3 Fantastic Productivity Strategies I Recommend You Use In 2023

The year is coming to a close, and you’re taking stock. You’re reflecting on how you’ve done this year and how you could have done better. You’re making plans for what you can do differently next year.

I’m doing the same thing, reflecting on how the year has gone for me. My accomplishments for 2022 are mostly the personal kind, the kind you don’t tell twenty thousand people on Medium about. What I can tell you is, my accomplishments were made possible by the productivity strategies I’ve been using for over a decade now.

As anyone interested in productivity knows, most productivity strategies don’t work for most people. Most of the productivity hacks I’ve tried over the years left my life as soon as they arrived. But a few stood out to me above the rest, and I’ve been using them regularly since I started.

These are the three productivity tactics that work for me year in and year out. I recommend them to everyone for 2023.

1. Become a Minimalist So You Have Less to Deal With

“Love people, use things. The opposite doesn’t work.”
― Joshua Fields Millburn, Everything That Remains

You are probably tired of hearing about minimalism by now. But I’m still going to talk about it. That’s how good minimalism is.

It’s hard for me to overstate to you how good minimalism has been for me. I can say with complete sincerity that if I weren’t a minimalist, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Owning stuff weighs you down. That’s just a fact. The more stuff you own, the more it costs, the more it costs to store, the more time you must take to organize and clean, and maintain it, the more difficult and costly it is for you to move, etc.

For ten years, I’ve reaped the rewards of more money, more free time, and fewer errands and tasks around the house to do. For ten years, I’ve enjoyed sitting around my house, pursuing my hobbies, feeling relaxed because my home is clean, and the freedom to pick up and move or travel as it suits me. All thanks to minimalism.

A recent example from my life. My partner and I moved three thousand miles across the continental United States two months ago. Between the two of us, we own about enough stuff to furnish one 600sf apartment. Not very much! Even so, it cost us several thousands of dollars to move across 3000 miles. If we owned the average amount of stuff for two people in their early thirties, a house full of belongings, we simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to move. Period.

Even more dangerous than the financial and time cost of possessions, though, are the way they tie down your identity.

When we own something, we undergo a process called cathecting, which means to invest emotion in an object (or person, or idea). Sentimental items are the ultimate example of cathecting — you own sentimental items because and only because of their emotional value to you. But you cathect with non-sentimental items too, like your favorite house decor, your bookshelf full of books you never read, and the snowboard in your garage you haven’t used in ten years.

This is what it means to love things — to have an emotional attachment to them above and beyond their purpose, which is simply to provide a function to you.

I’ve noticed people love their possessions as a way of connecting themselves to a particular identity. As long as you own that snowboard, you can call yourself a snowboarder, even if you haven’t gone in a decade. As long as you own those books, you can say you’re a reader and book lover, even if the last time you read a book cover-to-cover was before the zoomers were born.

The toughest part of embracing a minimalistic lifestyle is not actually saying goodbye to your possessions, it’s saying goodbye to what your possessions mean to you. It’s painful to admit you’re not likely to take up regular snowboarding again for the next few years if you like to go around telling people how you love to snowboard. You lose your identity as ‘a snowboarder.’

Some will say this makes room for new hobbies in your life. Which is absolutely true — I wouldn’t have space for my watercolor paints if I still owned all the random clutter I discarded years ago. But this isn’t the most important benefit of letting go of old aspects of your identity.

The most powerful benefit is embracing that you don’t need to be something. You don’t need to tell people you’re a snowboarder, or a watercolorist, or anything else, to have value, and you know it.

As I approach my thirties, I see the people around me making big steps up in their careers and incomes — and immediately using their new money to buy stuff to bolster their identity. They buy the clothes, cars, and houses they think they need to feel good about themselves.

When I meet someone my age who owns multiple houses and cars, I feel briefly impressed, but then I feel sad. Any one of those cars could have paid for thirty girls’ schools in developing nations, or for fifteen trips to fifteen different nations, and you used it to… sit your sorry ass on some heated leather seats. Get your priorities straight.

Buying a cool car and holding on to your decade-old rock climbing gear doesn’t make you anything more than a person with a cluttered garage who’s five hundred dollars poorer every month. Pretending otherwise is keeping you stuck in your life and overwhelmed by the amount of stuff you (think you) have to get done.

If you’re new to minimalism or if you want to take your minimalism to the next level, I recommend reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s short and has lovely illustrations throughout, and most importantly: after you read this book, your life truly will be changed. Mine certainly was.

Let go of your clutter, and with it, the stories you tell yourself that hold you back. Make room for something new.

2. Track The Habits That Keep You Successful

“Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

— Aristotle

Think of all the things you’d love to accomplish in the next twelve months: Get in shape, save money, redo the bathroom, spend more time with your family, travel, whatever.

No matter what you name, they will all have one thing in common: There will be a habit you can establish to make that dream a reality.

  • Want to travel? Or save money? Open a savings account and set up an automatic transfer of whatever you can afford. Even someone who makes $15k a year can put away $50 a month for a road trip.
  • Want to get in shape? Be in better health? Climb a mountain? Start by walking two miles a day in your neighborhood.
  • Want to redo the fixer-upper bathroom? Spend a half hour a day looking up DIY guides.

One of the things keeping you from achieving your dreams is that you feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of effort it will take to accomplish them. But if you break this effort down into one small thing you can do every day, you don’t need to accomplish your entire goal. You just need to make sure you’ve done today’s work today, and that’s easy to do.

