What Makes Some People More Productive Than Others

By Robert C. Pozen and Kevin Downey
November 11, 2021

Last year HBR.org published a survey to help professionals assess their own personal productivity – defined as the habits closely associated with accomplishing more each day. Nearly 20,000 people from six continents completed it, and the results provide some useful insights into important productivity habits and challenges facing professionals. Three general patterns stood out: First, working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher personal productivity. Working smarter is the key to accomplishing more of your top priorities each day. Second, age and seniority were highly correlated with personal productivity — older and more senior professionals recorded higher scores than younger and more junior colleagues. Third, the overall productivity scores of male and female professionals were almost the same, but there were gender differences on particular habits that promote personal productivity.

Would you rate yourself as highly productive?

We’ve learned a lot about personal productivity and what makes some people more productive than others. Last year we published a survey to help professionals assess their own personal productivity — defined as the habits closely associated with accomplishing more each day. The survey focused on seven habits: developing daily routines, planning your schedule, coping with messages, getting a lot done, running effective meetings, honing communication skills, and delegating tasks to others.

After cleaning up the data, we obtained a complete set of answers from 19,957 respondents across six continents. Roughly half were residents of North America; another 21% were residents of Europe and 19% were residents of Asia. The remaining 10% was comprised of residents (in descending order) from Australia, South America, and Africa.

Our survey had its limits — for example, respondents were a self-selected sample of readers of HBR.org, and the ratings were self-assessments of habits rather than objective measures of people’s productivity. Nevertheless, we believe the survey results provide useful insights into important productivity habits and challenges facing professionals.

Three general patterns stood out: First, working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher personal productivity. Working smarter is the key to accomplishing more of your top priorities each day. Second, age and seniority were highly correlated with personal productivity — older and more senior professionals recorded higher scores than younger and more junior colleagues. Third, the overall productivity scores of male and female professionals were almost the same, but there were gender differences on particular habits that promote personal productivity.

More specifically, we found that professionals with the highest productivity scores tended to do well on the same clusters of habits. They planned their work based on their top priorities, and then acted with a definite objective. They developed effective techniques for managing a high volume of information and tasks. And they understood the needs of their colleagues — for short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions.

Let’s go deeper into the survey results. On geography, the average productivity score for respondents from North America was in the middle of the pack, even though Americans tend to work longer hours. The North American score was significantly lower than the average productivity scores for respondents from Europe, Asia, and Australia. On the other hand, the North American score was significantly higher than the average productivity scores for residents of South America and Africa (though recall these were the areas where we had the least data).

Drilling down into the data, we found the higher productivity scores for Europe, Asia, and Australia were driven by strong habits in areas such as daily schedules, not constantly checking messages, focusing early on the final product, and thinking carefully before reading or writing.

 

 

Robert C. Pozen is a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the co-author of Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are (with Alexandra Samuel).

 

Kevin Downey is a student at MIT.

 

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate. 

 

 

Join AAPL today

 

 


 

Topics:

It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work
How Women Can Develop — and Promote — Their Personal Brand