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The word productivity can be intimidating to many of us. You could even say it’s like you’re chasing a kite. You keep running after it, and just when you think you’ve caught it, it slips from your grasp.
But being productive isn’t about burning the midnight oil, keeping busy, or being a workhorse. Neither is it about chasing unobtainable, elusive goals. It’s centred around protecting your time, planning, and prioritising. Later, I’ll talk about what the results of a productivity survey can tell us about characteristics very efficient people share.
First, though, let’s look at some traits, habits, and skills productive people have in common.
Habits of productive people
They’re aware of what’s important.
To paraphrase workplace effectiveness coach, Sara Caputo, not everything can be important. People who are very efficient can differentiate between vital and trivial tasks. As I highlighted in a previous post about marketing productivity, being truly productive is about getting the right things done.
Caputo suggests you need to set aside time to plan your daily, weekly, and monthly goals based on your values and aspirations.
They plan ahead.
Planning your day ahead of time helps you hit the ground running the following morning. You don’t need to waste time working out where you need to start.
They have good decision-making skills.
Productive people who are derailed by unexpected events or interruptions can make decisions that help them get back on track fast. Soon, they’re back to getting the most important tasks done.
They know how to safeguard their priorities.
According to Laura Stock, of Productivity Pro, people who are highly efficient are sure about what their working towards and have clear direction. For them, priorities determine aims, and goals determine actions that need to be taken. Moreover, they know how to delegate tasks to others so that they can spend their own energies wisely, doing high-value work which moves them closer to their objective.
What’s more, they are confident enough to say no which helps them maintain healthy boundaries. Thus they can make time for important tasks each day without having to deviate from their schedule. They know they can’t say yes to all requests and remain productive. You can practice setting boundaries and saying no. Becoming more comfortable with setting yourself boundaries is sure to do wonders for your personal efficiency.
They know how to remain focused.
They’ve taught themselves how to focus and tune out all distractions so that they can concentrate on the task at hand. If you haven’t quite got the knack of focusing, don’t fret! Anyone can cultivate this useful skill with practice.
They’re able to problem-solve.
Productive people have a much more positive attitude to overcoming challenges than unproductive folk. They recognise that there’s a problem or that they’re unproductive and start figuring out ways they could improve or fix the issue, rather than falling into negative thinking patterns.
They’re highly organised.
If you’re disorganised, you’ll have to spend more time finding files, phone numbers and the like, which means that you’ll have to surrender your focus more often. Once you’ve lost focus, it’ll take you a while to get it back. Thus, you end up wasting still more time.
Efficient people, by contrast, have systems they use to help them find anything they need to support their work. They can find what they want quickly and are able to regain their focus more quickly.
This one is about a person’s willingness to be accountable. Efficient people are unafraid to shoulder personal responsibility and are on a continuing mission to improve themselves. They consistently meet deadlines, fulfil promises and commit to teamwork. In short, they exercise discipline.
They use the right tools.
Some of us might wait until we’ve achieved a particular goal and only then invest in a better computer, a more appealing website, or new video editing software. Productive people, on the other hand, make sure they have access to all the tools and resources they need to produce their best work, according to Rettig. It makes sense when you think about it. By making sure you have all the tools you may need before you start, you’ll be able to maximise your productivity as you work towards your goals.
They continue to learn.
Productive people seek out answers to questions they can’t answer. If they find they lack a skill they need, they work to acquire the training or skills they lack. Their positive can-do attitude and high motivation help them make things happen.
Clearly, if you can develop and foster these 10 habits, you’ll be well on your way to becoming more efficient. Shortly, I’ll share some ways you can start to become more efficient. Now, it’s time to look at some research into productivity and what it can tell us.
What makes someone productive?
A survey published by HBR.org in 2018, sought to help professionals gauge their personal productivity. Personal productivity was defined as habits linked to getting more done each day. It focused on 7 habits, including devising routines, delegating tasks to colleagues, dealing with messages, and developing communication skills.
While the research is limited, because the data is derived from those who read HBR.org, nevertheless the findings provided useful insights.
Three patterns were identified. Working more hours doesn’t mean you’re going to be more productive. Working smarter is the way to go. Second, as you grow older and gain more seniority in your profession, your personal productivity increases. Third, while the overall productivity scores recorded were similar, there were variations in habits fostered to improve efficiency.
Researchers discovered that people with the top productivity scores had developed the same habits. They planned well by deciding on their highest priorities and then working towards a definite goal. They used effective techniques to help manage their large workload and deal with lots of information. They could also manage short meetings and gave clear directions to their colleagues so that the efficiency of the whole team increases.
There were some notable differences in how men and women become productive.
Here’re some things women did to be productive.
- They were more likely than men to send out agendas in advance of meetings, keep them short and finish with an agreement on what steps to take next.
- Women were also more likely to prepare their calendar before meetings and answer important messages quickly.
Here’re some ways men were efficient.
- They were better able to cope with receiving a high volume of messages by paying the most attention to important emails and not checking their messages too often.
- Men were more likely to keep gaps in their schedules, work quickly towards an objective and to create outlines before writing messages or memos.
More senior workers were found to be more productive through better planning, good communication, and getting a lot done. Similarly, respondents who fell into the higher age bracket were found to be more efficient. This may be because, as they grow older and become more experienced, they learn how to work smarter, create useful time-saving techniques, and delegate effectively.
Next, let’s see what we can do to increase our own productivity, based on what we’ve found out.
How to increase my productivity
What can you take away from this research to help boost your productivity?
Here’re some helpful tips I’ve come up with.
- Work out what your top priorities are, plan your work around them and then work towards a concrete goal.
- Look at your schedule the night before to sort out what’s most important. Write down your objectives for each meeting on your calendar.
- Remember to send out agendas to all involved before meetings.
- Create an outline before you write anything of length so it’s easier for you to stay on track.
- Ask yourself what the specific purpose of reading lengthy texts is before reading them.
- Make sure you leave time in your schedule to deal with unplanned events or emergencies.
- Don’t be tempted to check your devices or messages too often. Once an hour should be enough.
- Be consistent and work for an expected result, so that you’ll fall into a pattern of productivity. That way, you’re productivity levels are less likely to peak and trough over time.
- Work to gain new knowledge and skills so you’ll be more likely to know what you’re doing, so you won’t find yourself sacrificing quality for speed.
- Take initiative, try to anticipate problems and solve them.
- Check the subject lines and senders of your emails to sort out which are the most important.
- If possible, delegate tasks that don’t further your main priorities to others.
- Keep meeting as short as you can so you can then respond quickly to important messages.
- Grab an audience’s attention by speaking from notes rather than reading from a prepared presentation.
- To help improve team efficiency develop procedures designed to minimise future mistakes and don’t engage in the blame game.
- Be willing to commit to making collaborative efforts and work as a team.
Let’s wrap this up. We’ve explored some of the most common habits of highly productive people. The good news is, these are skills and traits that anyone can acquire given a little time, patience, and practice. I hope I’ve given you the confidence to take steps towards becoming more productive yourself. Before long, you’ll be the person everybody admires and even envies as you produce high-quality work, fast! Follow the tips given in this post to get a head start today!