No one starts out being productive.
Whether you’re a business owner, manager, employee, freelancer, creative, or professional, each person goes through different tools and processes until they land on a certain system that they can rely and build on.
But more than external solutions, people who are highly productive start from the inside out. Instead of Google Calendar, Asana, or the GTD system, it's their mindset, choices, and habits first that make them effective and then help them use the tools and systems to magnify their results.
Here are 12 habits of highly productive people.
01. They review what worked.
Highly productive people don't simply act. They act based on relevant information and build on areas or processes that are already doing well for them. This is why it's not advisable to set goals or targets without first taking an in-depth look at your past and current situation.
02. They recognize what didn't work.
In the same way that highly productive people review the positive, they also recognize the negative. Only by fully acknowledging their mistakes, failures, or areas for improvement can they come up with solutions that are effective and not just efficient. They evaluate, adapt, and evolve.
03. They plan.
Based on what worked and what didn't, highly productive people plan. They first recognize that they have a choice in creating the kind of future that they want and they come up with targets and action steps to best turn that vision into a reality. They realize that without a goal and a plan, they're simply being busy climbing a ladder that's leaning against the wrong wall.
04. They anticipate obstacles and come up with solutions.
Highly productive people know that encountering obstacles is inevitable. What sets them apart from unproductive people is their initiative to foresee potential problems and their ability to strategize on how to avoid or manage them.
05. They write things down.
A person's mind is most valuable to him or her when it isn't overwhelmed. It's most beneficial when it's clear and focused. For these reasons, highly productive people write things down. Instead of keeping everything in their head, they put it in paper in order to organize their thoughts and make it actionable.
+ Related: 8 Powerful Benefits of Writing Things Down
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06. They prioritize.
Highly productive people don't have less on their plate. In fact, they usually have twice as many or even 10 times as many roles and responsibilities compared to the average person. In spite of a million things to do, however, they identify and focus only on the tasks that would yield the highest value (aka their highest point of contribution). This could mean practicing the 80/20 rule, using the Eisenhower Matrix, identifying their lead domino, etc.
07. They do one thing at a time.
Once highly productive people know what they should be prioritizing, they focus on their single most important task at any given moment... and complete it. No distractions. No procrastination. No touching things twice. They also avoid multi-tasking because they know their time, energy, attention, and money are limited and precious, and these should not be spent on or divided between their second, third, or tenth important tasks.
08. They set boundaries.
Highly productive people set boundaries in terms of how they allocate their hours, their energy levels, and attention spans. They have schedules that they stick to. They say "no" to unimportant and non-urgent tasks. They respect their physical, emotional, and mental limits. They set aside ample time to rest and they rest well. They meticulously evaluate opportunities. They have work-life balance.
09. They automate and delegate.
Highly productive people know their strengths and their weaknesses. For all the tasks that aren't the best use of their time or effort, they automate or delegate them. They make use of templates, workflows, and blueprints to streamline their processes and get things done fast. Their systems are optimized and their team is highly qualified to generate more and better results as a whole. They recognize that 1 + 1 can equal to 3.
10. They ask important questions.
A question reveals a lot about person's intellect and potential for success more than simply his or her answers. It's the difference between asking:
"What can I do?" and "What needs to be done?"
"How can I work harder?" and "How can I work smarter?"
"What are the features of this tool?" and "What benefits can I get from using this tool?"
"What products can I sell?" and "What problems do people need and want to be solved?"
"What can I add?" and "What can I make better?"
As Stephen Covey wrote,
"You cannot ask a question outside your field of knowledge. That's why a person's question reveals the level of their understanding and their knowledge more than their answer to some other question.
+ Related: How to Really "Find" Your Passion
11. They develop keystone habits.
Ask any highly productive person and I guarantee that they know the importance of habits. Whether you're an athlete, business owner, freelancer, author, or professional, it's not about what you do just once in a blue moon. It's about what you can do consistently and progressively that sets you apart.
In terms of personal productivity, this means developing keystone habits such as reading, exercising, planning, reviewing, etc. in order to experience a chain reaction of positive effects in more than just one area of your life.
12. They commit to continuous improvement.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, no one started out as a productive person right at the outset. The important distinction between the highly productive and the unproductive is the former's ability to keep improving and pushing forward. Anyone who wishes to become smarter, faster, more efficient and more effective will have to continuously evaluate themselves, read books, hire coaches, attend seminars, listen to podcasts, enroll in courses, and pursue other activities that help make them better and more productive.
The same way that external solutions can't solve internal problems, the 12 activities listed in this article are just that — activities. If you're not as productive as you want to be right now, start from the inside out and commit to turning productive activities into productive habits.
Share in the comments: Which habit/s from the list are you looking to develop this week? Which would make the biggest impact on your goals right now?