15 Habits Of Highly Productive People

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productive person

If you’re wondering how to be productive, you aren’t alone. Most of us aren't always highly productive people.

With all the distractions throughout the day, especially if you're juggling a full household and multiple responsibilities, you might feel the need to increase productivity in a day.

But squeezing more out of your day can be difficult, just like how making any change in your life is difficult, particularly when that change requires you to put in more effort.

Still, it's entirely possible to become the productive person you've always desired to be, all without burning yourself out.

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What are the qualities of a productive person?

A productive person isn't a simple formula that fits all, but there are some similarities between productive individuals.

Common traits among productive people include:

  • Organized
  • Focused
  • Critical thinking/problem-solving
  • Disciplined
  • Curious

People who get things done often plan out their day. They go to the grocery store in the morning, go to the gym, and then head home to do chores. If that's what they have planned to do that day, they stick to it. Productive people are planners and are proud of it.

Productive people also know how to prioritize to finish what they need to complete, before doing things they want to do. This way, they feel more accomplished at the end of the day, instead of regretting not doing something that needed to be done, like the laundry or a work task.

How To Be Productive & More Efficient

1. Create manageable to-do lists.

Trying to keep track in your head of everything you have to do is distracting and, according to a 2011 study, can make it less likely that you'll get everything done.

Instead, writing your to-do list down ahead of time helps you better organize your weeks and days and prevents you from losing track of time and dropping the ball. Plus, there’s something instinctively satisfying about completing tasks and, by extension, checking off those boxes.

But this doesn’t mean that you should put your entire bucket list on Tuesday's to-do.

As life and career coach Lisa Petsinis says, “Resist the urge to create a massive daily to-do list, as this often leads to frustration and guilt. It’s more rewarding to start with the highest value activities, then add on some ‘bonus’ ones if you have time.”

2. Compartmentalize your day.

Working to compartmentalize your goals each day can make what appears to be a mountain of tasks much more manageable. Time spent making the rest of your day more efficient is time well spent and will pay off in the long run.

Break down what needs to be done each day and identify when you’ll do what. Many people have used the Pomodoro Technique to help them with staying focused on certain tasks.

This technique requires you to choose a task you need to finish and devote 25 full minutes to it. Once the 25 minutes is up, you can take a break and then move on to the next task.

This type of time management is the right mix of effort and rigidity. The point is to have a starting point of a full and confident plan, not necessarily executing it perfectly.

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3. Focus on and prioritize one task at a time.

Hopefully, list-making and compartmentalizing will help you in prioritizing important tasks at hand. You can also try the Eisenhower Matrix, which is a productivity technique designed to help you prioritize tasks instead of assigning everything the same sense of urgency.

The Eisenhower Matrix is made up of four squares:

  1. Urgent and important tasks that have to be taken care of ASAP
  2. Not urgent but important tasks that have to be scheduled for completion at a later time
  3. Urgent tasks that you can delegate to others
  4. Not urgent or important tasks that you can remove from your to-do list completely

The goal is to identify what matters and when and act on that knowledge.

“There’s this perception that multitasking makes you productive, yet the opposite is true," explains lifestyle coach Christine Hourd. "Using prioritizing tools, such as an Urgent-Important Matrix, to decide on a single task to focus on for a set amount of time, will result in increased productivity. Then with the aid of established boundaries, you’ll feel more accomplished at the end of the day.”

4. Identify and exploit your productive hours.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of a night person versus a morning person.

We each have hours out of the day when we are more productive, awake, and focused than others. Identifying these crucial hours and exploiting them to the greatest effect will make a big difference in your overall productivity and energy level each day.

5. Systematize your day.

Create systems that work for you. If you need a certain amount of time to get some fresh air, for example, then plan a walk into your schedule. Even make it a checkbox on your list!

You don’t need to run your life on a boot camp-style schedule, it's impossible to maintain peak productivity all of the time, but having some sort of structure to organize the chaos of your day-to-day can make a big difference.

