Seven habits of Highly Productive People — How to be Hyper Productive for Success

It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.” –  Nathan W. Morris

In the recent past, can you think back to a time when you felt overwhelmed? – with too many things to do all at once? Wondering how to be productive? I bet, most of us can.

Being Consistently Productive amid ever-increasing workload and the multiple roles we play — is almost a Universal Challenge. We may be a Parent, Employee, Leader, Son or  Daughter, Student at the same time; Can we do justice to most if not all roles?

Productivity is the foundation for Prosperity, Well-Being, and Happiness. If we are not productive about our health, we can end up with a sick life. If we are not productive about finances, we risk a low-quality life. The list goes on. Therefore, we have every reason to take Productivity seriously.

To rev up our productivity, all we need is some inspiration; ideally from role-models. There are more successful people who are more productive than us.  How do they stay productive? What do they do, to enhance their productivity and sustain it? How do they define and accomplish the important goals? What distinguishes them from the rest?

Here are 7 insights from the latest in Productivity, from various knowledge sources –- Interviews with hugely successful CxOs, Productivity Research and views from the authors of great Productivity Books.

Successful and Productive people have the following habits in common – despite their uniqueness and otherwise distinct lives or situations.

1. They have SMART and Stretch Goals

 They have SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound), AND Stretch Goals. SMART goals help us to break abstract goals into specific plans that we can execute easily. Stretch Goals help us to expand your mind and make us more innovative.

Since they are Productive in their core jobs, most of them stretch themselves for a side hustle or volunteering opportunities or hobbies or passion that they pursue themselves.

In his Bestselling book – Smarter, Faster, Better –  Author Charles Duhigg  says:

“Some 400 laboratory and field studies [show] that specific, high goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ‘do one’s best…”

“…Numerous academic studies have examined the impact of stretch goals, and have consistently found that forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity. A 1997 study of Motorola, for instance, found that the time it took engineers to develop new products fell tenfold after the company mandated stretch goals throughout the firm”

2. They develop Self-Knowledge and map their Productivity Practices to their Personality Types

They spend the time to understand their personality types; what makes them come alive, what turns them off, the times of the day when they are most and least productive (e.g. late owls, or larks?); what kind of people or company that they would like to work with. Are they more likely to meet internal expectations or external or both or none? They prioritize the most important tasks and even design their resting times accordingly.

There are many ways to develop self-knowledge such as taking surveys on Myer’s Brigg personality types. In her Bestselling Book “Better than Before”, author Gretchen Rubin classifies humans in to 4 personality types: (a) Upholder – Some one who meets the external expectations and internal expectations (b) Questioner – Someone who won’t meet external expectations, unless his internal expectations (questions) are met (c) Obliger – who will meet external expectations but not internal and (d) Rebel – who challenges all expectations, internal and external.Gretchen has her four tendencies quiz to make you understand your type

They have challenges and they go through difficult times just like the rest of us. What sets them apart, is that they develop their resilience and devise strategies to guard against those traps, so that they can be more successful. For e.g. a questioner tries to be productive about the task at hand after he has convinced himself that it meets his internal expectations. An obliger is motivated by external accountability; Hence she tries to hold herself accountable to someone else so that she is more likely to meet the goals.

In an interview Cal Henderson the CTO of Slack says:

… I’ve been told I have a tremendous capacity for focused work and high-output, but what’s allowed me to grow into the CTO role at an org the size of Slack has been my 15-year history of managing teams and the reward I find in the human aspects of the work. There’s a very prevalent stereotype that engineers are socially unsophisticated, but that’s just not the case…”

Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox Co-Founder, and CEO:

“I have an unusual level of excitement for the unexpected. I’m very intellectually stimulated by the hard things and managing in uncertainty. I’m calm and happy in that state, instead of being unsettled. I have a real belief that the only way to succeed today is understanding that uncertainty IS the job—it’s not about the light at the end of the tunnel..”

3. They build Good Habits that works for their Personality Types

Willpower is an expendable resource, just like the battery of a smartphone; it fritters away with every decision that we make — which explains why we feel exhausted to make good decisions, at the end of our days.

To conserve their energy for the very important decisions in a day, they build Good Habits and make it an automatic part of their life.  In other words, they build their muscle memory.

For e.g., they put some of their decisions on autopilot  –  automate monthly investments, bill payments, and workout routines – to name a few. Mark Zuckerberg the iconic CEO of Facebook, wears the same dress every day, for the same reason.

In his Bestselling book – The Power of Habits – why we do what we do, in life and business – Author Charles Duhigg  a Productivity Researcher says:

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy” (to greater things)..


4. They are Focused on the Essentials and engage in Deep Work

Highly productive people sift through the Essentials from the non-essentials. They then remain sharply focus on the Essentials.

Structuring their work spaces and environment to minimize distractions and notifications, they adhere to strict discipline about engaging with the internet & social Networks — and more importantly, use their email in a productive manner.

They believe in what Cal New Port defines as “Deep Work”. In his bestselling book by the same name Cal defines Deep Work as:

“Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

Cal defines 2 reasons for Deep Work:

“(1) To remain valuable in our (information) economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances…If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless— which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online. …(2)  To succeed you have to produce the absolute best stuff you’re capable of producing—a task that requires depth”

5. They are Organized and use Productivity Systems & Tools

Most of them have clear workspaces; Most take time to review their plans every day; they collate their essential tasks; prefer uncluttered environments, and can stay focused on what they want to achieve — with adequate resting periods interspersed.  They plan and get ahead of things and hence can effectively manage their stress.

