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Habits of Productive People - Work Smarter, Not Harder

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Have you ever wondered how they do it? The entrepreneurs, the CEOs, the athletes and rockstars. How do they turn up to work every day with boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm and a burning desire to succeed?

In this article we’re delving into the secrets of highly productive people. The ones who skyrocket up the career ladder without a wasted second, and never fall victim to productivity traps.

So what are you waiting for? Learn these 25 habits of productive people, and with a little willpower you’ll soon become one yourself. 

1 - They don’t multitask 

Research has shown that multitasking significantly slows you down. You might think you’re getting more done, but jumping between jobs actually hinders your cognitive processing. The most productive people spend several hours on a single task which allows them to get into a deep state of mental concentration, producing the best possible results.

2 - They close their inbox

Email is a wonderful tool but it can also be your biggest distraction. The most efficient workers delegate fixed times for checking and replying to messages. I find the best time for answering emails is between 9.30 and 10am, with another session at 4pm. Spend the rest of the day with your inbox closed and out of sight - you’ll be amazed at how much more you get done.

3 - They eliminate distractions

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Highly productive people know the danger of unwanted distractions, and take decisive steps to shut them out. If you’re seated in a noisy environment don’t be afraid to wear headphones, or move away from that gossipy co-worker. Minimise distractions on your screen by closing browser tabs. And above all, put your smartphone out of sight! 

4 - They’re not deterred by failure

"Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." Dale Carnegie

The most productive people aren’t afraid of making mistakes. They take action without over-analysing the consequences, and treat each failure as an opportunity for improvement. Taking risks is essential if you want to evolve into a productive, efficient and confident worker. 

5 - They take small steps

The beginning of a huge project always feels like the best time to clean out your desk, organise your photo library or make origami out of post-it notes. The bigger the project is, the more we procrastinate. That’s why the smartest workers break monster jobs down into small, achievable steps. Having a comprehensive list to power through does wonders for your motivation. 

6 - They start the day early

When you’re awake and energized before the rest of the world you have more alone time to prepare for the day. It’s a few extra hours before emails start coming in, before your phone starts buzzing, before you have to deal with clients. Better yet, studies have shown that your willpower and creativity are strongest in the morning. Make the most of this golden time. 

7 - They ‘eat the frog’ 

'Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.'  - Mark Twain

Highly productive people ‘eat the frog’ first thing in the morning. This means doing your most difficult or frustrating task first, a theory made popular by motivational expert Brian Tracy in his book ‘Eat That Frog’. By crossing off the worst thing on your list, the rest of the day will flow easily in comparison… And the hardest jobs never get pushed into tomorrow.

8 - They reward themselves 

Like any other muscle in your body, the brain can be trained. Rewarding yourself for completing work creates a positive mental cycle. You finish something, get the reward, and feel more inclined to do the next task. One of most important habits of productive people is treating themselves as they reach milestones, and celebrating success with their team. 

9 - They eat smart

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The World Health Organization has estimated that eating the right ingredients can boost our brain power by up to 20%. That’s why regular, healthy eating is one of the crucial habits of productive people. Choose your nutrients wisely, incorporating superfoods and avoiding sugary snacks that make you crash. Don’t skip meals, no matter how busy you are - it will make you fatigued, foggy minded and irritable.

10 - They plan the night before

Do you ever lie awake at night feeling anxious about tomorrow’s workload? Life can feel overwhelming when you have a chaotic day ahead. The most efficient workers plan their morning schedule the night before, which helps to alleviate anxiety and uncertainty. Setting aside just 20 minutes to write a morning plan can save you a whole night of tossing and turning - and you can start being kickass productive the second you wake up. 

11 - They use productivity apps 

You wouldn’t turn up to a gym without gear, so why tackle your office workload without the best tools? There are hundreds of brilliant apps available to dramatically boost your productivity. Build yourself an arsenal of technology and get an instant advantage over your less cutting-edge competitors. 

12 - They exercise

Highly productive people hit the ground running - literally! Science has shown that regular cardiovascular exercise boosts your memory, attention span and creativity. It also lowers stress and improves your mood, making you happier at work and at home. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day for optimum results.

13 - They delegate wisely

“If you want to work 160 hours a week, don’t delegate. But you are going to crash and burn.” - John Baldoni, Business Consultant.

The most productive people don’t carry the weight of their entire business on their shoulders. If there’s someone better suited to a job, they’ll delegate it. Smart delegation of tasks not only helps you stay focused on the big picture, it builds the confidence and skills of those around you. 

