Winter Productivity: 5 Things to Do When It's Too Cold to Do Anything

A laptop on a table in front of a window

Welcome to winter.

The days are often cold, snowy, or rainy and the will to work through that to-do list and take on additional projects takes a nosedive. Luckily, there are a few tasks you can still accomplish and ways you can feel productive.

It’s not just you who feels idle during the winter. It’s a pretty collective experience.

In fact, some argue (and science tends to agree) that we should work shorter hours in the winter when the weather is rainy, snowy, or overall more unpleasant. 

“The body likes to do those things in synchrony with the body clock, which is the master controller of where our body and behavior is relative to the sun,” explains Greg Murray, professor of psychology at Swinburne University in Australia.

That probably explains why you tend to feel a bit sleepier in the winter – your biological clock isn’t operating the same way it does in the summer, so a lot of chemicals and hormones are “off” in the body. As a result, you may feel less productive and have trouble staying motivated. 

That isn’t even factoring in Seasonal Affective Disorder many people say they experience when the days get shorter. The Mayo Clinic says symptoms may include

  • Low energy
  • Feeling sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy 
  • Craving carbs and overeating 
  • Difficulty concentrating 

If this sounds like you, you may want to seek out a professional’s guidance to support you in dealing with more serious symptoms.

For those who are just feeling a bit sluggish and unmotivated, there are still ways you can make the day count (even if the day is dreary and the sun goes down way too early for your liking). Try these tasks to help you stay on track, even when all you feel like doing is curling up with a warm drink, a blanket and a good movie. 

1. Reflect on your goals

Sure, you can reflect on your goals anytime of the year, but it’s especially a good time when you’re stuck inside and life slows down a bit. You’ll have the time to take a deep dive into what you want to accomplish and your method for getting there, so that when you do find yourself in a busier season, you’re prepared. 

Optimizing your goals can also make it a smoother journey when you’re feeling particularly unmotivated. A good rule of thumb is that your goals are SMART: (S) specific, (M) measurable, (A) attainable, (R) relevant, and (T) time-bound. We’ve even put together a SMART goals worksheet to help you work through it. 

2. Declutter your space

Get an early jump on spring cleaning, so that when that warm weather finally hits, you’ll be able to go out and enjoy it. There are also a bunch of other benefits to taking this time stuck inside to clean, organize and declutter. 

First, start by making a list of all the things you want to do. Are you taking on a DIY project or letting go of items that you no longer need? Then, make a plan by noting all of the materials you need and setting a schedule. This will keep you from dropping the project midway. 

If you’re going to be stuck in your space for a while, you might as well make it a place you want to be. By the end, you’ll feel productive and you’ll have created a space where you want to be (whether it’s working from home or finding some time for much-needed rest). It’s a win-win. 

3. Gather inspiration 

For most of us, productivity is inspired. We see something we want to accomplish, or we get an idea that fuels us.

For low-energy days when you need a little joy, consider picking up a book, magazine, journal or whatever it is that feeds your creativity. Painting, baking, even a television show.

These are activities that we normally can write-off as being “unproductive” but that’s hardly ever the case, even when we don’t realize it. 

An activity that fills your cup is never wasted time, and these days you’re stuck inside are perfect for that. 

4. Call a friend

When the winter blues take hold, it can feel lonely. Not only is it dark and cold outside, our calendars slow down and social events are fewer and further between. Even so, you can still reach out to friends and family and it may even help improve your mood.

“While you may not feel like you have the energy or motivation to socialize, catching up with friends, roommates or family members can help improve your mood and energy levels. Try to make plans or schedule events that you can look forward to,” advises experts from the University of Colorado.

“More importantly, try to avoid the urge to cancel plans at the last minute. Reaching out to trusted friends or family to let them know how you’re doing or asking for an occasional check-in with each other can help.”

5. Move your body

Winter days and wet, cold weather can make exercise particularly difficult. But even some gentle stretching or a home workout can jumpstart your energy, making the day feel a little less dreary. 

“You experience low serotonin and dopamine levels in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), depression or other conditions, but there is a benefit to boosting neurotransmitter levels through exercise,” says Dr. James McDeavitt, a physical medicine professor at Baylor University. “There is value to seasonally maintaining your routine. Even if you regularly run outdoors in the spring and have to move indoors for the winter, don’t blow off your workout.” 

Just like exercising at any other  time of year, McDeavitt says routine is key. Shorter days can really affect motivation, so setting a reminder or including it in your schedule is important. 

For an extra challenge, try setting a winter fitness goal, like being able to touch your toes or completing a 30-minute workout every day.

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