They believe that human brain is best put to use for thinking and not for storing information. Hence, they use some form of organization system, a secondary memory – that frees up their brain to think.

Most of them are tech-savvy and use technology to their advantage. Few of them quoted “Getting things done” (GTD) by David Allen, “First Things First” by Stephen Covey,”80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch and techniques like Bullet journal, Pomodoro etc., They list some of the specific apps that they use on their mobile devices to keep them Productive.

They plan their activities through daily planning and  “to do” lists that they rigorously follow. The ones that don’t believe in “to do” lists have them calendared in their schedule. Most of them don’t believe or indulge in multi-tasking; they believe it is counter-productive. They also effectively collaborate with their peers using tools that suit their kind of work. The not so tech-savvy use pens and notebooks. They tailor their systems to suit their unique personality types and their work needs. But they have a belief in some system as against being totally unorganized.

There is some divergence in the way people approach their tasks and how they manage them. Some of them follow the “Eat the frog” approach, where they tackle the most difficult tasks first, followed by easier ones. Others like to knock out the easier tasks and use the momentum generated as a springboard for additional motivation, to deal with difficult tasks. There are also divergent opinions on what needs to be managed for Productivity – Time or our Attention Span.

In an interview Mathew Glotzbach the CEO of Quizzlet says:

“I use a combination of a todo app plus pen and paper… but I try not to take my phone or computer out during meetings (there’s no point in being in a meeting if you aren’t paying attention), so I take tasks in my notebook as well. I then either complete the task and check it off in my notebook, or transfer the task to the todo app and ‘X’ it out of my notebook.”

Brad Smith Intuit CEO says:

“Time is our most precious and limited resource, therefore managing my time is my most important priority. A productivity tool that helps me is color-coding my calendar so I can see how I’m spending my time against my “100-point plan.

I allocate my time in a 40-30-20-10 split: I spend forty percent of my time running the company through operating mechanisms and product reviews; thirty percent building our organization’s capability and leadership bench through 1:1’s, skip levels, and leadership development forums; twenty percent on outside-in learning by engaging with fellow leaders in round-table discussions, forums and board rooms; and the last ten percent on personal growth and development, meeting with mentors and learning from others I admire. Color-coding my calendar holds me accountable and allows me to measure whether I am on track or off, so I can adjust if needed”.

6. They are not only Lifelong Learners but also Lifelong Sharers

They consider investment in themselves as most important.  For instance, most seem to invest in courses to improve their craft – in their respective industries. Some tune into a media of their choice, to learn and pursue their areas of interests.  Some are into books, some into audible books, some into learning Videos, Ted Talk, or whatever suits their style. What is more interesting is that they share and recommend what they learn to others. Some use Social Media to share their knowledge and experience, while the others use traditional platforms like classrooms and speaking engagements. The sharing of knowledge itself helps to enhance and validate their knowledge.

Slack CTO – Cal Henderson says:

“Listening to audio books at 2–3x speed (is my learning routine). I switched almost exclusively to audio books about 5 years ago, so I could combine my walking commute with reading, but finding the speed setting has been a real boost.”

Brad Smith Intuit CEO says:

“I’d highly recommend a book I recently read called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. It’s full of amazing, inspirational stories that show that anyone, regardless of I.Q., talent, or background, can succeed if they have grit—a blend of passion and persistence. I’m a big fan of this school of thought—one of my strongest personal beliefs is that it doesn’t matter where you went to school. This book makes all of us underdogs feel like we’re just as capable as anybody else”

7. They treat Productivity as a Path to Happiness

Productivity is not the end goal. They treat Productivity as a path to Happiness. By being Productive when they can, they deliberately design their life – to enjoy it to the fullest. Productivity is a tool to help us reach better goals that involve people, plans, and dreams.

For e.g. most of them have their vacation time planned and schedule well ahead of time. They create good backup plans, so that they don’t get interrupted during their vacations. To them, quality time is not negotiable.

Amir SaleHefendic Smith CEO of Doist says:

“I usually play soccer to recharge, as it helps clear my mind and stops me from thinking. If I don’t play soccer, I enjoy watching a good movie or watching Korean Starcraft streams. (Starcraft is a passion I’ve had for many years.)”

Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duolingo says:

 “I like to travel and eat good food. In fact, I just went to Peru for a food tour, and it definitely didn’t disappoint!”

As Gretchen Rubin the author of many Best Sellers like Happiness Project puts it best:

I always had the uncomfortable feeling that if I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer typing, I was wasting my time — but I pushed myself to take a wider view of what was “productive.” Time spent with my family and friends was never wasted.”

 Personalizing it all…

I hope you appreciate the benefits out of the habits, we have reviewed. I am sure you will embrace a few, if not all. You need to tailor these habits, to your own unique preference and personality.

And that is the point – Creating productivity practices that work FOR YOU. Because too heavy, joyless, overly strict, boring — practices can make you Counter Productive. Enlightenment is mostly about figuring out who we are as individuals. You are the mystery to solve — not how Productivity works necessarily but how you work.

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