Henry Ford said, “Improved productivity means less human sweat, not more.”
When you’re productive, you’re not working harder. As trite as it sounds, you’re working smarter. You’re working more efficiently.
For the latest “The Extreme Productivity Benchmark Report,” RAIN Group surveyed 2,377 business professionals to learn which work habits and hacks, when applied in different combinations, drive increases in productivity. Based on this research, here are 12 key drivers of productivity that can help you become more productive, starting today.
1. Hold Yourself Accountable
Accountability is not only a key driver of productivity but also the No. 1 behavior exhibited by the extremely productive (the XP).
Find an accountability partner — a person you can check in with each week to share priorities and report back on what you accomplished (or didn’t) in the previous week. You’re much more likely to achieve what you set out to when you share your plans with someone and then have regular check-ins to share progress.
2. Be Proactive
The XP don’t sit back and wait for their boss to hand them a to-do list. They don’t wait for someone to define their goals and walk them down the path to achieve them. They place their success into their own hands. They know what they want, and they go get it. Wherever you are on the proactivity scale, you can light the fire in your own belly.
3. Adopt Productive Habits
The XP aren’t extremely productive innately. They focus on embracing productive habits and changing the way they work. Change is hard. If you’re willing to put in the work to change your habits, you’ll reap the rewards.
4. Sustain Your Energy
Take time to recharge. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t burn yourself out by spending all of your time on work. Meditate, exercise, take a new class, learn a new skill, spend time with your kids, volunteer … whatever it is that fills your tank, make it a priority.
The most productive people aren’t necessarily those who spend the most time at work. They take treasured “TIME,” maximize investment TIME, and minimize mandatory and empty TIME. (They also eat well, stay fit and focus on getting good sleep.)
While the XP are more likely to multi-task, they’re not rapid task-switchers, which is an important difference. The XP are ruthless about prioritizing and maximizing their time on the most important tasks that will drive them forward.
Rapid task-switchers, on the other hand, react to the most urgent task thrown at them. They allow themselves to become distracted and never really “get in the zone” on their investment activities.
6. Maximize TIME on Investment Activities
How you spend your TIME is the greatest indicator of your productivity and success. The XP not only spend more of their time on investment activities — activities that move them toward their goals and generate outsized returns — but they also spend more time on treasured activities and minimize mandatory and empty time.
Almost everyone can do a better job of controlling their time and being more mindful where they’re spending it.
7. Get in the Zone
The zone is a state of intense focus on one activity. When you’re in the zone, you forget about all of the other tasks on your to-do list and lose track of time, as you are immersed in what you’re working on. The XP regularly enter this state of focus using techniques such TIME sprinting.
8. Start With Your Greatest Impact Activity (GIA)
How you start your day has a great impact on your overall productivity. The XP begin their days by working on their GIA — the task that gives them the greatest return on their time investment.
Your GIA is rarely the easiest activity. It’s often the one that you know is important, but other urgent tasks take priority. Change your thinking; if there’s something you’ve been putting off that you know would make a big impact on your results, start your day with that activity.
9. Recover When Derailed
We all fall off the wagon occasionally. Emergencies happen. Priorities change. There are urgent activities you must attend to. We all experience burnout. Distractions get the best of us.
The difference between the XP and everyone else is that the XP get back on track more quickly. They recognize when they’ve been derailed and take action to refocus themselves.
Wherever you are in your own process, you can change. All you need to do is recognize it and refocus. Your accountability partner can help.
10. Put Investment Time on Your Calendar
How you manage your calendar can greatly influence your productivity. The XP make a habit out of blocking off time in their calendar to work on their GIAs. When you put it in your calendar, you’re much more likely to do it.
11. Write Down Your Goals
Our research — and many others’ — supports the idea of writing down your goals. When you know where you’re going, it’s easier to motivate yourself to do what it takes to get there. Furthermore, when you write something down, it becomes real. If your goals are floating in your head, write them down. Then, build a path to attain them.
12. Do Not React to Others’ Agendas
Maybe you write down your goals, know the path you need to take to reach them and schedule time to work on investment activities — but then, your boss asks you for a report. You’re invited to a meeting right on top of your calendared investment time. You’re assigned to a new project. A colleague asks you for help.
When you’re reacting to others’ agendas, you’re not driving your own. If you want to be one of the XP, you need to stop reacting to others and start driving your own agenda. Here are a few ideas on how to do just that:
- The hour-long meeting you were invited to that conflicted with your investment time? Ask if they can take five minutes to fill you in after the meeting.
- The help your colleague needed? See if the two of you can talk during your commute home.
- The report your boss requested? Sometimes, you can’t say no to your boss. But you can explain that you’re working on an important task and ask if he or she wants you to finish that task or work on the report.
Even adopting just a few of these habits will make a significant difference in your productivity. Review the list, and select items that will be easy to implement right away. Then, slowly start incorporating others.