The systems don’t have to work perfectly and they won’t make anything effortless, but systems provide consistency and excuses to do productive tasks.

For example, if my system is that I need to get out to take a walk before the hottest part of the day at 2 pm, but I also need to accomplish one of my tasks for work before I take my walk and drop the kids off at school, then I’ll immediately start planning with that 2 pm deadline in mind.

Just like that, you can have a system with rules and rewards that promote productivity in your day.

6. Take breaks and reward yourself.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks but always stick to the plan. You'll be able to stay focused better if you have pre-defined breaks and rewards. A break with no scheduled end in sight is a break that might never end, or at least go way longer than it should.

Use breaks and rewards proactively instead of reactively. This could take some testing and get used to but make breaks and rewards a part of your daily systems.

Plan to take a break for 20 minutes after that morning rush, then plan exactly what you’re going to do next and when you have to start to stay on schedule for the next break.

7. Take care of yourself.

Nobody likes to work while tired. It’s hardly a ground-breaking idea that we get less productive while we’re tired, but that doesn’t stop us from ruining our sleep schedules and eating badly in the endless pursuit of more time.

Working an hour while energized and focused is productive, working for two hours while exhausted is just miserable.

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8. Don’t wait for inspiration.

Don’t wait to be inspired to get started on whatever it is that you want to do. Odds are, if you’re ever going to become inspired to do something, then you’ll become inspired by starting and doing it.

Waiting around to become inspired enough to start doing something just leads to distractions and wasting time. You'll always be better off working on getting things done efficiently and effectively rather than waiting around for the time to be "right."

9. Break down tasks.

Take big tasks and break them down into smaller, more manageable steps.

For example, if you have to write a report, you wouldn't add "write my 200-page dissertation" down on your daily to-do list. Instead, one day it will be "dissertation outline," and then the next day you'll put "add research to outline."

Humans are results-driven creatures, so if your task is too big you’ll never get through it because of how far off the payoff is. Create small goals that focus on the tasks at hand with small rewards to keep you moving in the right direction.

10. Keep a distraction list.

These are lists meant to help your distracted thoughts. Whether it's a Google document or an actual piece of paper, keep it near you as you work, and when a distraction thought comes up jot it down on your list.

This is a great resource because sometimes distractions need attention for you to regain focus. If you're working and remember that you need milk at the store, that's a legitimate thought, but you don't have to deal with it right now. Jotting it down on your list gives it the attention required for you to let it go and get back to work.

11. Say 'no' more often.

Productive people have good habits in terms of time management because they never take on more than they can handle. They are good at saying no when they cannot complete a task in time on top of their other priorities.

If you feel like you aren't being productive because you took on too much responsibility and now feel too overwhelmed, get better at saying no.

12. Follow the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule was developed by economist Vilfedo Pareto and is also known as the Pareto principle. The rule says that 20% of what you do each day produces 80% of your results.

This means to prioritize the big things when completing a task and eliminate the meaningless things. Productive people find the most important 20% of a task and focus on that.

13. Start in the morning.

The best time to knock out your most important tasks is in the morning when your brain is fresh. Schedule any busy work or meetings for the afternoon. This way, you can get the work done without being distracted by other not-so-important matters.

14. Take a walk in the sun every day.

According to a 2018 study by Cornell University professor Dr. Alan Hedge, you can boost your productivity and alertness with natural light. Go soak up some Vitamin D on a nice 15-minute walk as a break from your duties. Exercise itself is also a great way to stay alert during your workday.

15. Just get started!

Going from doing one thing to doing something else is a whole lot easier than going from doing nothing to doing anything. But this is the most important tip of all, because once you get started, you figure out what works best for you.

One of the few things that every single task, big or small, has in common is that someone, at some point, had to just sit down and start it.

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Dan O'Reilly is a writer, editor, and former contributor to YourTango. He covers entertainment and news, politics, and social justice topics. His work has also been featured in Daily Commercial News and Caledon Citizen.