20,000-Person Survey Finds Common Elements in Most Productive People

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jun 11, 2019

A survey of 20,000 people asking about their work habits has found a few common features in those who had the most personal productivity, according to the Wall Street Journal. The survey, conducted by MIT lecturer and financial executive Robert Pozen, consisted of 21 questions divided into seven categories: developing daily routines, planning your schedule, coping with messages, getting a lot done, running effective meetings, honing communication skills and delegating tasks to others. Over the course of reviewing the 20,000 responses, sent in by readers of the online version of Harvard Business Review, Pozen noticed that several patterns began to emerge. 

One is that, despite the always-on connectivity often lamented by workers, total hours worked has little to do with what actually gets done. Those with the highest productivity scores tended to be people who planned their work based on top priorities and acted with intentionality, developed effective techniques for managing high volumes of information, and kept their colleagues' needs in mind. Essentially, they worked smarter, not harder. 

The survey also found that people get better at the "smarter not harder" formulation as they advance in age and seniority, as productivity scores grew in tandem with both. The study said these workers had developed stronger work habits, such as developing routines for low-value activities, managing message flow, running effective meetings, and delegating tasks to others. 

It also found that men and women had nearly identical absolute productivity scores, although women tended to be better at effective scheduling and running meetings, while men tended to score higher in dealing with high message volume, moving quickly to finalize tasks, and keeping a flexible schedule to deal with unplanned events. 

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