Three ideas for a more productive 2023

Backed by experts, we’ve focused on three tips to kick the year off more efficiently. 

If being more productive at work is one of your goals for 2023, there’s still time to crank it up! Although the New Year is already underway, these tips can come in useful at any time. And they’ve been tried and tested by experts.

To-do lists rule! Start each day with your own personalized to-do list, with tasks tailored to your larger goals which also fit into your own work style. Doing this effectively means first deciding which ones are really going move the needle for your organization, and this helps you to prioritize.

Keep in mind that not all the emails that drop into your inbox have the same importance, as quite often they’re sent in line with other people's calendars, not yours.

Make sure that you keep your most important tasks for the time when your brain works best. The world is divided into different kinds of people, such as the early bird type whose productivity is best in the morning, or the night owl type who work better at night.

Try not to waste your most creative time on non-critical administrative tasks; turn off email alerts, keep your phone at a distance, and plan the way you’re going to use that time to be as effective as possible.

*By Carter Cast, Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Micro-steps: going from less to more. The idea of starting by taking baby steps is an excellent motivator as we check something off on our to-do list. Try splitting up a task into many subtasks so that you can cross them off, encouraging you to keep going.

This approach was tested in an experiment held with 6,000 people who had credit repayment issues with their bank. The feeling of success that a person experiences by paying off their most modest debts first, instead of the ones with the highest interest rate, is called the “snowball” effect, and it also works with something as simple as a to-do list. If all you’re looking at is a huge mountain of an effort, it’s often very hard to know where to start. On the other hand, a feeling of success is conducive to keeping going.

*By Blake McShane, Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Keeping your determination from flagging. It's no coincidence that when New Year rolls around, we’re inspired to think about starting out strong. Research suggests that people place much more emphasis on getting things done right at the beginning and end of a task. The problem tends to happen in the middle, when we relax or lose sight of the goal.

An experiment with 98 coffee drinkers showed how this mechanism works. They were given "buy 9, get 10 free" cards with one, five and eight holes punched. They were then asked to imagine they were on a "caffeine detox program" to cut down on their intake. How bad would they feel about themselves if they gave in to the temptation to buy a coffee? The determination to stay on the caffeine detox path was stronger if they had five or eight holes punched while those with five punch holes were more ambivalent about the effort.

This shows that actions at the beginning and end of a sequence often tend to reflect our own personal standards rather than the actions we take (or not) in the middle. If we get off to a good start, whether it's for a year, a week, or a specific task, it's important not to get overconfident and continue to hang onto motivation, keeping our eye on the ball.

*By Maferima Touré-Tillery, Associate Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

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