For many of us, winter productivity is a difficult concept to grasp. It’s cold and wet, and after the December festivities, the New Year can leave us struggling with the winter blues.
Though many of us may like to stay in bed, our commitments don’t stop once January hits. For many us, life gets even busier. Teenagers have mock exams and adults go back to work with mountains of deadlines that need to be completed urgently. I work from home and I’m still catching up from the week off I took over Christmas.
With that being said, winter productivity doesn’t have to be viewed negatively. In fact, the sense of accomplishment you’ll receive when you end a productive day can even help to alleviate the winter blues we hear so much about at this time of year.
I’ve been experimenting with my winter productivity routine since early November, when the nights drew in earlier and it took the sun longer to rise in the morning.
After finding what works for me, I’ve decided to put everything I’ve learnt in one easy-to-read guide in the hopes it’ll help you to find some motivation, too.
Write A Detailed To-Do List
I’m a big fan of writing to-do lists all year around, but they are especially important during winter months. They can help you to prioritise tasks, and stay organised enough to complete them.
Breaking them down into smaller, more manageable chunks can help with productivity, too, as you aren’t trying to tackle too much at once. Doing this will also give you an idea of how much you can actually do in a day instead of focusing on how much you think you can.
By making your list more detailed, you will also get a better idea of how much you can actually get done instead of how much you wish you could.
Time Block Specific Tasks
Time blocking specific tasks is the number one winter productivity tip I’ve seen on social media in recent weeks. People everywhere are purchasing planners with dedicated daily hour-blocking sections to help them reserve their time in advance.
This means that you will know what you’re supposed to be doing and when because you’ve already taken the time to sit down and plan this. It also prevents you from falling into the trap of Parkinson’s law, where you spread the task to fill the time instead of taking the most efficient route to completion.
To make this method as efficient as possible, make sure you…
- Make a detailed plan. You should aim to include as much information as possible when reserving your time. This will prevent you from wasting dedicated time searching for documents or making decisions when you should already be productive.
- Choose a suitable location in advance. You don’t want to feel productive by blocking out your time, only to find out the only available space to do this is in an overcrowded, busy environment. Try blocking tasks that require the most amount of concentration in when there are the least distractions possible. Your plans could even be as specific as saying you’re going to work in your office, or at a coffee shop, instead of on your sofa.
- Use a timer. The last thing you want when you’re in full concentration mode is to be clock watching, making sure you’re not running over the time you’ve dedicated yourself. By setting a timer that runs from when your block starts to finish, you can focus completely on the task at hand.
My productivity levels have massively increased since discovering the timers on my laptop. They’re a great tool for breaking up long periods of concentration. I also find that I can focus better when using them because I know there’s an end to what I’m doing.
If you use this method, it may take a bit of experimenting to find out what works best for you. One psychologist came up with a theory called the ultradian rhythm that suggests we be productive for a maximum of 90 minutes at a time.
Personally, the longest timer I use is an hour-long one. I tend to stick to my forty-five one more regularly, though, especially during winter months. I find myself drifting if I try to stick to productive tasks without a break for any longer than this.
Other people find the Pomodoro method works better for them. This is where you work for twenty-five minutes, have a five-minute break, and repeat. Some people like to take a longer break every 90 minutes to 2 hours, while others will continue going until they have finished their task.
Take Regular Breaks
Taking regular breaks is a given if you’re utilising alarms, but even if you aren’t, you need to take them. This gives your brain the time it needs to relax, which will help to avoid headaches and fatigue. It will help with winter productivity when you are working because your brain won’t be focused on other things.
Again, the length of your regular breaks will vary depending on how you work best. I like to take 15 minutes for every 1 hour that I work.
There are also lots of different things you can do during these regular breaks, depending on what interests you. Ultimately, it’s time to de-stress.
If you’re looking for ideas, here are some things I like to do:
- Look out my window (if you’re able to, getting outside is a great way to prevent the winter blues by exposing yourself to vitamin d… even if it is limited at this time of year)
- Read a chapter of a book
- Watch a YouTube video
- Grab a snack
- Watch part of a TV show
I know not everyone likes water, but if you can incorporate it as part of your winter productivity routine, I’d recommend doing so. It wasn’t until recently that I started doing this, and I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my energy levels.
If you can’t stomach water, try to avoid drinks that have lots of sugar or caffeine in them. Things like fizzy drinks and coffee can give you a temporary high, but the crash will leave you feeling worse than you did to begin with.
Things you can try instead include decaffeinated tea and coffee, squash and, considering this is about winter productivity, hot chocolate.
Wear Comfortable Clothing (But Not PJs)
As a freelancer who works from home, I know how tempting it is to wear your PJs whenever you can. When I started freelancing full-time, that’s exactly what I did.
