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While improving your business skills is important, sometimes it’s the tiny changes to the way you work—and the way you approach work—that make the biggest difference in productivity. In this post, we’ll explore three data-backed strategies to help you be more productive in 2023.

How do you determine whether or not you’ve had a successful year in business? Most likely, you compare the financial outcomes of the current year with the prior one.

Did you make more money?

Did you get new clients? Was it more than you had the previous year?

Were you able to raise your rates?

None of these gains happen just because a new year has come and gone. It happens because you’ve learned better, faster and smarter ways to work. It is through your own personal and professional growth that your business is able to grow.

So, what will you do in 2023 to ensure that you have another successful year? In this post, I’ll run through different productivity tricks that can help you maximize your output in the coming year.

Productivity Tips for 2023

There’s a lot of data out there right now about worker productivity and what the common obstacles are that stand in their way. I’m going to reference a number of these studies as we look at the various productivity hacks you can explore this year:

1. Become More Goal-Oriented

I realize that goal setting within the context of something like New Year’s is a big joke to some people. But within the context of business, goal setting is no laughing matter. According to researchers, goals can be a big boon for productivity.

It’s all about which goals you choose and how you go about keeping yourself accountable to them.

For instance, a study called “The effect of goal setting on group performance” was published in 2011. While the focus was on the effect that goal setting had on teams of employees, the basic principles can be just as useful for anyone who works on their own.

According to the research, people perform better when they set specific goals for difficult tasks as opposed to non-specific ones. There’s also a performance boost associated with moderately difficult and easy tasks, though it’s not quite as significant a difference as the one seen for difficult goals.

There are a couple of lessons to take away from this research:

Make SMART Goals

When setting goals, make sure they’re SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

The more clear you get about what you’re working toward, the easier it will be to plan out the actions you’ll take to achieve them.

It will also be easier to know when you’ve actually reached a goal. When it’s something vague or subjective like “design higher quality websites,” it’s hard to define what success in that arena looks like and when exactly you’ve hit the goal. A better goal would be something like “design websites that increase organic search traffic by at least 15% within 3 months.”

Prioritize Your Big Rocks

Let’s say you have a bucket. This bucket represents the time you spend at work. You have big rocks, pebbles and sand to fill it with. These components represent the priority and difficulty of the tasks you need to get done and the goals you need to reach.

The Big Rocks approach to goal setting says that you should put the big rocks into your bucket first. It’s the only way to fit the greatest number of big rocks into the space. You can then fill in the gaps with as many pebbles and as much sand as it takes.

Your time is a lot like this bucket exercise. So when you create a list of goals and associated tasks, prioritize five to seven of your biggest goals. Only once you’ve completed them do you start to fill in gaps in your schedule with tasks of lower priority or value.

Not only does this strategy help with productivity, but it helps with profitability too. Bigger and more difficult projects and tasks tend to have a greater payoff. So by prioritizing them, you’ll get more of them done than if you were to constantly push them off until later.

Document Your Goals

There’s another study that we can learn from. This one comes from Gail Matthews, who set out to discover what made people most likely to accomplish their goals.

The study participants were broken up into five groups. Those who were asked to:

  1. Think about their goals
  2. Write down their goals
  3. Make commitments to take action
  4. Make commitments and then send those goals and commitments to a supportive friend
  5. Make commitments and then send goals, commitments and weekly progress reports to a friend

Group 1 performed the worst. Group 3 wasn’t far behind. Groups 2 and 4 performed similarly, while Group 5 greatly outperformed them all.

So there’s something to be said for, first, writing down your goals and, then, ensuring that there’s something who will keep you accountable to them. This is especially important when you work on your own and there are no employees or managers there to keep tabs on your progress.

2. Be More Aware of Where You Spend Your Time

Our lives are full of distractions these days. Just because you’re “on the clock,” that doesn’t change things. That is, unless you get really good about removing distractions.

If you’ve never tracked your time while working before, I’d suggest you give it a shot right now. An app like RescueTime or Timely will work best as they automatically track what you do throughout the work day.

Once you start to look at the reality of your workday, you’ll want to make immediate improvements. Even just looking at how distractions and inefficient workflows impact others might be enough to do that.

Here’s what the data says:

According to data shared by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the average worker visits 40 websites every day. In addition, they change focus from one activity to another 37 times an hour.

