6 Traits of the Most Productive People (at Work and in Life)
Whether you’re a senior leader or have just started your career, being more productive is always something to aspire to—and luckily there’s a good amount of science out there to tell you how to do it. Adopting some (or all!) of these six traits can help you to become more productive, both in the office and in life outside of work.
Trait 1: A healthy sleep schedule
While this one may seem intuitive, it’s worth a reminder that how rested you are can significantly impact your productivity levels. One 2010 study found that sleep deprived participants experienced the highest amount of productivity loss, not to mention being less motivated, less focused, and worse at making good decisions. So, if you’re staying up all night to finish a project, there may be value in instead getting some rest—and going at it with a fresh (and faster) mind in the morning.
Trait 2: Deliberate workday breaks
Luckily, being more productive doesn’t require staring at a computer all day. In fact, science shows that the most productive decidedly don’t do that. According to research done in 2014, the top 10% of employees don’t work a “full” eight hour day—instead, they take an average of 17 minutes as a break for every 52 minutes of work.
While the exact numbers don’t matter so much, the takeaway is that you should get a bit of a break for every hour you’re working—whether it’s for coffee, a walk, lunch, or a chat with a colleague. While this can be hard to schedule into a busy day of meetings, do your best to incorporate downtime in between your work to ensure maximum efficiency.
Trait 3: Working from home (and doing it efficiently)
Working from home is becoming more common, particularly as more of the office day-to-day moves online—and doing so can help to increase your output if you know how to manage your time well. One study found that employees working from home performed 13% better than those in an office. Additionally, Hired’s latest Brand Health Report revealed that when it comes to tech talent, over 70% express interest in working 100% and 19% showing that work flexibility is a part of their top considerations when evaluating a job offer.
That said, working from home requires a certain amount of discipline, and your success may also depend on your role and the amount of autonomy you have. You’re ultimately the best gauge of whether it’s a good working environment for you, so test it out and measure your performance before making it a routine.
Trait 4: Avoidance of multitasking—particularly when doing complex work
While the avid multitasker can appear to be the master of productivity, you’re likely actually losing time if you’re trying to multitask at work. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, switching between tasks take extra mental energy—thus costing you a bit of time each time you switch. The more unfamiliar and complex the task, the more time is lost—for example, well-practiced activities like sipping coffee and reading the news probably aren’t too inefficient to do at once, while performing an in-depth analysis and writing an important email should be tackled separately.
Trait 5: Taking vacation seriously
It might seem counterintuitive that you can increase your productivity by taking time off of work, but going on vacation can give you a much-needed mental break and recharge. According to the OECD, the U.S. is only the fifth most productive country as measured by GDP per hour worked—despite the fact that the average American work week is longer than in the top four most productive countries.
Rather than waiting until you’re burned out to take time off, schedule regular holidays into your year. Figure out what recharges you the most—it might be one long vacation, a ton of weekend trips, or somewhere in between.
Trait 6: Knowing what works for you
The science on productivity isn’t perfect—so the real key is knowing what works for you. For example, while some studies suggest that a clean workspace can boost productivity by allowing your brain’s limited processing power to focus on the task at hand, others suggest that clutter can lead to higher efficiency, better decision-making, and higher levels of creativity.
The takeaway? As with most things, it depends—and in this case, it depends on what works best for you. This doesn’t just apply to your workspace, but also your approach to taking breaks, multitasking, and more. Keep in mind that while studies may say one thing, even science generally reflects the median behavior, so your optimal productivity may or may not exactly mirror what the research finds. Rather than taking it at face value, experiment with different work environments and cadences to find the best fit for you.