14 - They learn to say ‘no’

Truly productive people don’t feel awkward about saying ‘no’. They understand the value of their own time and view it as a precious resource. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude or dismissive - simply explain your situation, offer an alternative avenue of help, or empower the person with the right advice so they can do it themselves.

15 - They know the best shortcuts

The most efficient workers never feel guilty about taking shortcuts - and neither should you. If it doesn’t harm the outcome of your project, there’s absolutely no shame in taking the easy route. Your time is a valuable and non-refundable asset... treat it that way.

16 - They use automation

Automation can save you countless hours - especially when it comes to email marketing, social media and customer inquiries. These 10 business automation techniques are extremely useful if you’re going on holiday, but can also save your company time on a daily basis. Use them wisely.

17 - They weed out non-important tasks

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” - Jessica Jackley, Entrepreneur & Co-Founder of Kiva. 

Learning to recognise non-essential tasks is a crucial skill for an effective worker. If your day contains pointless bits of administration and bureaucracy, weed them out. Do you really need that 30 minute catch-up meeting? Cancel it, or reduce it to a 10 minute standing chat. It’s amazing how often we commit to time-wasting activities simply out of habit. Don’t be afraid to break the mold. 

18 - They set clearly defined goals 

One of the most crucial habits of productive people is goal setting. If you don’t set goals you’ll fall into the trap of being ‘busy’ for the sake of it, without making meaningful progress. Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based) for your business, and display them somewhere visible. Keep your eye on the prize - every step you take should build towards these objectives.

19 - They know their best environment

The right work environment is different for everyone. Highly productive people know where they work best - whether it’s the office, the park, a coffee shop or even your own bedroom. If you’re working from home, make sure you transform it into a productive space.

20 - They use music strategically 

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Listening to music is one of the lesser known habits of productive people. The right playlists can dramatically improve mood, focus and concentration - especially when matched to your type of work. I find lyrics distracting for creative writing, but I’ll happily do data entry with gangster rap blasting through my headphones. If music doesn’t help you focus try an ambient sound app like Noisli or Coffitivity. These are incredibly helpful for tuning out workplace distractions.

***Check out some of our specially curated playlists, which include stellar hits such as 10 Songs To Cheer You Up On A Crappy Day and 15 Songs to Help You Deal with Difficult Clients***

21 - They rest their eyes

Productive people know the dangers of eye strain. Make sure you take 5-10 minute breaks for every 60 minutes of work. Resting your eyes is crucial for productivity - especially if you’re spending 8 hours a day (or more) staring at a screen. Failing to take breaks can lead to dry eyes, mental fatigue, headaches and even migraines. 

22 -  They have tidy desks

A cluttered desk creates a cluttered mind. It’s hard to work productively when you’re surrounded by mess. Efficient people work in minimalist environments. Avoid mountains of paperwork by doing crucial tasks like invoicing and timesheets online, and if you do end up with piles of junk make sure you do a daily clear out.

23 - They know when & where to take a break 

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Even the most super-human high performers know when to take a break. It’s actually a crucial part of their success. Just like your body needs a chance to recuperate after working out, so does your brain. Avoid the computer screen during your lunch break, exercise or meditate and get outdoors if possible. This helps you return to work mentally refreshed, with a renewed sense of purpose. 

24 - They seek out advice

As an entrepreneur, business owner or manager you’re pretty good at doing things on your own. But even you need help sometimes. Surround yourself with people who have different strengths and outlooks, and never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help builds trust and forms healthy relationships. You’ll always have the chance to return the favour.

25 - They love what they do 

All the productivity tricks in the world are no good if you hate your job. The most productive people are those who are passionate about their work, and feel truly driven to achieve their goals. If you’re not excited about the business you’re in, it’s time to ask some big questions and re-evaluate your situation. Successful business owners always have a purpose - one that sets a fire in their belly. Find yours.


You might have mastered a few of these habits already, but even the most productive people are still human. Often we start the day with fantastic energy but struggle to maintain our focus in the afternoon… It’s called the afternoon slump, and it’s a serious productivity killer. In our next article you’ll learn why this energy crash happens - and more importantly, how to beat it.

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Caitlin Sisley
Caitlin Sisley is a Marketing Content Writer at WorkflowMax, and has over six years of experience in digital content production. She has worked on creative copy for a large number of New Zealand businesses - from tiny startups to household names. With a Master of Professional Studies from the University of Auckland, she is passionate about small business and corporate responsibility.

Caitlin Sisley