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3 step cycle to improve work performance

Mark Quadros 6 min read
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Most people only think about their work performance during an annual performance appraisal, which in most cases is way too late. After all, improving work performance is not an overnight process. There is no secret hack. Instead, it takes creating a system based on the mutual interaction of different strategies, tools, and of course, a lot of experimentation.

A good place to start is by measuring your current performance and going about it with a clearly defined agenda. In this article, I share a systemized approach to improve work performance by following a 3 step cycle you apply to pretty much any job case scenario. So let’s dive in!

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How to improve your performance at work

Step 1. Audit and find what you want to improve

Improving anything starts with auditing where you’re currently at. After all, it’s next to impossible to improve something without knowing what it is you want to improve. Similarly, improving your performance at work is too vague a strategy. It needs to be fine-tuned to optimize specific areas at work: Do you want to reduce work time? Then you most likely need to adopt time management practices. Or maybe you fail to meet deadlines, which is probably due to lack of organization.

As you can see, there are many areas of improvement at work (read: time management, organization, efficiency, etc.), and each area requires a different strategy. For this reason, it’s crucial to track and measure your current work performance to find your areas of improvement at work. Below I’ve shared are a few best practices you can adopt at your workplace:

  • Use task management tool to manage and keep track of your workweek.
  • Integrate your task manager with trackers to track vital performance metrics. For example, a time tracker to find the time taken for specific tasks.
  • After a considerable period (at least 3 weeks), export the data into a spreadsheet to measure and evaluate your current work performance.

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Step 2. Adopt relevant strategies but keep your goals in check

At this point, you’ll know exactly where you stand in terms of work performance—and these insights will help you create relevant strategies to improve upon those areas. However, improving work performance can go on for weeks (if not months), and without the right set of goals, you’ll lack focus and direction to go on. For instance, you can’t simply say, “I want to reduce my work time,” and expect it to happen.

Enter: S.M.A.R.T Goals

S.M.A.R.T goals are a goal-setting framework that brings structure and trackability into your goals:

SSpecificWhat needs to be accomplished and what strategies will you implement?
MMeasurableWhat data needs to be measured for the goal? What’s deemed success or failure?
AAchievableIs the goal doable? Do you have the skills and capabilities to achieve it?
RRelevantHow does the goal align your professional goals? Why is the result important to you or your organization?
TTime-BasedWhat is the deadline for the goal?

woman standing on a bar graph holding a laptop with a board

For better understanding, I’ll share an instance where I used the S.M.A.R.T. framework to improve my work performance: I work as a content writer for SaaS and recently set a goal to reduce work time, but this goal is too vague, so let’s turn it into a smart goal:

S: Reduce time spent writing a single blog article from 5 hours to 3 hours by adopting a structured Pomodoro technique
M: Then, I’ll need to measure time using a time tracker tool so that I can compare it against my current writing time.
A: I’ve been writing for several months, and have enough experience to improve my writing speed.
R: My current goal is to reduce work time and focus on other personal activities like hiking, dancing, and learning the ukulele.
T: I will complete this goal by 30th September 2019 (which gives me about one month).

Finally, here’s what my S.M.A.R.T goal would look like: “Reduce writing time by 2 hours by adopting a structured Pomodoro work style to free up time for personal activities by 30th September 2019.”

Similarly, you need to breakdown your work performance goals into a clearly defined plan of action as opposed to something vague. But remember, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Instead, what’s essential is to measure your work performance, find gaps, and adopt strategies that work best for you. Shared below are a few techniques you can adopt to improve work performance:

  • Avoid multitasking, and adopt unitasking to focus on one task. This avoids dividing attention that, in turn, improves overall efficiency.
  • Use task boards to break up complex workweeks into actionable goals and objectives.
  • Manage workplace distractions by integrating blockers to remove any triggers. For example, if you’re distracted by constant emails, use a blocker to block emails when you’re working.

Step 3: Review progress and adapt accordingly

A huge part of improving work performance is ensuring you’re still on track. This is where a personal performance review comes in and helps you identify what’s working and more importantly, what’s not working for you. Now, there are no specific rules to carry this out, but you most definitely don’t have to keep it formal, like in a typical corporate review. Share below are a few ways to carry out a personal performance review:

  • Make sure to space out performance reviews (read: min 2 weeks) to collect reliable data.
  • Clean up tracked data into spreadsheets to depict the most relevant performance metrics.
  • Evaluate progress with your smart goals and take appropriate measures:
  • If things worked out, great! Set higher goals.
  • If things didn’t work out, find out why.

Remember, we’re all human, so don’t be surprised if you haven’t seen a considerable improvement. Instead, use this as an opportunity to fine-tune strategy.

Take a break when you need one

You don’t have to peak your productivity each day, so if you feel like you’ve reached your limit, stop and take some time off! Taking a break is not a weakness, but instead, it’s a smart strategy to rejuvenate and come back to your work with higher energy. At the end of the day, it all comes down to measuring progress and optimizing your workplace to something that works best for you.

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