We all know that person, the uber productive one in the office. The one who somehow manages to finish hour-long tasks in 20 minutes, cranking out projects, meeting every deadline, missing nothing. Oftentimes these people are spoken of like, “that guy is a machine!” because no simple human could work like they do. And yet these people exist, but how?
If you watch the habits of highly productive people, you’ll notice a perfect blend of efficiency and effectiveness. Efficient is doing things right and effective is doing the right things. Combine those two and you’re unstoppable.
You can’t become a machine overnight, (and we don’t want to lose our human-ness anyway). But small changes and consistent habits will give you the edge you’re looking for to get more done and work smarter, not harder.
1. Follow MIT: Complete the Most Important Tasks first
If you focus on simply starting at the top of your to-do list, you waste time doing a mix of some important, some less important tasks. You may end up wasting your day on easy, meaningless tasks because it’s hard to buckle down on the hard ones. Instead, the most productive people focus on MIT – the Most Important Tasks. They choose just 1–3 MITs each day, that no matter what – and they get it done. This creates renewed focus on what really matters.
Laura Earnest of Whole Life Productivity said, “…the most productive people are able to discern which are the high value tasks, and are able to either let the others go or delegate them. It’s not a crazy rush to get everything done, because they recognize that they can’t get everything done.”
2. Keep a distraction list to stay focused
It’s so easy to get distracted with a thousand other things, so keep a distraction list. Jot down thoughts or ideas that pop into your head as you work so that you can keep your mind focused on the task at hand. While they may be thoughts that deserve attention, They usually don’t deserve it right now.
3. Use the 80/20 rule
Discovered by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the 80/20 rule (also called the Pareto Principle) states that, in any pursuit, 80% of the results will come from 20% of the efforts.
So, to get the most out of their efforts – highly productive people identify the most important 20% of their work. The areas that truly make a difference. Then, they find ways to cut down the other 80% of their schedule so they can use their time to make the biggest impact.
4. Break it down
Most of us procrastinate large jobs because they seem so daunting. Productive people know how to break down a large task into bite-size pieces to make it manageable and create specific, actionable steps rather than broad-stroke projects.
5. Take breaks
It’s not productive to work constantly. It simply isn’t possible. You must take a break even if it’s just for a few minutes. Experts recommend working in 25-55 minute blocks, with a 5-minute break in between.
6. Make fewer decisions
While he was President, Barack Obama once told Vanity Fair that he never makes a decision about what to wear, “…I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Steve Jobs shared a similar sentiment when he explained that he only wore black turtlenecks and jeans, because he had better things to do that decide what to wear. If you want to be more productive, consider outsourcing or eliminating everyday decisions.
7. Eliminate inefficient email
Email is often considered the enemy of productivity. There’s a few ways you can combat the email villain. First, minimize your inbox and check it only at specific intervals. Second, send fewer emails that are more complete, thorough, and thought out to reduce the number of emails necessary to schedule a meeting, make a decision, etc.
8. Automate tasks
If you find yourself doing the same things over and over, look for ways to automate them, or do them things faster. This could be learning keyboard shortcuts, or using technology to take care of repetitive tasks.
9. Fill the tank — recharge
Even the best cars can’t run on an empty tank. No amount of productivity tips will help you if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Highly productive people believe they are worthy of self-care and they take it seriously. This means getting enough sleep every night, exercising, and eating healthy. Sometimes it may also include things like a monthly massage, a meeting with a therapist or counselor, or even just taking a day off to go fishing every once in a while.
10. Manage your energy
There’s a lot of talk about time management, but more importantly, is energy management. Even if you have the time, sometimes we waste our mental energy and are drained before we can complete the task before us. You always have more time and less attention, so use your mental energy wisely. This means taking advantage of easy ways to get your tires rotated or the oil change so you can focus your mind on other things.
11. Know when to ask for help.
Smart people ask for help and admit when they don’t know something. When you struggle through something on your own, you waste time (and create frustration). Know who and what your resources are and ask for help when you need it. This also may include things outside of the office like sending your dry cleaning to be delivered, getting a carpool for your kids after school, hiring a housecleaner or getting Door Dash to deliver dinner.