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The 9 Key Habits of the Most Productive People

What do productive people do to help them accomplish more in less time? Here are some simple hacks that could help improve your efficiency at work.
February 16, 2016

Productivity may not be measured by the number of hours you work, but rather by what you can accomplish in those hours. Productivity is about efficiency, about getting the most accomplished in the least amount of time. As it turns out, there are habits super productive people share, and by developing these habits, we can help improve our productivity.

Become a listaholic.

I never used to make lists, but when something occurred to me that I needed to accomplish, I’d lose focus on the task at hand because I was worried about forgetting something. The fix can be ridiculously simple: Write it down. Some of the most productive people I know are old school—they carry a memo pad and a pen, and when something important pops into their heads, they jot it down and get right back to work. You can also go high tech and use an app like Evernote or Todoist. And you should consider prioritizing your list by the significance of the task, not just when it's due.

Identify bottlenecks.

Think of your day like a manufacturing plant. There are inevitably going to be parts of your process that run slower than everything else—the points in the process where work piles up. These pileup points are where you may want to focus your attention when you’re looking for ways to become more efficient. You don’t have to make everything run faster. You just have to fix the parts of your process that slow the whole works down. Fix what’s broken, and everything may run smoother.

Turn off distractions.

I think multitasking is a myth. We can actually unitask on a number of jobs in a row, but there's inevitably time required to reset when you’re shifting from one task to the next. You may be much better off tackling one task at a time. Try working in short bursts on a single task. When it’s complete or you’ve reached a predetermined stopping point, take a break, check your email and let yourself attend to the distractions you’ve been screening out.

Don’t always strive for perfection.

Sure, there are times when you absolutely must be perfect, but if we’re honest, most of the work we do just needs to be acceptable. Sometimes a task worth doing is just worth doing, rather than doing to the utmost degree of perfection. Identify when you must deliver work of the highest quality, and when perfection isn’t required, then just get the task done and move on. Don’t get hung up on details that don’t matter.

Understand why productivity matters.

You want to accomplish more. You want to improve your lifestyle. You want to have more free time. These can be the reasons for improving your productivity. If you’re idle, you’re not making progress toward your goal. Knowing why you want to be productive can help keep you focused on what really matters to you.

Focus on your strengths.

No one does everything well. Here’s the good news: That’s okay! You don’t have to be good at everything. You should work on the tasks that suit your skill set and hire great folks to compensate for your weaknesses. Build the right team to create complementary abilities.

Communicate concisely, but maintain your human touch.

So much time can get wasted on frivolous chit chat, and productive people may understand the importance of conveying information in a way that’s succinct, but not abrupt. When you communicate efficiently, you may reap the double benefits of gaining respect for your results while maintaining an approachable, pleasant demeanor.

Embrace criticism.

My wife once told me I was a workaholic. She did not mean it as a compliment. I thought about her criticism, and I realized I had turned into the opposite of who I really wanted to be. Her criticism helped me recognize my need to become more efficient—work smarter, not longer. Criticism can help you identify ways to improve. Solicit it, and pay attention when someone takes the time to be honest about your shortcomings.

Push through the finish line.

So many times, I see people nearing the end of a project, and just when they should be pushing harder, they slack off. The last 10 percent of the project can end up taking 80 percent of the time, and frequently the quality of the work suffers as progress slows. The most important part of any race may be those few steps right before you cross the finish line. When you’re almost done, you must press harder. Don’t wind down early and jeopardize all your hard work. Finish strong.

A huge component of productivity is prioritization. Having a list of things to do is great, but if you’re working on the unimportant stuff, you may not be as productive as you could be.

Read more articles about productivity.

Photo: iStock