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5 habits productive people use to get the important stuff done

These relatively simple behaviors help the most efficient people address what matters most.

5 habits productive people use to get the important stuff done
[Photo: Jaelynn Castillo/Unsplash]
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It’s an uncomfortable truth that if you’re waiting for circumstances or other people around you to “make you” be productive, you’ll be waiting a long time. Productivity comes from the inside out. The good news is that as a time management coach, I see people learn the skills to be more productive each and every day. If you’re feeling stuck in a productivity slump, you can find your way out of it to better use your time and get more done.

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Here are five simple things that productive people do to accomplish more of what matters to them every day.

They know what they want

Instead of waking up and seeing what happens, productive people start the day with a clear picture of what’s important to them and what they want to accomplish. They may clarify this the evening before or in the morning at the start of their workday. But they never jump into work without knowing what’s most essential and roughly when they expect to get certain tasks done.

For example, if they have a report due soon, they might decide to complete the draft before lunch and incorporate any edits from colleagues in the last hour of their day.

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Knowing what they want gives productive people the focus to get key activities done between major events in their schedule (like high-stakes meetings) instead of filling gaps in their days with work chats, emailing, or low-priority tasks. Further, being aware of their wants helps these productive people feel a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day that they have completed the work that matters most.

They assert their needs

Productive people don’t ask for permission to focus on their priorities, they just begin. That could look like starting in on their top project after a quick email check or even doing their own key work before looking at email at all. That could look like doing others-centered requests only in the afternoon. That could look like checking chat and email periodically throughout the day, or only between times when they’re focusing exclusively on more pressing projects. To give an example, this could look like asking to meet about an issue tomorrow instead of addressing it on a reactionary level today.

In all of these scenarios, productive people believe their own work is of value and don’t feel a need to wait until everyone else is taken care of, since they take time to invest in their own projects.

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They get adequate sleep

Though it may seem obvious: When you’re tired, it can be that much harder to get and stay motivated, especially when your work is challenging. Research shows that sufficient sleep can have a substantial impact on productivity and performance.

In recognition of the importance of sleep, productive people know when they need to go to bed—and when they need to get up—for a restful night’s sleep. They don’t wait for permission to get their most sufficient shut-eye either; they’ll start getting ready for bed when it’s time to do so, even if that means leaving a nighttime event early or going to bed when other people at home are still awake. Further, they don’t allow their phone or other electronics to steal their sleep time and often establish a set time to unplug.

They take intentional breaks 

To perform at your highest level, you need to take regular, intentional breaks to recharge. When you’re doing high-intensity, focused work, you’re using up your cognitive resources. And when you take a restorative type of break, such as by moving around, allowing your mind to drift off, or chatting with others, you are recharging those resources.

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These intentional breaks can help you be more productive, restore your motivation, and help you make better decisions and reach more creative results. Taking purposeful breaks will give you the energy to stay productive throughout your workday and week—and make taking draining, unintentional breaks like checking social media less of a temptation.

They choose to say no

Even extremely productive people can’t do everything, so they realize that to get done what they want to do they need to say no to many requests that come their way. That could look like declining certain meetings or projects directly. Or it could mean taking a softer approach, like letting other people answer Slack group messages or shutting off their phones at a certain time of day so that they don’t see or answer messages until the next day.

In order to get the most done, productive people aren’t afraid to decline, defer, or delegate any items that aren’t aligned with their priorities.