Four Small Changes That Will Improve Your Career In 2018

When it comes to how effective you are at work, and how much stress you feel while being so, small changes can make a big difference.

Hey, you never know. Maybe 2018 will finally be the year you read 300 books, exercise every single day, or become a world champion of some activity you’ve never tried before. But just in case it’s not, may we suggest that you consider a more realistic (and perhaps more impactful) target for your New Year’s resolutions?

Try your work life, where small changes can make a big difference in your efficacy and stress levels. Here are four specific areas of work life we at Quartz at Work recommend targeting in 2018:

1. Stop procrastinating

Productive procrastination is a myth. Instead of rationalizing your delay, try one of these research-backed strategies for beating it:

Commit to just five minutes: Procrastination is often caused by fear. Committing to just five minutes, rather than beginning with the intention of completing an entire project or running an entire marathon, can help reduce inhibition and what psychologists call the “costs of an activity.”

Visualize your future self: When you procrastinate, you unload work from your current self to your future self. Psychologists at Northwestern, Stanford and Carleton universities have demonstrated how keeping that future self in mind can help you avoid procrastination.

2. Get organized

You don’t need to hire a productivity guru, get a masters degree in operations, or even make a daily commitment. Here are two simple ways to save time that involve minimal upfront investment.

Install these four apps: Quartz at Work contributor Tiago Forte has a simple system for managing email and tasks, and it starts with installing just four apps: a “read it later” app, a task manager, a digital calendar, and a digital cabinet. Corinne Purtill took his advice. “I am a prolific maker of lists and notes-to-self,” she says. “For years I have composed these little reminders everywhere: the Notes app on my phone, Evernote, unsent draft emails, and the old-fashioned Lois-Lane-reporter’s notebook I carry in my bag. This system works exactly as you would expect it to: fine, most of the time, with a few frantic searches for that really important thing I wrote down…somewhere.” After she tried Tiago’s system, she says, “my notes are now searchable and I feel more organized. I’m sure there’s a better way to catalogue the mounting number of files now piling up in the sidebar, but hey—now I have a productivity goal for 2018.”

Set aside 15 minutes each week to organize yourself: You’ll thank yourself for the daily stress that you’ll save by setting up a weekly review in which you plan for the week ahead and clear out your to-do list.

3. Give better feedback & get better at receiving feedback

Abundant research shows positive feedback is a key tool for creating healthy, productive teams. But managers hesitate to provide positive feedback for all sorts of reasons, ranging from fear of getting close to employees that they might need to fire to appearing weak or judgmental. Here is how to get better at giving feedback this year:

Follow a simple formula: Be specific, discuss the impact of the other person’s behavior, and show your gratitude.

Understand how to receive feedback: “In any exchange of feedback, it’s actually the receiver who is in charge, because they’re the one who decides what to listen to and how to make sense of it,” Sheila Heen, a Harvard University law school lecturer who studies feedback, told Quartz at Work earlier this year. “If you can get good at it, you can accelerate your own learning and you can learn from anybody; you don’t have to wait for the right mentor to show up, and you don’t have to wait until someone decides that they have time to give you some feedback. You can learn feedback-receiving skills so that you can learn even from givers who are terrible at it.”

4. Experiment with your routine

There is no single routine that will work for everyone. Finding your best self might involve some experimentation. Here are three that worked for us in the last year.

Get up earlier: This has been a game-changer for Quartz at Work reporter Corinne Purtill. “After the arrival of my second child last year, I fell into a habit of waking up in the morning to the sound of the baby’s cry,” she says. “Starting my day by reacting to something else made me feel like I was constantly catching up, a sense that often persisted through the morning rush and into the workday. But once the kid got into a more regular routine, and after I spent a week with the Rock Clock app, I started setting my alarm for 5:45am, about an hour before my kids rise. Game-changer. These days I’m showered, breakfasted, and have checked in with colleagues three time-zones ahead before the first little person starts yelling upstairs. I feel in control of my day again. Thanks Mr. Rock!

Block apps that suck your time: Quartz at Work contributing editor Khe Hy uses his phone’s parental-control feature to block news apps and help him focus. “I’m a 38-year-old dad, and I’m obsessed with my iPhone’s parental controls,” he wrote in an article for Quartz at Work. “No, it’s not because my kids use my phone to view questionable YouTube videos. It’s because I can’t stop myself from reading articles about Donald Trump.” Here’s how you can set up the same system. Another way to save screen time? Quartz at Work reporter Leah Fessler recommends using your phone’s voice-control feature to set reminders.

Understand whether you’re on “clock time” or “event time”: As Quartz at Work reporter Lila MacLellan explains, “Clock-time people, as the name implies, run their lives according to an arranged schedule, assigning tasks to interchangeable time blocks of various sizes,” while event-time people “allow events to dictate the rhythm of their days. When invited to dinner, they feel no pressing need to discuss what time that dinner might be held. Their version of setting up a phone chat might be, ‘I’ll call as soon as I’ve finished my lunch.’ And they’ll eat, by the way, when they’re hungry, not when the clock strikes a particular hour.” Understanding the difference between the two time philosophies can help relieve tension with people who might not share yours.