Once you tally up all the work you need to do to achieve your dreams on a given day, you can download a simple habit-tracking app to track your progress.

My habits list in TickTick

Here is how I use my habits list: Whenever I have a down moment during the day or feel like I “should” be doing something, I check my habits list like a menu, choosing to do whatever habit sounds good to me at that moment.

What I don’t do is shame myself for failing to complete habits. Most days I only complete one or two of them. That’s okay. The purpose of my habits list is to remind me my dreams are there and make it easy for me to make progress, not to make me feel bad about imaginary progress I fail to make.

When you use a habit tracker this way, you lose your sense of free-floating anxiety about whether you’ll achieve your dreams before you die. You have an app you can easily reference every day. Even just having that makes it exponentially more likely that you’ll make your dreams come true.

The number one mistake I see people make with habit apps is putting literally anything and everything that qualifies as “a habit” on their habit-tracking app: Brushing teeth, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, you name it. This will not make you more productive. If you flood your habit-tracking app with random habits you have to check off, all you’re doing is creating another to-do for yourself. You need the habits app to prompt you to do high-value activities that you are far less likely to do otherwise.

I find it useful to limit myself to a maximum of 6 daily habits. Any more, and my habits list starts to feel overwhelmingly long.

In sum, here is the best way to use a habits list to make your dreams come true:

  1. Make a list of your dreams
  2. For each dream, pick one thing you can do every day to make it come true.
  3. Download a habits app and make each thing one habit.
  4. (Bonus) Make a widget for your habits app and put it on your home screen, so you’re reminded every day.
My TickTick habits widget on my home screen

3. Make a To-Do List, But for Essential Tasks Only

“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.”
― Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist

You probably have a fraught relationship with your to-do list. Either you don’t have one because you learned to hate them, or yours is always out-of-date — and when you do bring it up to date, it has no less than 327 items on it. At which point you throw up your hands and say, “There’s no way this will all get done!”

I’ve had a to-do list since I was 13, but it has only been in this last year that I’ve finally figured out a way to use my to-do list that doesn’t stress me out and helps me get stuff done.

My entire to-do list in TickTick. Nothing below the fold!

All I do is follow this one rule:

Don’t put optional tasks on your to-do list.

You’re stressed out by your to-do list because of how long it is. But likely, the majority of the tasks on your to-do list are things that are completely optional.

For me, it was organization projects and entrepreneurial ideas. My three-hundred-item to-do list was jammed with tasks like “Organize photo filing system,” and “Create a landing page for [random startup idea I had in the shower],” tasks that both would take 5+ hours and were completely and utterly optional.

The best thing you can do for your productivity is to forget about these tasks entirely.

There’s a productivity tool called an Eisenhower Matrix that illustrates the point I’m making. First, you sort tasks by how important and how urgent they are, and then you take action based on each task’s classification.

The Eisenhower Matrix doesn’t work perfectly for everyone because most of us don’t have a team of cabinet members and staffers we can delegate tasks to. But the principle behind delete — otherwise called letting it go — can be used by everyone.

You have too much to do already. There is no perfect productivity system that will allow you to get to everything important and every little extemporaneous task you can think of and give you time to rest and relax and take care of yourself. If you know anyone who seems like they can, it’s either because…

  1. You think they are holding themselves to your unreasonable standards, or…
  2. Because they’re headed for a nervous breakdown.

If something is not important and not urgent, just let it go.

That doesn’t mean you can never do these tasks. It just means they don’t belong on your to-do list, making you feel overwhelmed and bad about yourself.

You may think you’ll let important things slip through the cracks by doing this. But it’s quite the opposite. You’re letting important things slip through the cracks right now by overfocusing on all these non-urgent and unimportant tasks. You’re so busy worrying about how you’re going to clean the garage that you’ve forgotten to sign your entire family up for health insurance for three weeks in a row!

After you read this article, do the following things:

  1. Make or update your to-do list.
  2. Sort all your tasks into an Eisenhower Matrix. You can do this easily using a to-do app like TickTick, or you can do it on paper.
  3. Look at your “nonurgent” and “unimportant” section. Delete everything on it.
  4. Review everything in every other section. Question thoroughly whether things are that important or that urgent. What will happen if you don’t do them tomorrow? This week? Never?

You will probably find fewer than 30 of the items on your to-do list are important enough for you to face serious consequences for not doing them.

Lest you still think your to-do list is full of important obligations, consider this: There are people all over the world right now who don’t have a to-do list at all whose lives are humming along just fine. The number of things they forget about would curl your hair and mine, but they’re doing okay. The things we think are so important are usually not that important.

In Conclusion

These are the three things I recommend you start doing in 2023 to skyrocket your productivity:

  1. Adopt minimalism if you haven’t already. The best thing you can do for your productivity is to take stuff off your plate, literally and figuratively. Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to get started.
  2. Start using a habits app to track habits — but only those habits which move you closer to your dreams. Stuffing your habits app with thirty low-priority habits will just add another overwhelming burden to your plate. Limiting yourself to 6 habits is a good guideline.
  3. Use your to-do list regularly, but only for tasks you actually need to do. It doesn’t help you to fill your to-do list with three hundred unimportant tasks and overwhelm yourself. If you’re doing it right, you probably won’t have more than 30 tasks.

Enjoy better productivity in 2023.