Work & Career
8 Daily Habits of Naturally Productive People
Who knew putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, could be as simple as these easy steps.
They make productivity a priority
When it comes to being more efficient at your job, you know the basics, from spending less time procrastinating—here’s how to pull off that miracle—to tuning out distractions like your loud coworkers. But research shows a whole new side to productivity you may not have realized. In fact, some of the little things you do every day to help you be more productive may be hindering you. To find out how to be a better you, both in and outside the office, take a cue from these habits of naturally productive people.
They focus on being happier
Surprise, surprise: One of the biggest obstacles holding back successful people is their state of mind—which is why most of us could use these tips for stopping negative self-talk. One study by the University of Warwick in the UK found happier people to be 12 percent more productive in a work environment than their unhappy counterparts. “This makes sense, especially considering the fact that two common symptoms of depression are decreased motivation and attention,” says Aparna Iyer, MD, holistic psychiatrist and assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. “Even if a low mood does not completely disable you from functioning, it can decrease your productivity to make you far less efficient.” The fix? If you notice you’re struggling to maintain a positive outlook, try this advice on becoming more positive. Also, don’t hesitate to seek help. “Mental health treatment can effectively help you assess your goals and manage your symptoms,” Dr. Iyer adds. This will not only help you achieve a more stable work-life balance, but a new outlook can also open you up to new opportunities and necessary changes you never considered before.
They prioritize fitness
You know the countless benefits of exercise—here’s a reminder. It also seriously improves your mood by releasing feel-good endorphins that provide stress relief and increase your brain’s productivity. Even 30-minute bursts of moderate-to-high physical activity just three to four times a day can go a long way in helping you accomplish your personal and professional goals. “These psychological benefits of exercise can occur quickly after starting your exercise and research shows that any aerobic exercise—even low-intensity forms—can be effective for you,” says Dr. Iyer. If you’re really not a fan of the gym, she suggests enlisting the help of a workout buddy or joining a group class to keep you motivated and create a level of accountability.
They take breaks
Pressing pause is important. Studies show that prolonged tasks that require high levels of focus, energy, and attention can cause you to become less productive and focused over time. A better move? Take brief mental breaks. “Setting aside a little time here and there to release your focus can significantly help maintain it for longer periods of time,” says Dr. Iyer. We’re not talking a stroll to the coffee machine and back—instead, actually feel free to get out of your stiff chair, go for a walk around the block or, better yet, book an afternoon yoga class—there are some serious stress-relieving and exercise benefits. It can break the hyper-focus and let you unwind. “When we take ‘health breaks’ we are much more focused and engaged for our next work chunk,” explains Wyatt Fisher, PhD, licensed psychologist with a private practice. “In contrast, when we try to muscle through and work continually on a project without breaks our quality of work tends to deteriorate.”
They work by a window whenever possible
Of course, most offices don’t let you hand-pick your workstation, but if you do have the freedom to work remotely or can hang out in an open complex that offers a view, seek it out. Research shows that daylight exposure enhances your well being, sleep quality, and levels of activity. Dr. Iyer also points out that prolonged exposure to darkness can result in increased melatonin, which can drive down your mood and energy levels. If your work environment makes it impossible for you to sit next to a window, she recommends making an effort to spend time outside during the morning, lunchtime, or after work to boost your exposure to natural light. “You can also consider getting a medical-grade sunlamp to mimic the productivity-boosting effects of the sun.” Here are some of the signs you’re not getting enough sunlight.
They unplug from electronic devices
This may sound counterintuitive given that for most people, work requires you to be plugged in. But research shows that an over-immersion in technology, particularly computer-related work, not only leaves you less productive over time but can also cause you to be more stressed out and fatigued. Here are some compelling reasons to unplug. “A constant feeling of connectedness can result in a sense of being pulled in multiple directions by numerous entities at all times,” says Risa Stein, PhD, professor of psychology at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. “This results in emotional and mental fatigue as well as ‘role-stress,’ or trying to do too many things for too many people during too much of the time.” Instead, she suggests setting aside even a few minutes to use a relaxation app or moving physical locations. “Tell your contacts that you will only respond to e-mails between certain hours of the day—and stick with it,” she adds.
They don’t try to do everything at once
Settle down, super men and women. While it’s fine to pride yourself on your abilities to multitask, it’s in your best interest (and your employer’s) if you stick to one to-do at a time. Here’s how to boost your mindfulness and live more in the moment. “Somewhere along the lines, our culture has embraced and promoted this idea that the more we can do at once, the better. However, research shows the opposite,” says Dr. Fisher. “In fact, the more we multi-task, the less efficient and productive we become in all the tasks we are trying to accomplish.” Instead, to increase productivity, he suggests focusing on one task at a time until it’s completed and then giving all of your attention to a next task.
They clock a full night’s sleep
In college, you may have pulled one too many all-nighters to finish a paper or study for an exam, but, despite your best efforts, research shows this is not the way to do business. Poor sleep or lack of sleep carries some pretty stiff penalties—check these out. In fact, studies have linked insufficient sleep to decreased levels of productivity, impaired work performance, and poorer safety outcomes. Dr. Stein recommends enlisting the help of an app or monitoring device, like a FitBit, to track your sleep. “If it is deficient, determine whether your challenge involves falling asleep, in which case you may need to implement relaxation at bedtime or improve sleep hygiene, or staying asleep, in which case you may need to nix certain behaviors like eating or drinking too close to bedtime.”
They design their workplace to be a distraction-free zone
This can be hard when you’re typing away in an open-space layout surrounded by 75 of your colleagues, but research has found that your physical work environment plays a big role in determining productivity levels. “The most optimal physical environment for being productive is one where the individual has space to engage in solo work free from distracting conversations either right next to them or out in the hallway,” says Dr. Stein. Though, that’s not to say that your workplace shouldn’t encourage the free exchange of ideas and conversation. Dr. Stein notes that a happy medium is when there are adequate meeting and congregating areas that are separate from individual work areas.