You may have heard that highly productive people wake up at 4 am, run 10 miles, and attain enlightenment before sunrise. But that’s not always true. Rather, they come in many varieties ranging from late risers, early risers, singles, couples, and family members.
So what are the most common traits of highly productive people? They are constantly working on optimizing themselves, regardless of whether they are entrepreneurs, employees, or both. As part of self-optimization, one of the keys is to build strong habits. By adopting the right habits, you can save time, energy, and willpower.
Listed below are 16 habits highly productive people possess. Whether it’s ways to spend less time on emails or ways to stay focused, these productivity tips can help you maximize your efficiency.
1. Ability to take initiative and make decisions on your own.
A high performer doesn’t need managers or supervisors to tell them what to do. Instead, they seek apt information to finish a project on their own. For example, they could get in touch with the project manager who has worked on a similar assignment.
Even better, they’re willing to attend conferences, enroll in training programs, read enlightening books and even attend night classes if necessary. Why? Because this can develop their careers, they will take on more responsibilities and take on new ways of working.
2. They’re organized and structured.
The majority of productive people maintain some form of organization system throughout the day that helps them stay focused. There’s probably some sort of desktop storage, as having a clean workspace reduces work-related stress and cuts down on time spent finding stuff.
Having an excess of clutter, whether it’s physical or digital, distracts the brain and slows work performance since it’s trying to assess the mess and mitigate the task. A well-organized workspace improves efficiency and creates structure, which improves the quality of work.
They also have a routine in place. It’s critical to follow a routine so you can delegate time and make sure you stay on top of what you need to do. Whether it’s a physical notebook carried around or an online platform, like a calendar app, a productive employee shows this by integrating job resources into one place. While routines might seem confined or rigid, they actually give you the flexibility to figure out what works for you instead of just winging it.
3. They know their priorities and protect them.
According to Laura Stack, MBA, president of The Productivity Pro® and author of The Six Keys to Performing at Your Productive Best, highly productive people are clear on their direction.
Furthermore, they do the right things, not just the things that need to be done. Stack adds that “value determines priority; priority determines goals; and goals determine activities.”
In addition, they delegate. Basically, they don’t waste time on things that can be handled by someone else. Rather, they focus on “where their energy is best spent,” says Sara Caputo, MA, productivity coach, consultant, and trainer at Radiant Organizing.
They also know how to “say no, and maintain healthy boundaries,” says Hillary Rettig, productivity coach and author of the forthcoming book The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Writer’s Block. In Stack’s view, productive “people control their schedules, so they can make time for important activities. They know they can’t be available to everyone every day.”
A person’s ability to say no, set boundaries and delegate are all “nonnegotiable success skills that can be learned and practiced,” Rettig says.
4. Take strategic breaks.
People who are highly productive not only set the right priorities but also schedule breaks accordingly.
You cannot achieve satisfactory results if you work too much and neglect your health. Because of that, you need to keep an eye on your health, as well as your business. What’s more, breaking away from the everyday business can sometimes lead to new opportunities and be eye-opening.
Likewise, you should schedule short breaks every day, to make sure you’re productive. During these breaks, you should move your body, eat nutritious food, and drink a lot of water.
In terms of increasing my productivity, I also have found the Pomodoro Technique to be highly effective.
The Pomodoro Technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing on one task without interruption. After that, you take a five-minute break before working without distraction for 25 minutes again.
I would add that you don’t get too hung up on the exact timeframes. The idea is to schedule blocks of time for undisturbed work, followed by a short break.
5. Drive for results.
“Most people are willing to accept responsibility for accomplishing goals and to work at a reasonable pace to achieve expected results,” write Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman for HBR. “But there are a few people who have a great desire to accomplish results sooner and quicker.”
“They are overjoyed to be able to check something off their to-do list,” they add. “They’re competitive — and they compete not only with their colleagues but also with themselves.” Their goal is to set new records in performance and then beat those records.
6. Make deep work a habit.
Occasionally, a task is just too difficult. However, in order to achieve real results, deep work must be done.
All of us have a few daily tasks that can be almost done while we’re sleeping. In fact, it may be difficult to get in the zone with these tasks because they aren’t particularly interesting. That’s probably why you listen to your favorite music to plow through them.
Then again, some tasks are just too challenging. It’s impossible to multitask your way to completion. The best way to accomplish them is to devote a lot of time and mental energy to them. The work described here is known as “deep work.”
This type of work is discussed in Newport’s bestseller Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. According to Newport, those who master intense focus have a huge advantage over others who cannot.
The following are a few of Newport’s recommendations for cultivating deep work:
- Schedule deep work. Make deep work a habit every day, perhaps in the morning when you have the most energy. You can make deep work a habit by setting aside regular time for it.
- Become bored. The idea of being bored as a productive habit may seem counterintuitive. Yet boredom is an important part of life. We seek distractions when bored or frustrated because deep work isn’t always enjoyable. Get more comfortable doing nothing, and avoid social media as much as possible.
- Make yourself harder to reach. People who contact you should do more work upfront to reduce the amount of email and other distractions. Provide as much information in your emails as possible so people can research their questions. For you, it’s important to spend time communicating instead of sending a quick email.
- Be aware of your work habits. Are you more productive in isolation? How about periodic breaks? Is your schedule hectic? Just set aside some time for deep work rather than overhauling your entire schedule.