It wasn’t long before I started to realise that it was making me feel less productive. Some days, I was literally waking up and heading straight to my desk, but I’d end up wasting more time than what it takes me to get ready.
Especially when we’re talking about winter productivity, when motivating yourself is hard anyway, putting the extra effort in can make all the difference.
Now, when I’m getting ready for work, I’ll always change into comfortable clothing. For me, it’s usually a pair of jeans, a tee-shirt and an oversized jumper. For you, it might be leggings and a top, or even a dress.
If I’m really struggling with productivity or want to put more effort in, I’ll go that one step further and do my makeup.
Doing this takes my brain away from the sleepy, fatigued mindset and makes me feel focused and ready to work.
Make Sure You’re Not Too Cold
The temperature of your working environment plays a vital role in your concentration ability. This is because your body will need to use energy to rebalance the internal environment if you’re too hot or too cold, preventing you from being able to completely focus.
In the winter, productivity is greatly affected if you’re sitting in a room that is too cold. Your hands, and other joints, will feel stiff, and the last thing you’ll want to do is focus on the task at hand.
Most of the time, you’ll find me working with a hot water bottle or a blanket draped over my knees during the winter months. Slippers are also great for keeping your feet warm, if you have some!
Sit At A Desk
Lots of people like to work from their beds, without realising the potential impact their could be having on their sleep. Your brain needs to be able to differentiate between tasks, and it cannot do that if you’re using one thing for multiple purposes.
Sleeping involves being relaxed, while productivity involves feeling energised and focused. Mix them together and your brain doesn’t know what to think.
By sitting at a desk, you’re subconsciously telling your brain that now is the time to work, making it easier to get in the swing of things once you have done.
I know some people don’t have the luxury of owning a desk, but if this is you, why not try somewhere else? Even a kitchen table or living room sofa is better than nothing.
Of course, I’m not saying you should never work in bed. If you’re not struggling with winter productivity, or want to complete work at a leisurely pace, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t feel relaxed while doing it. This advice is just for those who want to be productive and get things done as efficiently as possible.
Clean Your Workspace
You may have already failed your New Year’s Resolutions, but being organised makes you feel at least a little bit accomplished during the winter months, right? I definitely think so.
I try to have as little on my desk as possible while I’m working so that I’m not distracted by a random roll of washi tape, or one of my many notebooks.
Obviously there are going to be things you need on your desk, but try to organise them as neatly as possible. This will provide you with more than enough space to work.
Light A Candle
One of my top winter productivity tips would be to light a candle when you’re ready to be productive. I’ve started doing this recently, and now my brain associates working with a certain scent.
I like to use a scent different to the ones I use when I’m relaxing to really help distinguish things in my brain. For this reason, I tend to use strawberry and cherry scents at my desk, and fresher smelling ones when I’m trying to relax.
As a bonus, candles are often associated with relaxing, so they may help you to feel less stressed about the task at hand. This will allow you to get started with your winter productivity routine without being clouded and put off by high stress levels beforehand.
The winter blues hit everyone around this time of year, and finding the energy to be productive when all you want to do is cuddle up in bed and watch Netflix is difficult. To combat that, why not try setting yourself rewards for achieving the things you’ve put on your to-do list?
You don’t have to reward yourself with anything extravagant if you don’t want to, either. Your brain will recognise something as small as taking a break as a reward, so it really is the small things.
Personally, I like to reward myself with an episode of my favourite TV show during my lunch break. I’ll also enjoy a few episodes at the end of the day, once I’ve achieved everything I set out to.
You could use anything to reward yourself, though.
Here are some small reward ideas you could use:
- A small ‘treat’ food (things like warm brownies or a lovely hot chocolate might trigger winter productive during cold months)
- A new stationery item (I treated myself to three new packets of zebra mildliners after a particularly difficult week earlier this month)
- A candle
- Time with family/friends
- Writing time
- Extra self care time
Be Kind To Yourself
The truth is, wanting to reap the benefits of winter productivity everyday is unrealistic. You are going to have times where all you want to do is watch Netflix, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that every now and again.
It’s common for us to scold ourselves when our day’s aren’t as productive as we want them to be, but this can actually be counterproductive. It can make us associate certain tasks with high stress and feel unable to complete them because of past failures.
On days that you’re struggling with the winter blues, be kind to yourself and take it easy. Reduce the tasks on your to-do lists or cancel them completely. In most cases, whatever you’re working on will still be there tomorrow.
Even if you do have a tight deadline (as I often do), taking things step by step is far better than pushing yourself too hard.
Like I suggested earlier on in this article, break your big task down into smaller ones. If you need to, take a break after each smaller task has been completed. You will eventually complete your big task, even if it does take you longer than it might’ve on a good day.
Do you struggle with winter productivity? Have these tips helped? Is there anything else you’d suggest to beat the winter blues and get stuff done?
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