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Why January Is Your Least Productive Month And What To Do About It

It’s the coldest, darkest month of the year. Shouldn’t you really just hunker down and get to work?

Why January Is Your Least Productive Month And What To Do About It
[Photo: Flickr user L.C. Nøttaasen]

January can be a bit of a buzzkill. You’re coming off of the fun of the holidays. Depending on your location, winter is firmly entrenched with cold temps, snow, and ice. And daylight hours are in short supply. What’s to love?

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You might think the dreary conditions would cause us to throw ourselves into work. Not so, finds a study by the data collaboration software provider Redbooth. In fact, January is our least productive month. We complete just 7.2% of our yearly tasks (it should be 8.33% if you do the math), and February is negligibly better at 7.6%.

Instead of simply bundling up and waiting out the slump, here are four things you can do to boost your productivity or take advantage of the downtime.

1. Focus On Self-Care

Being productive means understanding your strengths, and January should be a time to make your schedule less about what you want to get done, and more about who you want to become, says Tyler Scott, lead pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, Calif.

“When our emotional tank is full, we are most productive and operate at our best,” he says. “Identify five things that replenish you. For me it’s prayer, family time, satisfying work, being connected to a small group, and exercise.”

Let go of the things that deplete your life, such as social media, toxic relationships, or unhealthy habits. “If we’re not intentional with how we want to spend our time, we will instead drift into a life that is overwhelmed, exhausted, over-scheduled and unproductive,” says Scott.

2. Identify Your Priorities

Get clear on where you’re headed by setting priorities based on the results you want to accomplish this year, says leadership consultant Doug Ringer. “Limit yourself to three priorities,” he says. “If you have more than three priorities, you have none.”

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Instead of creating a big to-do list, work backward from your goals to determine your plan of action, suggests Ringer. “Write what you are going to do in your calendar,” he says. “When the day and time occurs, do it.”

3. Set Up Future Successes

If your workload has lightened up, use January to prepare for future months. Organize your office, clear out your inbox, and create systems for handling new work and projects. Your workspace impacts your productivity, so set up your desk by taking some tips from productivity experts. For example, David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, keeps just four things on his desk: a limited number of supplies, reference materials, decorations, and equipment. Anything else is stored somewhere else.

You can also take this time to invest in education. Take a learning sabbatical, catch up on reading, or sign up for a free online class on a platform such as edX, Khan Academy or Alison.

4. Or Just Get Over It

Productivity cannot be expected to be uniform, over a day, over a week, or over a year, says Cindi Fukami, professor of management at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. Instead of trying to fight it, acknowledge and accept it.

“The rhythms of life ebb and flow, and so also will productivity,” says Fukami. “A company’s business goes through cycles and this is commonly accepted. Perhaps companies should be accepting of employee cycles. If a company wants uniform productivity, it would be wise to invest in robotic process automation, which can perform routine operations 24/7/365.”

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