Overall, people who excel at deep work are highly productive.
7. Use feedback to improve performance.
Being open to feedback and taking it constructively is crucial to personal and professional growth. In fact, feedback is how high performers evaluate their efficiency and find areas where they can improve. Because of that, they’ll always ask for feedback regarding their performance.
Moreover, the feedback received will also provide the opportunity to develop fresh, innovative ideas.
8. They possess emotional intelligence.
“Your emotional intelligence is just as important as your street smarts and general knowledge,” writes Hunter Meine in a previous Calendar post. “This is how you’re able to connect with people, build relationships, and express emotions in a healthy manner.” Emotional intelligence consists of five categories:
- Social Skills
As a result of developing emotional intelligence, you can become a better friend, family member, and employee. And, if productive people need to step up their EI game, they strengthen it by:
- Taking up meditation.
- Enrolling in classes for personal growth.
- Adding service to their schedule.
- Asking others for help.
- Unplugging more often.
9. Maintain a positive outlook.
Researchers found that those who wrote positive thoughts after the study were significantly less anxious and stressed over the next four weeks. When people engage in this at work, they will project a more positive environment and become more engaged and team-oriented than those who let challenges discourage them.
When it comes to working efficiently, having a can-do attitude is the key. For example, the negativity of a co-worker has a profound impact on not only the mood of others but the project itself as well. Positive mindsets, on the other hand, are the ones that can instill confidence in themselves and others around them. You’ll have better morale, more willingness to collaborate, and more productivity with a positive attitude.
10. They seek inspiration.
In truth, we all have times when we feel demotivated and need to be inspired. A highly productive person, however, has clear sources of inspiration that are effective for them.
Walking in the fresh air, making a vision board with all their goals and dreams, or talking with a close friend or relative might be helpful. It doesn’t matter. What motivates and inspires you is less important than how you get there. The most important thing, however, is that you have a source of inspiration you can refer to whenever you feel unmotivated.
11. To stay focused, they keep a distraction list.
When you’re trying to be productive, it’s easy to get distracted by emails, social media, and a thousand little tasks. However, there are no escaping distractions when it comes to productivity, whether you’re working on deep tasks or just dealing with smaller things. It’s hard to maintain efficient work habits with distractions around.
One powerful method of minimizing distractions? Creating a “distraction list.”
While you are working, keep this list nearby – whether it is a Google Doc or a physical document. You can write down distractions on the list whenever they occur and get back to work as soon as possible.
The Pomodoro Technique uses this technique because many of your distractions are legitimately requiring attention.
When I’m deep in work and suddenly recall a bill to pay or have an idea for a new blog post, I should pay attention to those thoughts.
It’s not that they deserve my attention. At the moment, they simply don’t deserve it.
Write down your thoughts as they arise during your work. As soon as you’ve taken a break from your work, you can get back to them or add them to your larger task list.
12. The ability to work well with others and network effectively.
Because they tend to seek out like-minded people, high performers value building relationships. By establishing connections with other sources, they develop strong networking skills when it comes to gathering information and knowledge for their organizations. As a result, they are constantly growing their network of contacts within and outside the workplace.
High performers are innovative and are willing to invest in their personal development due to their innovative attitude. In turn, their skills will become more valuable.
13. They don’t make themselves too accessible.
I’ve allotted to this while discussing deep work. But let’s explain this in more detail.
According to Warren Buffett, saying no is the key to success. As Buffett has famously said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Being an entrepreneur, especially in the beginning, can be tempting to attend as many events as possible, network, and take advantage of every opportunity. However, highly productive individuals aren’t overly accessible.
The focus is instead on increasing their own performance and focusing on what is relevant.
Certainly, collaborating and saying yes to a project can open doors. The problem is that if you say yes to everything and are too open, you will never be able to reach high levels of productivity.
14. Sharpen the axe.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
It is debated whether Lincoln actually said this or not. But there is an important lesson here: staying sharp is vital to being productive.
A modern example can be found in the success of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, both of whom credit books for much of their success. They could make faster and more accurate decisions by reading, learning, and getting better at their trade.
“Neither Warren nor I is smart enough to make the decisions with no time to think. We make actual decisions very rapidly, but that’s because we’ve spent so much time preparing ourselves by quietly sitting and reading and thinking.”
Ultimately, you need to take time to improve, and you’ll be able to handle many situations more effectively.
15. They optimize time pockets.
People who are highly productive know how to make the most of their time. After all, there’s so much you can do in your free time.
You can make the most of your time while waiting in a waiting room, driving to work, or doing your groceries, for example. Personally, I use these times to listen to an inspiring podcast, return emails, or evaluate my to-do list.
16. They’re under external pressure.
External pressure can push them beyond what they can normally do because it pushes them to meet deadlines, make sales to earn commissions, or just finish their work in time to pick up their kids.
In other words, the stakes are high for them. And, flow is created when that happens.
Create a situation that forces you to produce a result – referred to as a “forcing function” by Dan Martell. For example, not bringing a charger for a laptop so you can work faster.
When you use forcing functions to work, you’ll get more drive than you would in a less-demanding scenario. It is hard to achieve your highest potential when there is no pressure or urgency. If you had everything we needed to succeed, you would probably take forever.