5 Habits For Staying Productive In The Dreariest Months Of The Year

With “wintry mix” in the forecast and the holidays behind you, the cold, dark weeks until springtime can be a slog. Now’s the time to prioritize self-care.

5 Habits For Staying Productive In The Dreariest Months Of The Year
[Photo: shironosov/iStock]

Your bags are finally unpacked from that hometown holiday trip, your bank account is still reeling from all of those Secret Santa parties and–as glorious and fleeting as a Fourth of July fireworks show–your “new year, new me” diet has already flickered out.


It’s mid-January, and winter still has a lot more cold and darkness left to give. So while you might still be feeling the sparkly flow of optimism that comes with the New Year, there’s just as good a chance that the winter blues have officially set in.

Before you ask, no, you’re not weird; it’s totally human to have these feelings. In fact, some 10 million Americans start to feel the effects of “seasonal affective disorder” as early as the late fall. We see this in full effect at our company, Shine–where we make daily well-being more accessible through text and audio products. We recently surveyed our members and found that the top two words they used to describe how they felt at the end of the last year were “sad” and “tired.”

Related: How To Trick Your Brain Into Liking Winter

The good news? Getting intentional about how you spend your time can make a major difference in your day-to-day mood–including during one of the chilliest times of the year. In fact, 72% of Shine members said that self-care is their No. 1 resolution for 2018. So with that in mind, here are a few habits for practicing self-care between now and the first signs of spring.

1. Set A Feel-Good Goal

We all get really good at being tough on ourselves when January 1 hits. Most often, we set goals that focus on our jeans size, doing more for others, or just generally being better at the many roles in our lives. Truth is, somewhere between 80% and 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail–in part because they’re typically set up with everyone else in mind but ourselves.


This year, prioritize your mental health and set a goal that simply makes you feel good; don’t worry about whether or not it makes you more productive, athletic, or successful. What would your year be like if you just spent more time reading your favorite books, going on long walks that leave you feeling energized, or getting more time with the VIPs in your life?

Imagine that. Then make it happen. Feel free to start small and try doing something just for you each day. The wintertime slump after the holidays is the perfect time to build momentum.

Related: This Entrepreneur Traded Her New Year’s Resolutions For A Yearly Mantra

2. Feel Grateful For Something Every Day

The holiday season can feel like a giant, blinking neon sign telling you to practice gratitude and cherish those around you. But without the sugary-sweet commercials and Netflix holiday rom-coms as reminders, it’s easy to fall back into your day-to-day routines, forgetting to notice the everyday magic around you.

A daily gratitude habit is strongly correlated with increased happiness and overall well-being, not to mention with strengthening your relationships. For the next month or two, give it a shot. You can go as a big as writing in a physical gratitude journal once a day, or as small as remembering to reflect on a good moment before you go to bed tonight.


Related: The Norwegian Secret To Enjoying A Long Winter

3. Let Go Of Something

Disorganization actually fuels stress. Keeping too much clutter around can sap your focus, cost you time (and therefore money) looking for what you need, and incentivize procrastination. The more stuff you allow yourself to accumulate in more places, the more precious mental space it can take up.

Why wait for March? Get a head start on spring cleaning and purge your physical and emotional closet. Go full Marie Kondo on your stuff—and while you’re at it, release some of the negative thoughts or worries that didn’t serve you in 2017. (And if reorganizing your entire workspace is too daunting, start one desk drawer at a time.)

4. Find A Creative Outlet

As creatures of habit, it can be easy to fall in routines where we only do things we have to each day. But creativity helps us to better live in the present moment, see things from a different perspective, and problem-solve. Who doesn’t want that?

This month, actively prioritize something that allows you to express yourself. If you enjoy traditionally “creative” activities like writing or drawing–amazing, do more of those things! If you’re one of the many people who don’t see themselves as creative, I promise you, you are in some way or other. Whether it’s cooking, dancing, or doodling, try experimenting with outlets that bring that left brain to life.


Related: Need A Creative Idea In 10 Minutes? Play With The Stuff On Your Desk

5. Bundle Up And Get Outside

With many of us experiencing below-freezing temperatures this time of year, going outside might feel like something to avoid at all costs. But spending time in nature (even at its wintriest) has major cognitive and emotional upsides, and not surprisingly, we tend to get much less sun and fresh air in the winter season.

So bundle up and go for a brisk walk or hike. If you can’t manage that, commit to stepping outside for at least 15 minutes a day–even if that means walking a few blocks to your “far” lunch spot rather than your usual nearby one. (And if you can afford it, plan a trip somewhere slightly warmer!)

As we actively try (and fail) not to reference that whole “put on your own oxygen mask on first” cliché, we’ll say this: You matter, and you cannot serve anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. So serve yourself a dose of self-care this winter. You deserve it.

Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi are the cofounders and co-CEOs of Shine.