Personal Productivity  – The Habits of Highly Productive People

In Self-Management

By Maura Fay Learning

In a recent blog on Personal Productivity, titled, ‘Mindset Over Matter’, we highlighted the power of mindset over the more traditional and linear approaches to time management such as to-do lists and managing our email inbox.

Today we are going to take a slightly different approach; we’re going to share a wide range of habits, behaviours and actions performed by highly productive people. Now, if we were really clever, we would only share the top few most important habits in keeping with the 80-20 principle, but not today. Today we are going to fuel people’s desire for real over theory, practical over conceptual and share our top 15 favourite ideas to achieving greater personal productivity.

OK, here we go. We hope that there’s a gold nugget or two in there for you!!

Stop trying to “do it all”

Faced with a long to-do list, who wouldn’t seek ways to do them all, rather than having to choose? Many of us share an optimism where there are no limits and everything is possible. We suffer, as the novelist and environmentalist Wendell Berry puts it, from “a disease of limitlessness”.

The good news is that facing up to your limitedness – and the necessity of trade-offs – needn’t be depressing at all. There are many practical ways to make trade-offs feel more vivid. For a start, you could take the advice of the time management coach Mark Forster, and abandon your “catch-all” to-do list in favor of one limited to five entries. (If you can only choose five, you’re forced to make tough decisions – whereas catch-all lists encourage the illusion that you might, somehow, get everything done.) Or follow Warren Buffet’s suggestion: list your 25 top career goals, choose the five you value the most, then treat the remaining 20 as your “avoid at all costs” list. They’re the dangerous ones: the somewhat attractive goals most likely to lure you from your truly important priorities.

Know your comparative advantage

Many leaders say, “Here are the top five priorities for the team. Who would be the best at carrying out each one?” Then they propose themselves for all five areas. That might be the right answer, but it’s the wrong question, because it’s based on a self-centered concept of comparative advantage. It focuses on what a leader does best rather than on what the team and the organisation most needs from him or her.

The correct question is, “Which functions can only you as the leader perform?” You may be the only leader who can meet with a top regulator or persuade a key client to stay. You may also be essential to recruiting senior staff. But a leader has to hold back from taking on other responsibilities even if he or she excels at delivering on them.

Have 5 close relationships

Having a few close relationships keeps people happier when they’re young, and has even been shown to help us live longer, with a higher quality of life. True friends really are worth their weight in gold. But why five relationships? This seemed to be an acceptable average from a variety of studies. Take this excerpt from the book Finding Flow … “National surveys find that when someone claims to have 5 or more friends with whom they can discuss important problems, they are 60 percent more likely to say that they are ‘very happy’.”

Do 1 thing at a time

Multitasking is typically viewed as a skill that only certain people possess. But truth be told, nobody actually has the ability to multitask. When you multitask, you limit your ability to fully focus on one specific task at a time. Successful people utilise the talents and abilities that they have by focusing on completing one task and one task only before moving to the next. This is called single-tasking.

Don’t get lost in the detail

Focusing too much on the smaller details constricts your ability to see how everything ties together. Much of our lives hinge upon the connections that we make with others and with ourselves. If we get lost in the small detail, it is like having missing pieces to a puzzle. How are we supposed to solve that?

Capture your ideas immediately

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to recall a great idea that has since vanished from our memory. When a hint of inspiration strikes you, write it down immediately. Make a voice note, send yourself an email, write whatever keywords you have to that will spark your memory when you return to it later.

Manage yourself

You have to know when the best time that you feel the most productive is. Are you a morning person or are you an evening person? You have to work with your flow and not against it.

Count your small wins

Don’t wait until you’ve hit big goals like completing a project or getting a promotion — which happen only occasionally and make it difficult to appreciate small but important advancements. Don’t dismiss all the smaller things that fill out your days and are building up in the long run.

Don’t seek perfection

Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know it doesn’t exist. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of moving forward excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

Hold a “retrospective” after projects

Good teams rely on the “retrospective” meeting at the end of a project that allows them to stop and say: “What was it like to launch? What did we do right? What did we do wrong?”

Escape the time-scarcity trap

When you are busy, you feel flustered. When you’re flustered you start focusing on reactive work — which makes you feel busier. And when you are busy, you feel flustered…

Paradoxically, this feeling of being behind is actually what drives us to keep doing reactive work, putting out small fires at the expense of tending to tasks with real long-term benefit, like figuring out a better production schedule for the next stage of your project.

According to economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, once we adopt a mindset of “time scarcity” (i.e. we feel over-busy, overwhelmed, or just plain behind), it induces a kind of shortsightedness that “makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled.” In other words, the actual hours you have available to do your work could remain the same, but just feeling behind is enough to disrupt your productivity.

As leaders, make sure you allocate the work evenly

We all have our ‘go-to’ employees that have the knack of meeting the deadlines of our last minute requests and delivering with quality. We need to be careful not to overload this group because the statistics are damning. They’ll soon resent the additional work and become disengaged while their colleagues happily manage a much lesser workload.

Be proactive and ask for feedback/advice

Feedback is important, because it gives you a different perspective on your current situation. Sometimes you are not able to see the answer that is right in front of you. But when someone gives you feedback, it allows you to see something from the perspective of someone else. Equally, asking for advice is not always easy. We sometimes feel insecure and dependent so we decide not to ask for advice, and try to figure it out ourselves. But this could be greatly limiting us from reaching our full potential, because the advice we might be seeking could be something that somebody knows very well.

Read 30 minutes per day

Consider for a moment the act of reading a self-development or business book for 30 minutes per day. This might not seem like much, however reading 30 minutes per day over the course of a week totals 3.5 hours. An average sized book will therefore probably take you roughly two weeks to read. Given that there are 52 weeks in a year, you would therefore end up reading roughly 25 books within that calendar year. But let’s say that you skip a few days and you only end up reading 20 books. Or let’s say you go on holidays and only end up reading 15 books. That’s 15 books in one year! Five years down the track you would have read 75 self-development or business books!

Don’t skip your 1-on-1’s

One-on-ones remain vital. Research shows that the average manager spends 30 minutes every 3 weeks with each of their employees and when workload piles up, it’s common for managers to bypass 1-on-1’s altogether. We also understand the power of a good 1-on-1; employees are more engaged and the manager and employee are more aligned, more than likely saving time down the track.

We hope that our list of 15 ideas have got you thinking. All the best in your planning to be more productive.

This blog is an extract for our upcoming eBook – The Personal Productivity Playbook. You can pre-register here and get your copy on launch day. 

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