16 Habits of Highly Productive People

Likewise, they 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. As Stack says, productive “people control their schedules, so they can make time for important activities. They know they can’t be available to everyone every day.”

Sometimes, we might wait until we’ve truly made it or reached a certain goal until we invest in a better computer, a nicer website, a business coach or (insert any other item or service you’ve been waiting to buy or action you’ve been waiting to take). Productive people surround themselves with the right resources and workspace, Rettig says.

When you’re disorganized, that extra time spent looking for a phone number, email address or a certain file forces “you to relinquish your focus. Once it’s gone, it takes a while to get it back — and that’s where the real time is wasted,” Stack writes in her e-book, SuperCompetent: The Six Ways to Perform at Your Productive Best. (You can check out her books here).

Increase productivity and become highly efficient with these habits: Focus on most important tasks first. Cultivate deep work. Keep a distraction list to stay focused.

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The benefits of being highly productive

Being highly productive means that you accomplish important assignments in a precise and timely manner. In the workplace, the more productive you are, the more your employers and colleagues are likely to trust your abilities, which can lead to incentives such as bonuses, pay raises and increased benefits. Additionally, high productivity can provide you with a sense of accomplishment, which can affect your overall happiness and satisfaction in your professional life.

16 habits of highly productive people

Here are 16 habits that highly productive people often have in common:

1. Exercising, eating right and getting plenty of sleep

Productivity is holistic, beginning before you even know whats on your to-do list for the day. Your activity level, diet and sleeping habits can affect your energy level throughout the workday. To stay alert and productive, try eating healthy, taking a brisk walk every day and striving for eight hours of sleep every night.

2. Planning ahead and expecting obstacles

Knowing how many tasks are on your agenda and what they may entail can help you prepare for the work you need to do each day. Before your workday begins, try to write down everything you hope to accomplish by the end, including activities such as lunch and your commute. This could involve creating a timeline for each item on the list.

However, there may be events that arise during your workday that you cant plan for, such as a traffic jam on your way to work or an impromptu meeting with a manager. Try to incorporate these into your plan by leaving 30 minutes to an hour open for unexpected surprises.

3. Keeping a tidy, organized workspace

Tidiness can boost productivity in multiple ways. When your space is organized, it becomes easier to locate important documents and items. This organization can also reduce stress and improve your ability to focus on tasks since you dont have to spend time searching for what you need. Some suggestions for organization include throwing away unnecessary documents, storing items you use infrequently in a junk box, labeling folders and drawers, placing important documents in trays and tethering cluttered cables together.

4. Having a pre-work ritual

Engaging in an activity or series of activities for a set amount of time before work can put your mind in a more focused state. Try giving yourself 15 to 30 minutes every morning to do what you like. You can read a book, go for a walk, listen to music—anything you enjoy that clears your mind. Then, after 15 to 30 minutes, you know that its time to focus on work.

5. Setting small, attainable goals

Large tasks often feel a little overwhelming, so it can be helpful to break them down into smaller, more easily attainable goals. For example, if you have a presentation to give next week, try dividing your work into smaller pieces and make a little progress each day. You could complete a third of the slideshow per day for the first three days and then give yourself 20 minutes of presentation practice on each of the last two days. By breaking down the task into smaller parts, the overall assignment may seem more manageable.

6. Following the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, proposes that 80% of the results in any endeavor derive from only 20% of the efforts put in. For example, perhaps you normally complete 80% of your daily tasks during the first 20% of the workday. This might occur if you feel more alert in the morning compared to the afternoon when the workday is coming to an end. In this case, you could be more productive by focusing on only the most important tasks during that timeframe and leaving the rest for later in the day.

7. Starting with the most challenging task

Beginning the day with your most challenging task can help you achieve more overall. Your energy and focus are often at their optimum level for handling challenges at the beginning of the day, and crossing the task off of your to-do list early on can make the rest of your objectives seem easy in comparison. This can also be an effective strategy for avoiding procrastination, as it eliminates activities that you may want to defer for another day.

8. Taking breaks

It can be challenging to focus for longer than 90 minutes at a time, so its helpful to take regular breaks to rest and recharge. Some people recommend taking a break every 25 minutes, while others suggest once per hour. Regardless of the specific interval, try to give yourself five to 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to do a relaxing activity, such as playing a game, taking a walk outside or closing your eyes to rest.

9. Removing distractions

Distractions are objects or activities that keep you from being productive. Removing distractions from your workspace can help you focus on the task you need to accomplish. Outside of breaks, try to keep all distracting elements out of sight. For example, it might help to silence your phone and keep it in a drawer or bag, use earplugs or headphones to block out unwanted noise or use a site-blocking app to keep you from browsing social media and other websites during work that detract from productivity.

10. Writing efficient emails

Email is a common communication medium in the workplace. To communicate more efficiently, first try to determine which emails require responses and which dont. When writing responses, try to include as much information as possible to prevent the need for further questions. For instance, if you are trying to schedule a meeting with a colleague, mention what you wish to discuss in the meeting and the times you may be available to meet. This helps eliminate potential time spent writing follow-up emails that would fill in the gaps in information.

11. Avoiding multitasking

Because its not entirely possible to direct your attention to more than one thing at a time, multitasking may lead you to interrupt one task to work on another. Shifting focus frequently can add extra time to your workday, whereas focusing on just one task at a time can help you complete it more quickly by reducing interruptions and promoting a steady working pace.

12. Saying “no”

Although its important to be a helpful and collaborative colleague, getting sidetracked to help others with their work can reduce your productivity. If you feel like a colleagues request could take up a significant amount of time, tell them that you would like to focus on your own workload first. You could offer to help them after youve completed your daily tasks or direct them to someone else who can provide the help they need.

13. Delegating tasks

Someone else might have more time or be better able to complete a task on your to-do list. If a colleague is available and willing to help, consider asking them to take on a task or collaborate with you. You might ask them to join you in a meeting to take notes, fill in the data tables of a report or send a batch of emails. Just like you, your colleagues may wish to complete their own work first, so be respectful if they defer or decline your request.

14. Giving self-rewards

You may need motivation to complete your work and remain productive every day. One way to stay motivated is to give yourself small rewards for accomplishing goals. For instance, you could allow yourself to enjoy an extended break or a piece of chocolate every time you finish an assignment. For larger tasks or big projects, you can treat yourself to your favorite meal or an enjoyable activity, such as going to the movies after work. Small rewards like these can incentivize you to get more done.

15. Learning from mistakes

People often avoid starting or progressing in their work because theyve struggled with a similar assignment in the past. To overcome this kind of doubt, its important to identify how you have struggled before and look for solutions to prevent similar challenges in the future. Remind yourself that its okay to make mistakes as long as you make an effort to learn from them to become more productive over time.

16. Focusing on tasks completed instead of tasks ahead

Having a positive attitude can significantly improve your productivity. One way to improve your attitude is to focus on your accomplishments. If you are responsible for organizing the inventory room or writing a nine-page report, ask yourself not how much you have left but how much you have already completed. A positive outlook can keep you motivated to do more.

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