Work / Life

Winter is Coming (and How You Can Keep on Working)

Many of you living and working way south of the arctic circle do so in what we’re assuming is a perpetually festive mood. While we recognize that hot climate is not necessarily easier to cope with, living in the upper regions of the northern hemisphere produces its own unique challenges for productivity. And it’s not about the cold – it’s about the darkness.

Due to the particular way in which our planet works its way around our solar system, the northern part of the globe finds itself deprived of sunlight for the bigger part of its stay in the further reaches of its orbit. Tallinn (where many of the Toggl staff reside), for instance, gets as little as 5.5 hours of daylight at the peak of winter. This amounts to a bit more than a simple annoyance.

Lack of sunlight can be linked to vitamin D deficiency, and in worse cases, the seasonal affective disorder, or SAD (which makes “having the sads” a legitimate complaint). But even if you’re not suffering from a full on winter blues, the darkness can still get to you.

The aforementioned vitamin D, for instance, is linked to such important physiological processes like mineral absorption, which in turn are linked to such important processes as generally being OK.

Obviously, being well is important if you expect to keep functioning during the dark season. Stuff still needs to get done. So how do keep your productivity up?

1. Exercise


Literally run away from the problem. Yes, it’s that simple, really. Physical exercise (or at least, activity) is advised all year round, but it’s crucial that you carry on through the winter season. Working out gets your heart rate going, not to mention that rewarding feeling when you beat your lap time. When your body’s geared up, you will be more alert and on point. In short, it energizes you.

You don’t necessarily have to do a gym session for the effect (though that’d be recommended) – go on walks, spend time outdoors, do anything that keeps you mobile (driving doesn’t count). If you use public transport, get off a couple of stops early and walk to work.

2. Maintain your sleep routine

gunnery sergeant hartman get up

Your body likes routines. Remember when back in school, you had that party till what, sleep till whenever mode? Your body didn’t like that very much, did it? Stick to specific hours for waking up and going to bed, and you’ll find you’re much less stressed about things. Just remember – no snoozing the alarm, no (excessive) late-night Game of Thrones marathons, and definitely no midnight visits to Mr. Fridge and his dishonorable friend, Ser Pantry.

But remember that it’s not about having a customisable winter routine – it’s super important that you do not alter your routine when the days start getting shorter. Shorter days are basically the Universe’s way of tricking you into believing you need to adjust yourself to the rules of astronomy. You do not. If you’re used to getting up at 7 – get up at 7, even if it’s still dark. It will get lighter, trust me (unless you live above the Arctic circle, then – good luck).

3. Technology may (or may not) help

Quick update for those of you who have been cryogenically frozen for the past fifty years – we’ve come up with a lot of technological solutions for nearly every problem out there. Lack of light is no exception. You might have already heard of lamps that people use to emulate sunlight. A quick search on Amazon produced this lamp that essentially simulates sunrise, and one that promises to target seasonal affective disorder directly.

What does science say? Here’s a direct quote from WebMD, everyone’s go-to virtual doctor: “many studies have shown that people with seasonal affective disorder feel better after exposure to bright light.


Though we suspect many of these studies were done by a certain dr. KGB.

However, the article goes on to say, that recharging your body is not quite as simple as hovering a lamp over it (it does sound a bit silly when I put it like that, doesn’t it?). A quick poll around our office sunlight lamp users revealed their success rate to be around 50 percent.

By all means, use special lamps, they might just do the trick. But remember – it’s more about getting that light the natural way, waking up at the right time and not wasting actual daylight. Staring into a lightbox at 3 AM won’t do you any favours.

4. Keep busy

This could mean a wide range of things. I find that if I’ve got a challenging task ahead at work, it helps keep me from noticing the dreary tones outside. But as you may know, workplace challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and not all are invigorating. If you find yourself in a bit of a rut at your workplace, consider a hobby. I draw. Not much better than a child, but it gives me something to focus on (and again, there’s that endorphin reward when you finish it). Just make sure it’s not something stress-inducing, like needlework.

threading a needle frustration

Welcome to hell.

So, in short – keeping doing stuff. Oh, and one more thing – always remember that your activities could, nay – should – involve other people, family and friends. I think you’ll find that darkness doesn’t like socializing much.

What’s your secret weapon for dealing with winter blues? Let us know in the comments.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. If you find yourself struggling more than you should, consider seeing a healthcare professional. Don’t just google symptoms.

November 26, 2014