the Mayo Clinic, even 10 minutes can help better your concentration, reduce stress, and help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression—all things that will help you feel your best all season long and keep your productivity levels in check.
Have a Lunch Date
Just like it’s not a good idea to keep to yourself all day, it’s also not a good idea to eat at your desk. Not only does it prevent you from taking a true break from your work, but it also adds to that general loneliness that affects your mood, productivity, and overall wellbeing. Ask one of your co-workers or a friend who works nearby to meet up for lunch a couple days a week and you’ll definitely notice a shift in your happiness and productivity levels.
Get as Much Natural Light as Possible
The worst thing for someone dealing with the winter blues is working in a dark environment. With a mood that’s already low, that lack of light is only going to make you feel more tired and unhappy. Instead, make sure you’re getting as much natural light as possible throughout the day by working near windows: A 2003 study published in the journal Sleep found employees exposed to light during the day were much more productive—and much less sleepy!—than those who weren’t.
Develop a Morning Routine You Love
There’s nothing harder than getting out of a warm, cozy bed when it’s freezing cold outside. To make sure you start your days off on a productive note, develop a morning routine that’s actually worthy of getting out of bed for. Sit down and have a healthy breakfast, brew your favorite beverage, do some stretching—whatever makes you feel your best. That way you’ll set yourself up for a day of success.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Sleep
Speaking of sleep, you’re not going to get anything done if you’re always groggy from staying up too late. According to Harvard Medical School, a lack of sleep can severely affect your mood, making you irritable, short-tempered, and much more stressed. When you do get enough sleep, though, your mood totally shifts and you’ll be much more in the mindset to keep up with your daily tasks.
Start Earlier in the Day
If you have more energy during the day when it’s actually light outside, that’s when you should do the majority of your work. Once it hits 4 pm and it starts to get dark, it’s nearly impossible to get things done—it feels like bedtime, after all. If you make it your mission to check everything off your to-do list early, you’ll be much more productive than you would be waiting until the sluggish later hours in the evening.
Make Sure Your Work Environment Is Comfortable
Some offices definitely run too cold or too hot in the winter, and you’re not going to get anything done if you’re sitting there freezing or sweating your butt off. If your building won’t adjust its thermostat and it’s driving you crazy, do whatever you need to do to make sure you’re comfortable while you’re working—even if that means bringing in a cozy blanket from home to keep at your desk.
Work With a Friend
If you work remotely, it’s sometimes hard to get things done by yourself with so many different distractions keeping you from your tasks. But that’s where the power of twos come in. Schedule work coffee dates a few times a week where you can meet up and keep each other productive. You’ll fly through everything you need to get done and have good company while you’re doing it.
Take Mini Breaks Throughout the Day
It’s hard to find the time to take breaks throughout the day—especially when your work load only seems to be piling higher and higher—but it can do a lot of good for your productivity levels. In one study from DeskTime, the employees with the highest productivity actually worked shorter hours due to taking 17-minute breaks every 52 minutes of work. So instead of working yourself to the bone, taking mini breathers could be the real key to getting things done.
Don’t Stress Yourself Out with Insane To-Do Lists
When you want to keep your productivity up, you make a list of everything you have to do—but sometimes seeing everything on there at once can overwhelm you so much that it makes you want to do nothing at all. (Yeah, we’ve all been there.) Instead of bogging yourself down with an unrealistic amount of tasks, only jot down the must-dos and save the other things for later in a “won’t do” list—something Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey swears by.
Add More Omega-3s Into Your Diet
One way to combat a low mood over the winter months is to add more omega-3s to your diet. According to Harvard Medical School, past research has shown they can play a role in naturally helping treat mood disorders. To get your fix, stock up on chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and other heart-healthy options and you’ll have the energy to keep up your productivity in no time.
Play Some Mood-Boosting Songs
When you’re dealing with the winter blues, playing some mood-lifting music could be just the thing you need to help you continue staying on track with your daily tasks. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found those cheery tunes can give your happiness levels a serious boost, making you feel more energized overall.
Make Sure Your Weekends Are for You
It’s easy to get trapped in the all-work, no-play mindset over the weekend—especially because being able to get ahead on your tasks is always a nice feeling. The only downside? If you don’t give yourself that mental health break after a busy week of long hours, you’re not going to be at all refreshed by the time Monday rolls around, making you feel sluggish and low-energy at the office. So keep your weekends for you—that never-ending to-do list can wait.
Eat Some Dark Chocolate
While milk chocolate is loaded with sugar, dark chocolate is a much better option—for your health and for staying productive through the winter blues. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers found the polyphenols the treat naturally contains can help give your mood a serious boost, lifting your spirits and making it easier to keep getting things done.
Little kids and dogs get rewards for doing something good, so why shouldn’t you? If you’re having trouble staying productive, come up with fun prizes for yourself for getting through the tasks you really don’t want to do. Then once you conquer them, treat yourself, whether that’s going to a movie, buying yourself something you’ve been wanting, or taking yourself out to eat. When you have something motivating you, you’re bound to get a lot more done.
Drink a Focus-Boosting Latte
In addition to drinking water, starting your day off with a focus-boosting latte is also a great way to stay productive. Mucuna pruriens—which is actually a type of bean—has been used for centuries to help with stress, increase your mood, and improve focus. By adding some into your morning latte, it could help combat the winter blues all season long.
Make Sure You Have a Non-Work-Related Hobby
If you’re doing the exact same thing every day, it’s going to get old over time. To make sure you keep your spirits lifted—especially throughout the winter season—find a hobby you love doing and make it a priority to spend some time doing it every single day. Whether it’s painting or doing the daily crossword, working your mental muscles beyond your office job can help keep you energized, feeling good, and ready to tackle what’s on your to-do list.
Cool It On the Caffeine
It might seem like downing cup after cup of coffee is a no-brainer in keeping you going strong through the winter blues, but the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics says it’s actually better for your mental health to do the opposite and eliminate it completely—or at least seriously cut down on it—to combat the effects of the winter blues. Instead, sip on some caffeine-free tea and get your productivity-boosting energy in other ways, like exercise.
Grab Some Vitamin D Supplements
You you feel like your vitamin D levels are lacking—especially due to the minimal sun in the wintertime—it might be smart to go the supplement route to help keep your mood and energy levels on track. According to Andrew Weil, MD, 70 percent of the population is thought to be deficient in the vitamin anyway, which is exactly why he recommends taking a daily supplement of at least 2,000 IU to get your levels back up again. And for more amazing dietary supplements, check out the The 50 Best Supplements on the Planet.
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