Good News: This Endless Winter Is Making You More Productive

There’s a silver lining in the slush: This endless horrible weather actually makes you more productive.

Good News: This Endless Winter Is Making You More Productive
[Photo: Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

Back in May–remember beautiful, perfect May?–we lamented our desk-chained fates as the world outside basked in the sunshine.

No surprise that while we were gazing out our office windows wishing to be outside we got little else done. Productivity between June and August dips by 20% every year, there’s less attendance overall, and workers are 45% more distracted, according to research from the Captivate Network.

Can we take it all back? We are a few days into March, yet somehow still wearing several snow-crusted layers and wondering if we’ll ever again commute to work without a backup pair of shoes. The blahs are in full effect. But there’s a silver lining in the slush: Once you’ve made it to the office, the unkind weather will make you more productive.

In a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers from Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill set out to study the effects of weather on working lives. First, they asked 198 adults to give their assumptions: 82% said that fair weather would increase productivity, and 83% said that bad weather would decrease it. They associated a good mood with getting stuff done.

The researchers hypothesized the opposite to be true. With more outdoor distractions pulling their minds away, they said, people would be less focused on indoor work. Using several methods of study and participants in varying locations, they discovered that without the distraction of perfect hiking, biking, and frolic-friendly conditions, people stayed more focused on work.

In one, they asked 136 participants to complete data-entry tasks; one group was also given verbal and visual prompts to imagine their favorite outdoor activity. The control group only imagined their daily routines. As predicted, poor weather made for improved performance of a mundane task.

“This interaction effect between weather conditions and exposure to outdoor options suggests that people can be relatively more productive at work on rainy days, unless they are actively distracted,” the researchers wrote. “On sunny days, participants are likely to already be distracted, as outdoor options are salient in their minds.”

But the weather is still out of our control. How can we make a sunny day just as successful as a dreary one? Base your company out of Boston instead of San Diego, if you’re really serious about keeping employees productive. Or, you could simply plan more clerical work–finally sort that file cabinet out and pare down your inbox–for days when you’re not tempted to stare longingly out the window.

About the author

Former Tweets, words, and editorial support for Fast Company Leadership. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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