YS Learn: The art of being super productive

Super productive people are a source of both pride and envy. But what makes them tick? What sets them apart, and what makes them better efficient than the others? We have put together a few points based on research by the Harvard Business Review.

YS Learn: The art of being super productive

Thursday February 04, 2021,

5 min Read

Martial artist Bruce Lee once said that the successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. Bruce Lee would know, considering in his short life of 32 years, Lee was known to be one of the most productive personalities ever - with titles ranging from actor to martial artist to director to philosopher - all under one (martial) belt! 

We have all come across that one person at work who seemingly nails it all - meetings, deadlines, targets and networking, and what’s more - even makes time for quick water cooler talks.

A report in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) quoted a research by Michael Mankins that said - The most productive software developers write nine times more usable codes per day than the average developer. He also found that the best fish butcher at Le Bernardin Restaurant in New York can butcher three times more fish than the average fish prep cook in New York, the best blackjack dealer at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas keeps their table playing five times longer, and the best sales associate at Nordstrom sells eight times more clothes.

These super productive beings are a source of both pride and envy. But the question is, what makes them tick? What makes them achieve more within the same time allotted to everyone else? HBR collected data from over 7000 people who were rated by their managers on their productivity, and a few specific behaviours stood out. These people were also rated by 11 others who knew them - peers, subordinates, etc. And the results pointed to these behavioural attributes - 

YS Learn - Productivity

Image credit: Daisy


The HBR study said that the most productive people did not see their productivity ebb and flow over time; they did not procrastinate, only to pull all-nighters later on. Instead, they figured out how to consistently deliver results, week after week and month after month. There was a cadence and a rhythm to their work that seemed to keep them going.

What also helps is ‘batch checking emails’ - a very simple concept, but one that is superbly hard to follow in this digital age of information overload. With batch checking, one only reads, processes, and responds to emails two or three times a day, as against being constantly glued to the inbox. Pausing notifications for a period of time so that work remains priority is the key here. 

Research from Ohio State University said that when we have a meeting coming up in the next hour or two, we get 22 percent less work done, compared to when we have no upcoming meetings at all.

Create a rule around your own schedule. If you are alert during the mornings, fix your schedule with the demanding tasks early on, and leave the afternoons open. And all the while, be consistent with the routine. 

Result oriented 

Super productive people look to accomplish a result faster than ever before. They are overjoyed to be able to check something off their to-do list, as the report states. They compete, but more with themselves than their colleagues or others. They like to set new records for performances, and like to beat their best. 

Apart from this, they also look to get a major project. This generally pushes one to pick pace and eliminate distractions. “The people in our study who got the most done made setting stretch goals a habit,” said the report. In simple words, try to aim for much more than you are capable of. As someone put it poetically, aim for the moon, and if you miss, you will land among the stars. 

Taking initiative 

Many would attest, the hardest part of a job is to get started. Productive people start quickly and never wait to be told to begin. They are self-motivated. “They ask for forgiveness not permission,” says the report. While this can also get them in trouble, there is rarely any reason to complain as the results speak for themselves. They are also problem solvers - being solution oriented and not problem oriented makes a big difference to one’s attitude. Coming up with innovative solutions to accomplish work more efficiently is a win-win situation for all. 

Social psychologists call this mental contrasting — thinking about what you want to achieve and what might get in the way of you achieving it. Research suggests it helps people achieve their goals.

Collaborative effort 

There is little that employees and organisations can get done by acting alone, everyone is interdependent. The most productive people are collaborative, and work well with others. 

As the HBR mentions, “They did not have to spend a lot of time soothing ruffled feathers, because they did not ruffle many feathers in the first place. If you want to be more productive yourself, take a look at this list and ask if there’s something you can improve. Do you struggle to get started? Could you be more consistent? If you’re a manager trying to help one of your employees get more done, ask yourself if there’s something here that could help. Maybe your employee is working hard, but does not have the skills they need to really increase their productivity. Can you help them get those skills? Can you help them set motivating stretch goals?”

The most productive people in the world are not born that way. They have all learnt along the way, stumbled, and stood up again to relearn the skills that bring out the best in them, without any delay. As author Karen Lamb once said - A year from now, you will wish you had started TODAY.  

Edited by Anju Narayanan