NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When the weather gets cold and dreary and it's already dark by the time you leave your office, it can be difficult to stay motivated. Although you may feel like going into hibernation between December and February, there's still work to be done and slacking can cost you. No matter how much you'd rather pull the covers over your head, winter can actually be one of the most productive times of the year -- if you follow these three simple rules:
1. Make lists and create attainable goals.
The cold weather may make you lethargic and unmotivated at work, but making a list of tasks to accomplish each day or each week can help you stay connected to your work, says Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing for Dale Carnegie Training.
"Setting small goals can also help you get things done while maintaining your productivity and momentum to keep you invested in projects at hand," Palazzolo says.
Starting small is key, says Morag Barrett, CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR and leadership development firm.
"Think baby steps, not giant leaps," Barrett says. "Too often I see people create a laundry list of things to be done to achieve their goal and get overwhelmed. I have also seen people who think they should be able to 'leap buildings in a single bound' and create action steps that are simply too big for the average human to manage, and again get disillusioned."
Barrett advises employees in the winter doldrums to identify one item that can be done immediately -- today -- that can move you closer to a goal, whatever that goal may be.
"Do it, feel the sense of satisfaction in achieving this step, and keep doing it," she says. "Over time you will pick up momentum and successfully reach your goal."
Keep in mind that your goals don't always have to be career-related to keep you motivated at work -- even having a goal of losing the extra pounds you put on over the holidays can help inspire you to wake up earlier and get more out of your day, Barrett explains.
2. Be social.
Making friends at work can improve your engagement and overall presence at the office, Palazzolo says, and planning an afterwork activity with your team is a great place to start. According to a recent Dale Carnegie study, 54% of employees are engaged when they believe their manager cares about their personal life.
"This interaction and connection at work can motivate you to be more productive," Palazzolo says.
If you feel like you never have time in your schedule to be social, it's OK to make that one of your goals for the season, says Amanda Augustine, job search expert for TheLadders.
"Give yourself one big goal to work towards during the winter months. This could be related to your professional or personal life, such as becoming more involved in charity work, getting rid of your credit card debt, focusing on your professional development or conquering a fear that's held you back in the past," she says.
When you feel you've accomplished at least part of your goal, reward yourself by being even more social -- you might start with something small such as treating yourself to a mani-pedi or a nice dinner out with friends, Augustine says.
If you feel discouraged, remember that different people require different forms of motivation to keep their spirits up and their interest in social activities high.
"The key is to find out what works for you and incorporate that activity into your daily routine," she says. "Whether it involves meditation, a kickboxing class, journaling or looking at cute baby animals online, find what works for you and make time each and every day to lift your spirits and get in the right mindset to take on the day."
"During the winter, exercise can be beneficial to your productivity, particularly related to your work life," Palazzolo says.
For those who don't mind rising early, Palazzolo explains that waking up earlier can potentially inspire more energy throughout the day. Additional morning light and the ability to have a leisurely morning rather than a rushed one can help combat feelings of sluggishness, he says.
If you've spent the past few months indulging in fattening holiday foods, Jef Holove, CEO of health technology company Basis, says that instead of attempting to break those bad habits, the best way to stay motivated is to focus on developing good ones.
"Thinking positively about the small changes you can incorporate in to your established routine helps to ensure success, even on the toughest of winter days," Holove says, adding that it's important to track your progress so you know how you're doing.
"You can't improve what you don't measure," he says, noting that tangible results can be "a big motivator for continued achievement."
In addition to an increase in energy level, those who work out may also notice a reduction in stress and an improvement in mood, Augustine says.
"Find a type of workout that works for you -- bonus points if it's an outdoor activity where you can soak up some natural sun rays at the same time," she says. "If you have trouble working out on a regular basis, enlist a friend to join a class with you. You're more likely to go when you make the commitment with a loved one."