Common Habits of Productive People and How to Harness Them

Habits of productive people

If you had to rank your personal productivity, how would it stack up? A recent study out of MIT has identified the top habits of productive people. Of course, this is MIT, so the results aren’t exactly a listicle. The study, conducted by a senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management, Robert Pozen, identified 21 questions to ascertain what habit most optimized a person’s productivity.

Spoiler alert: no single habit will make you more productive. Pozen’s study revealed that it was actually “clusters” of habits that made an individual truly productive. The thing is, we’re not working as individuals. Even if you’re a remote worker, you’re tapped into a network of teammates that need you to be productive. So how can we synthesize these findings for a team rather than a person? With a little help from project management software, of course. We’ll be breaking down the “habit-clusters” and pairing them tips and tools to help you form the habit yourself.

Habit #1: Well-defined priorities

The most productive people are ruthless about determining what is most important to do in a day, week, month, or quarter. This allows these individuals to act on focused objectives. They’re able to break projects into manageable chunks that inform a better whole.

So how to master the power of priorities? A project manager can definitely help establish what projects are most important to the business — and therefore most important to you. To maintain the consistency and visibility of these priorities, try working with a project management system that allows you to assign priorities to various tasks in your queue. If you’re staring down a stacked week and are unsure of where best to spend your time, these priorities will help guide you towards your most important work rather than have you slogging through a to-do list with no strategy.

How to form the habit:

  • Wrike has a customizable “Priority” field. This is a great option if you have a centralized PM team that can agree on established company-wide priorities.
  • In Asana, users can add custom fields for prioritization of tasks within a project. This is great for smaller teams that are managing their projects independent of the larger organization.
  • Pozen recommends reviewing your calendar each evening to prime your mind for the next day’s docket. If you’re in the habit of blocking out time to work, it might be useful to assign top-priority work to the early morning.

Habit #2: Excellent information management

Sounds robotic, but it’s about people. Managing a lot of information is about being efficient with your communication channels. Pozen found that the most productive people were able to ignore the tempting song of the *ping*. More specifically: they spent a limited amount of time in their email inbox, deleted messages based on sender and subject (ruthless! But we’re talking summaries from GitHub, not an email from your husband), and presumably muted all their incoming Slack messages.

The ability to deal with inbox/message/text overload asserted itself as the biggest challenge to an individuals’ productivity. Breaking your focus every six minutes to respond to a Slack message or GChat invariably leads to other internet lollygagging. It also interrupts your ability to get into a “deep work” state — a phrase coined by Georgetown computer scientist Cal Newport. According to Newport, deep work is a place of sustained attention that enables you to create truly good and thoughtful work. Hard to do when all your tabs are winking at you, calling for your attention.

How to form the habit:

  • While no straight PM tool also silences your communication channels, you can adjust platform settings to minimize your alerts.
  • Check out our post on how to avoid getting lost in SlackNation, and keep chat distractions at bay.
  • Try setting specific times that you look at your inbox and other messaging platforms, and limiting your time to those windows.  

Habit #3: Colleague empathy

It’s not all ruthless. Productive people know that in order to get to work, they need to have everyone on the same page. As a result, they understand the needs of their workmates and can host short but informative meetings, respond effectively to queries and confusion, and offer clear direction on projects — whether they are leading them or simply contributing. It also means they are great at being thoughtful delegators. Because they are closely attuned to the needs of the project, they are better able to assign those task-chunks to the best person to fulfill it. 

How to form the habit:

  • These skills build on each other. If you’re already assigning priorities to your work and better-managing your communication, it’s likely that you’ll be cultivating a better understanding of your abilities and a project’s needs. So if you’re at this point in your journey towards becoming more productive… nice job!
  • Keep your meetings short and efficient, and circulate an agenda. If you’ve scheduled the meeting, you are the host. Act accordingly. 
  • When you are leading a project or spearheading a task, make sure you agree on next steps and success metrics. 

There’s no secret sauce. The steps to becoming a more productive person are rooted in being conscientious and avoiding distraction. While those habits take a bit of time to learn (what’s the common law? 21 days?), time is the only thing standing between you and a more efficient workday. 

What habits do you have to help you stay productive? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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