This article is one of a three-part series focused on how to maximize efficiency and productivity and start the year strong, during what historically has been one of the lowest-performing months – January.
Returning to work in January after a long holiday can be dreadful. There are few upcoming social events and activities to look forward to, and any planned vacations are likely months away. In most places, it’s cold outside and gets dark before the typical workday is even over, with seasonal affective disorder impacting many workers during this period. In fact, some research suggests it’s the least productive time of the year.
Workers complete the fewest amount of tasks in January (7.2%) while they complete the highest amount in October (9.5%) according to an analysis of user data from Redbooth, a project management software company. And it doesn’t pick up much in February — the second least productive month, that report found. But slower work months present an opportunity for workers to shift their perspectives and reset priorities and goals they hope to achieve in the coming months, with limited external factors now getting in the way.
Ultimately, it’s a great time to “do the things that you never have time for,” said Rae Ringel, president of the Ringel Group, an executive coaching and leadership training firm. “Don’t fix your roof in the rain, fix your roof on a sunny day, and if things are slow, what opportunities might open up during that slow time?” she said.
Here are some tips from experts on how to ease back into work and set yourself up for a successful year ahead.
Set growth and development goals for the next year
Coming off of performance review season, January and February are prime times for examining long-term strategies and growth and development opportunities and goals, both from managers’ and employees’ perspectives. “That’s another thing that we always want to do, but we never get to do because we’re so busy doing the work,” Ringel said.
Managers should take a closer look at team health and team building opportunities, and what learning and training programs might be needed to get certain staff to the next level. Employees should continue having conversations about their growth with their supervisors and supervisors should make themselves available for those discussions, before the real work starts to pick back up.
Reflect and see the impacts of your work
One way to help boost team and individual morale is by taking the time during slower months to tune into how impactful your work has been so far. For example, Ringel works with nonprofit organizations that are typically so busy throughout the year with fundraising efforts that “they never see the people they’re helping,” Ringel said.
She encourages them to bring staff on-site to either volunteer or see the people and organizations they’re supporting. “Go see the impact of your work. Go touch it, go feel it. You got to fill up your tank. When your tank is on empty, you gotta fill it up with inspiration,” she said.
“Figure out why what you’re doing really matters, because if we know what we’re doing matters and is connected to a higher purpose or goal, we’re likely to approach it with more energy,” said Scott Baker, principal behavioral scientist at coaching platform BetterUp.
Revitalize your workspace
The new year is also a great time to take a closer look at one’s workspace and what tweaks may be needed to ensure it’s an optimal environment to be productive in once the busier months arrive. Companies are firming up their hybrid arrangements and expectations around remote work, in turn allowing staff to make firmer commitments around what their home office spaces look like and if they’re serving them best.
“Rearrange your desk, try out a new organizational tool, add a touch of greenery. Not only will it make the post-holiday transition smoother, but a rejuvenated workspace can work wonders on the mind,” said Avery Morgan, chief communications officer at EduBirdie, a writing resource website. “When everything seems dull the only way to beat the blues is to make a change,” she said.
Develop doable self-care routines
Slower work months and the new year are ripe for revisiting self-care routines and how you take care of yourself outside of work. Many people turn to New Year’s resolutions around fitness and nutrition and can more actively work to incorporate those lifestyle changes before work, social events and other outside forces pick back up. Setting attainable goals is key though, Baker said.
“Choose something that you know you can do and then you build the confidence and it becomes a habit, and then you can actually start to make it bigger as opposed to starting too big too early, and then you fail,” Baker said.
“You’ve had time to recharge over the holidays — now you need to work hard to keep yourself in optimal condition. Develop self awareness, time management, a varied routine, and health conscious decision making as a priority to avoid early burnout,” Morgan said.
Don’t get too hard on yourself
“Part of it is just accepting that wow, my motivation or my energy fluctuates, and if I can accept that and be kind to myself as a result of that, then I don’t get caught up in this kind of destructive cycle of ‘I’m not getting as much done as I think I should,’ where I start beating myself up which then can kind of further bring us down,” Baker said.
“I think that from a mindset perspective, just acceptance and self-compassion oftentimes is one of the best places to start,” he said.