How to be productive in winter? Five tips to help that winter productivity kick in

Aiva Strelca 20.12.2023

If you ask me how to be productive in winter, I must confess I have no idea. Considering that I live in Northern Europe, I  s h o u l d  know. But I still struggle with productivity slumps, lack of energy, and all the other things that come uninvited as the season of darkness and cold arrives. 

And that is precisely why I am excited to explore five tips on how to stay productive in winter together with all of you. From some “we all know this but forget how effective it is” kind of hacks to less familiar tricks – this article dives right into the world of winter productivity. Dashing through the snow, let’s go!

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But first – what’s the deal with winter productivity?

Before we learn practical tips, let’s look into why we tend to struggle with winter productivity in the first place. 

After doing some productivity research, I learned several crucial things about our collective productivity struggles during the cold season:

  1. When there are fewer daylight hours, we get sleepier – it’s just how our bodies work, and that’s a fact.
  2. Some of us develop seasonal affective disorder (known as SAD), making us moody, sleepy, and unable to focus.
  3. Winter impacts our circadian rhythms significantly, and having to wake up when it’s dark messes up our natural body clock quite a lot, resulting in feeling sleepy when we shouldn’t be.

The bottom line – it’s not just you or me. It’s everyone and our love-hate relationship with the winter season. The not-so-good news is – we still have to go to work and do our best there. The good news is that we’ve gathered several hacks to help our winter productivity. 

Note: Here’s a great read on Wired if you wish to dive deeper into reasons why we struggle to be productive in winter.

1. Embrace the cold

Yes, you read this right. Our number one tip on how to be productive in winter is to make the most out of the cold season. How? By using all the health and wellbeing benefits cold temperatures can bring. 

DeskTime’s CMO, Reins Grants, advises trying cold exposure – exposing yourself to cold air or water for a short time. This can be done by taking a cold shower or trying cold swims if you feel brave enough. Sources list many benefits to cold exposure practice, including increased cognitive performance, better mood, enhanced immune function, metabolism boost, and more. All of those above can significantly contribute to better productivity levels at work.

Important note: While cold exposures benefit one’s health, it’s important not to rush into them in order not to cause your body unwanted stress. The best way to begin is by taking a slightly colder shower. Do it gradually.

2. Try light therapy

Another tip for being productive in winter is giving light therapy a shot. Light therapy is a treatment involving exposure to a light source – in most cases, artificial. During a session, a person sits in front of a light box or a special lamp that usually mimics sunlight and is of a certain brightness level. The length of these sessions varies from 15 to 60 minutes. 

This approach is effective because it can help your body suppress the leftover melatonin that resides in your body on dark winter days. It resets our body’s internal clock and helps us feel less tired and sleepy, boosting our winter productivity. Light therapy is also commonly advised for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

3. Don’t forget physical activities

So many issues and conditions can be improved by doing some physical activity – spine health, mood, digestion, focus, etc. Regarding tips on how to be productive in winter, doing sports is definitely at the top of the list. Here’s why.

  • Doing exercise releases endorphins – mood booster hormones – and a happier mood can contribute to better productivity.
  • Sports, especially aerobic activities, can do wonders for your concentration. Studies have found that as little as a two-minute cardio workout can create a nice focus pick-me-up. 
  • Research shows that increasing muscle strength and having a healthy body mass index are linked to steady productivity.

Hence, when you’re about to slouch on the couch for the Xth night in a row, try doing some physical activities instead and see how you feel afterward. It doesn’t have to be a major training session. Give a chance to some good old YouTube yoga, put on your favorite song and dance it out, or go for a brisk walk. Anything is better than nothing.

4. Give the 52/17 rule a try

Another hot tip for exploring ways to be productive in winter is undoubtedly trying out the 52/17 rule – mixing 52 minutes of focus and uninterrupted work with a 17-minute long break and repeating the cycle throughout your workday. 

The 52/17 rule was discovered by DeskTime back in 2014. The study analyzed 10% of the most productive people using the DeskTime app to see what work patterns unite them and found that they tend to work in a focus/break ratio 52/17.

Thus, if you’re looking for a winter productivity-boosting technique, I absolutely recommend going for 52/17. It may seem like your breaks will be too long, but the reality is that you’ll likely get A LOT done, as you’ll be using the very best of your focus. 

How do you make sure that you stick to the rule? Use a timer – it can be an alarm on your mobile phone, or you can also try DeskTime and its break time reminder that will automatically notify you when 52 minutes are up, and it’s time for your well-deserved 17-minute break.

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5. Eat your way to winter productivity

You are what and how you eat, especially regarding winter productivity and work efficiency. Running on caffeine and carbohydrates can get you through a day or two, but it doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle, not to mention a balanced diet in the long term. Luckily, plenty of nutrition hacks can make your brain work better. 

First, add some of the so-called brain foods to your meal plan. Those include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout), blueberries, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa), nuts, and eggs. 

Second, consider your meal plan – does it have enough protein, fiber, and vegetables? Do you consume enough healthy fats that are so crucial for brain health? Is your diet high on sugar, and should you consider cutting it out? Be scrupulous, and remember that your daily diet has everything to do with how you feel.

Another thing – it’s natural for your appetite to increase during winter. Your brain chemistry changes slightly with fewer daylight hours, causing potential hunger and satiety hormone imbalances. Thus, you can explore healthy brain food snack options – such as the ones mentioned in this article – so your growling belly doesn’t take away the last remnants of your focus.

Most importantly – allow your winter productivity to tumble a little

Now that you know a few tips on how to be productive in winter, the only thing left is to go and try these hacks for yourself. However, I have some personal advice for you regarding winter productivity – take it easy. 

Nature has its seasons, and so do we. It’s more than normal to not be on your most productive behavior 100% of the time. Try not to beat yourself up about it too much, take care of your physical and mental health, and focus on your well-being. If you feel good, your work performance and productivity will be good, too – winter or not.

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