The number of apps we spend time in is also problematic (even the ones we use for work, which is why it’s important to consolidate as much as possible). According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work report, workers use nine apps every day. And over the course of each day, they move between those apps 25 times.

Multitasking and short attention spans are a huge problem for productivity.

According to Zippia, multitasking causes up to a 40% drop in productivity. What’s more, only 2% of people are capable of multitasking without it impacting their work. For most people, it takes roughly 23 minutes to refocus on what they were doing before getting distracted.

It’s not just multitasking or shorter attention spans that cause issues. For instance, 15% of deadlines are missed every week. Many people report this sort of thing happening as a result of:

  • Having too many meetings
  • Receiving too many messages
  • Having too much work on their plate

So, what’s the solution?

First, get a handle on where your time is going. You need to understand which websites, apps and other distractors are eating away minutes and hours from your day—and how much it’s actually costing you.

Then, come up with a better mode of scheduling. For instance, I know that I have about an hour of administrative work to do every morning. This means I can only book myself for a maximum of five hours of writing and design each day. And that’s exactly how I schedule out my assignments. Each has a time value associated with it and I ensure that I never go over my daily limit.

Finally, invest in some distraction-blocking technology—even if it’s something like Boomerang, which stops emails from coming into your inbox. Wherever you’re losing the most time is where you should put a blocker in place.

3. Use the 3M Framework

This is something I’ve been trying to implement within my professional and personal life for a couple of years now. I just didn’t realize it had a name or official strategy until now.

Dr. Sahar Yousef of UC Berkeley hosted a workshop on how to handle stress. During the presentation, Yousef provided tips on what we can all do to better avoid and manage stress. One of the suggestions was something she called the 3M Framework.

This framework consists of three types of breaks where you stop working, take a break from your responsibilities and mentally disconnect:

A macro break is a full- or half-day break that you take for yourself every month.

A meso break is a break that lasts between two and four hours and you do it once a week.

A micro break is one that lasts a few minutes and you take it once a day.

The reason why this disconnection is so critical to productivity is because it forces you to give yourself a real break.

Illustrated Telerik Ninjas show The 3M Break Framework, recommended by Dr. Sahar Yousef. Micro break - A few minutes each day. Meso break - 2-4 hours once a week. Macro break - A full- or half-day every month

You might feel like weekends and random days off for New Year’s or Labor Day are breaks, but think about how much you often end up doing on these days. You’re so busy during the workweek that everything else piles up. Laundry and chores. Grocery shopping. Seeing friends and family. Doctors’ appointments. Meal prep for the week. Hobbies. And so on. Even the time you spend on the road traveling between obligations can eat away at your so-called breaks.

So, why do these breaks matter?

89% of U.S. workers have experienced burnout. Worse, 40% of people believe that burnout is an inevitable part of being successful at work. With this sort of reality and mindset, it’s no surprise why so many people are so afraid to stop being on the go all the time.

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I need time off from the time off I do get. These 3M breaks are a way to ensure that your brain gets the much-needed space and decompression it needs to stay sharp and productive.

I’d also suggest that digital detoxing be a big part of these breaks. While the framework doesn’t explicitly say to disconnect digitally, there’s very good reason to.

Ofcom conducted research on digital detoxing. They asked 2,000+ adults and 500 teenagers to take a tech timeout. 25% spent a full day without the internet, 20% took off a week and 5% did it for a month.

Guess what they found?

  • 44% spent more time doing other things.
  • 38% spent more time with friends and family.
  • 33% felt more productive.
  • 27% said they felt liberated.
  • 25% reported greater enjoyment in their lives.

Think about how that extra time and energy boost could really help you at work (and in your personal life). So go out there and find some things you enjoy doing that don’t involve mobile apps, streaming services or YouTube videos.

Wrapping up

Productivity is something we’d all like to have more of.

And while you can make all the excuses in the world for why you missed a deadline last week, didn’t do enough prospecting this month, or generally struggled to focus on our work, there are various strategies you can employ to ensure that none of that happens. Or, at the very least, that it happens less frequently.

By being more goal-oriented, by being more stingy with where your time goes, and by disconnecting when you need it, you’ll find that productivity and profitability come much more easily to you over time.

About the Author

Suzanne Scacca

A former project manager and web design agency manager, Suzanne Scacca now writes about the changing landscape of design, development and software.

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