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Winter Productivity - How To Effectively Deal With The Dark Months

02 Dec 2022

Winters tend to negatively impact our happiness, wellbeing, and productivity. Find out ways to keep your winter productivity and happiness levels high!

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere winter has arrived. While humanity has screwed up the weather patterns most of our ancestors were used to around this time of the year, there is one thing that will always stay the same – it is dark outside most of the time.

Needless to say, arriving at work before sunlight and leaving right after the sun has set is not ideal for our mental wellbeing and productivity. Even though we sometimes like to imagine ourselves as machines, biologically speaking we are simply mammals. And what mammals do during the snowy and dark winter months is they sleep and rest a lot, doing only the absolute minimum required to survive. 

That being said, giving in to the urge to lay down and not do anything for 3 to 5 months will probably not cut it. Not because of biology, but because of the unfortunate truths of economics. So even though sleep and Netflix may be your preferred things for the next few months, work still needs to be done, schools still need to be attended, and household chores will not wait.

This begs the question, how can you keep your body and mind moving through these gloomy Winter months? How can Winter productivity be kept up to the standards of its Summer counterpart? This blog post will highlight what you can do to boost your happiness and performance during these coming Winter months.

Humans And Sunlight

All living things need natural sunlight. Plants wither away without sun which means that animals (including us) lose their food and the world is slowly deprived of oxygen. Of course, humans (as well as all other living beings) have found ways to survive prolonged periods of darkness (i.e. we store food/nutrients, heat and light our homes etc.). That being said, the biological processes programmed into us still make us feel down and tired during these months.

Without sun all sorts of biological processes in our bodies – sleep-wake cycle, hormone levels, body temperature, heart rate – go haywire. Since our mood, behavior, and productivity basically mirror the biological processes within us, the risk is clear.

For example, while dark days may seem like ideal time for sleeping, we need a degree of light to produce adequate levels of the sleep hormone – melatonin. Without it the quality of our sleep drops as the sleep-wake cycles may get all messed up.

If that wasn’t enough, without light our serotonin levels are also off. Serotonin is important when it comes to stabilizing our moods. With serotonin levels disrupted, sadness, anxiety, maybe even depression are not far off. 

There is actually a scientific term for all that happens to our bodies during the winter. It’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or in other words “SAD” (one couldn’t wish for a better acronym).

To sum up, winter significantly increases the risk of sadness, weariness, and reduced productivity. Now that you know the threat, I’ll highlight the ways you can lower these risks turning this winter slump into proper winter productivity.

Principles For Winter Productivity

Spend time outdoors

We know that prolonged periods of darkness or, in other words, lack of sunlight really takes a toll on us. The good news is that no matter how far north you are, there are still periods of the day when natural light penetrates the darkness. 

Even if the sky is overcast and it’s raining/snowing, going outside during the day (especially in the morning) and getting some exposure to natural light will do wonders to your energy levels and motivation.

There are people, of course, who due to work or health reasons may not be able to go outside. If you are stuck inside, try to spend as much time as possible next to a window. While that may not carry the same punch, it is better than nothing.

Protect your sleep

In fact, most people live with an illusion of a restful routine, but they get many hours of subpar sleep that is surrounded by increased exposure to artificial light and various screens. In the end, brains are confused by the shifting rhythms and overstimulated by all sorts of unnecessary inputs.

So with this in mind, remember two things when it comes to your sleep. First, regardless of the time of the year, stick to your routines and habits! There is time for sleep and there is time for work, social interaction, and exercise. Human bodies appreciate predictability, so don’t deprive your’s of that.

Second, as you prepare for your night’s sleep, get rid of any screens! This will significantly reduce your exposure to all sorts of stimuli as well as a whole bunch of unnecessary artificial light beaming straight into your face before bedtime.

Keep exercising

I started this blog post with a comparison with mammals. As mammals we are biologically expected to take it easy. As humans we can’t afford that luxury. So the best thing you can do to keep your winter productivity levels high is to keep your body moving.

Exercise will help reduce stress and improve sleep. Plus, it adds a nice sense of accomplishment during a day when nothing seemingly happens. If you manage to do something outdoors, even better. You get to strike two birds with a single stone!

Pay special attention to nutrition

Winter is a cruel mistress, indeed. It can be beautiful and feel cozy, but nature itself is unforgiving. During Summer and Fall either directly and indirectly sun and the weather provide us with all the necessary vitamins. We are less likely to get sick, get more Vitamin D, our immune systems are strong, and, most importantly, fresh fruits and vegetables are cheap and abundant.

Our winter productivity suffers as these things are harder to come by or are more expensive during the dark, cold months. So what to do? Check out a previous blog post we did on nutrition for maximum brain power to learn about how you can tailor your diet in the most nutritious, productivity boosting way.

If talking specifically about winter months, at least on work days keep away from the stereotypical winter comfort foods like pastries, sugary drinks, and sweets! These carb bombs will leave you sluggish and bloated. Instead opt for a healthy veggie/fruit snack and a tea.

During winters there is also a self-reinforcing nature to nutrition. Eat high-quality, nutritious foods and you’ll have more energy later to continue cooking like this. Eat simple carbs and you’ll feel lazy and unmotivated so ordering food or eating processed, frozen meals will become more often. In most cases, these options are far less healthy, not to mention more expensive than their healthy counterparts.

Keep yourself as warm as possible

I don’t know about you, but I feel miserable when I’m cold. Instead of focusing on what needs to be done, I’m focused on keeping warm and being frustrated about the thermostat. I know it may not be easy with heating bills going through the roof, but if possible keep your workplace and your house warm! In the end, the winter productivity and well being gains may offset any additional expense a few degree increase may lead to.

Stay social

With the shorter evening, there is a temptation to cocoon yourself off from the rest of the world. That’s a bad idea! We are social animals. Meeting and interacting with coworkers, friends, and family will help break feelings of isolation and sadness that dark winters might bring.

Don’t worry – this isn’t a repudiation of your Netflix weekend plan entirely. You can still hunker away and be with yourself. Just remember to meet someone occasionally, go for a walk with a friend, or maybe even invite others over for a movie night. Might be a nice experience.

Plan for the year ahead

It’s darkest outside right around the turn of the year. Use all that extra time indoors productively by planning out the next year! Setting goals and making detailed plans for the year ahead is not just a good use of your time. It also pumps you up with energy and motivation for what is to come.

Likewise, you can tailor your goals and tasks to the particular season. For instance, train for marathons and set travel plans for the summer. Conversely, book your trips, plan out your vacations, and build new language/coding skills during winters – the time of the year when you are staying inside anyway.

Embrace winter

Winter productivity is an important topic, no doubt. That being said, don’t forget to enjoy all the benefits winter offers. There is no use of making winter out to be a feared boogeyman, as it will just create resentment and fear. Those two are not good long-term motivators.

Instead bear in mind the principles outlined above to keep your winter productivity going, but also remember to have fun! Enjoy the cozy, warm drink filled, cinnamon flavored, and friendship saturated atmosphere that only winter provides. You are allowed to slow down every once in a while and there is no better time to do that than Winter!

Author: Lote Steina

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Life doesen't have a do-over.
Commit to it! BePrime!
Life doesen't have a do-over.
Commit to it! BePrime!