As I always say, everyone’s wired differently. One person’s challenges with time management and productivity aren’t going to look exactly the same as someone else’s. But while you can’t do anything about how your brain is wired, you do have control over a lot of things—including your habits.

Bad Habits Tank Productivity

According to research conducted by Duke University, habits account for about 40% of our daily behaviors. Think about that for a moment: nearly half of your daily activities aren’t driven by conscious choices but rather by ingrained behaviors. These actions have become so automatic through repetition that they occur without much thought.

Letting bad habits continue can significantly lower your productivity, while building good habits can transform the way you manage your time.  It’s time to reflect on the power of habits in shaping your daily life.

So, with a nod to the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” I’ve put together a list of 7 habits that highly productive people tend to have—how many of these describe you right now?  

1. You start each day with a clear idea of the most important things that you must get done that day.  

This isn’t the same thing as starting each morning with a to-do list and/or fully scheduled calendar for the day ahead. Working productively isn’t necessarily about getting as much done as possible. It’s about using your limited time each day to get the right things done—tasks that are either time-sensitive and non-negotiable, or are going to help you move the needle on your most important goals.   

Productive people are good at prioritizing their most important tasks. This can be difficult when you have 20 or 30 things to do that are all important and all need your attention. Each morning, you want to be clear about which two or three things *must* get done that day. Decide which ones are the next most important, and which ones are lower priority for now.  

2. You say no when your plate is full.  

Many professionals feel like they should say yes to as many requests or opportunities as they possibly can. Especially professionals who run their own businesses and are always hustling. Let’s say you’ve been asked to join a charity board, or grab coffee with someone who’s new to your industry so they can pick your brain, or take on a last-minute project for your client. Those are all flattering requests that reflect how others in your professional network value you, and they might lead to other opportunities.  

But every new “yes” puts more pressure on your schedule. It creates a new set of responsibilities and tasks that you now have to manage, on top of everything you’re already juggling. Yeses should be reserved for things that will directly help you grow your business, or things that you’re really passionate and excited about.  

And, think about balance when you do say “yes!” to those new asks and opportunities. Maybe you’re already stretched thin, but you decide you are going to join that new committee within the industry organization you belong to. You believe in the mission, and it’s a good way to get exposure and do some networking, so it’s worth saying yes to. Where are those hours going to come from? What are some things that are low-value on your calendar, that you could cut to account for this new time commitment? 

Productive people are super clear about how limited their time is, and treat it like the valuable resource it is. Budgeting your money means deciding whether X thing is worth Y dollars. Budgeting your time well means you’re going to have to be comfortable deciding that something isn’t worth the amount of time that thing would require, even if you wish you could say yes.  

3. You always break goals down into smaller, actionable steps.  

Yes, breaking goals down into steps is actually a habit that people can form! Ideally you think about it when you first set a Big Goal or start digging into a big project for the first time. But, you can do this at any time with any goal. Start by breaking down a Big Goal into a handful of steps. Then break down each of those steps into smaller and smaller steps, a project that could seem daunting suddenly feels excitingly doable. You’re able to move forward decisively on the first steps you’ve plotted out. Accomplishing those steps builds momentum, and suddenly you’ve made significant progress on a goal that once seemed too ambitious. 

4. You take breaks, even when you’re swamped.  

Burnout is an enemy to good time management and productivity. You can’t give the most important things the focus and energy they deserve when you’re totally depleted from working nonstop. Even if it’s just 10 or 20 minutes in between meetings, taking moments to go outdoors, or rest your eyes, or do something else that feels restorative, is probably going to bring you back to your desk a little less stressed and a little more energized.  

5. You group similar tasks together instead of jumping from thing to thing (to thing to thing to thing).  

Multitasking just isn’t something everyone is wired for. Going from checking email, to returning a client call, to writing an email, to reviewing a report, to checking email again…sound familiar? That kind of hop-scotching might be fine sometimes when you’re knocking out low-focus, repetitive types of tasks. When you’re working on things that require deeper focus, however, frequent task shifting might eat up time and keep you from doing your best work.  

In practice, this might mean you only check and respond to emails and calls at set times of day. Or, reserving certain types of non-urgent tasks for certain times. For example, a solo business owner might save all their administrative work (ordering office supplies, calling their accountant, etc.) for one day of the week. Any administrative tasks that come up during the rest of the week get added to a to-do list and dealt with on that designated day.  

6. You’ve set up your devices to help pull you into your most important tasks, rather than distract you from them.  

There’s nothing more threatening to good time management and productivity than external distractions. Our gadgets can be incredibly effective distractions. Maximizing your time requires you to make your devices work with you to accomplish that goal.   

Customize your settings on all those gadgets so they’re only buzzing, beeping and lighting up when you want them to.

  • What notifications do you need to see right away?
  • Which ones can you silence until you’re ready to deal with them?
  • Are there any distracting sites or apps you want to put timers on so you can’t mindlessly waste hours on them?
  • Have you explored whether any time management and productivity apps might be useful for you?  

7. You ask for help as soon as you realize you need it.   

When you’re overwhelmed and overloaded, pushing through on your own is ultimately going to be an inefficient use of your time. Productive people are proactive about delegating and outsourcing things that can be handled by someone else. They also loop in any professional help they might need to function as well as they can. Growing your business, knocking out your big goals and tending to your own personal well-being are things none of us can do alone.  

Need support to develop better productivity habits?  

Nearly everyone has bad habits, or areas where they can improve time management and productivity. But a lot of people aren’t clear about the actual steps they should take to make those improvements. That’s where I come in.

Request a no-cost Strategy Session with me today. We’ll talk about:

  • what’s going on with you
  • where you want to go
  • and whether True Focus might be able to help.

Click here to request your free one-on-one Strategy Session. 

Be well,


Sarah Reiff-Hekking