4 Personal Qualities of Productive People
What do productive people have in common? What follows are descriptions of four of the character traits I have repeatedly noticed in people who are highly productive.
1. High Energy
People usually conflate having high energy with hyperactivity. But high energy and hyperactivity are different concepts. One is about having enough strength to underwrite the demands of a day; the other is about inattention and sometimes impulsivity. They are unique but not necessarily mutually exclusive attributes, i.e., the same person may exhibit both. The relevant point here is that one can be high-energy and wear that label proudly because it doesn’t necessarily mean one is also ADHD. Almost all successful people are high-energy—how else could they stay on top of what is usually a punishing schedule, day after day?
I remarked a few weeks ago that energy, not time, is the key resource to manage for optimal productivity. You can have all the time in the world, but if you are too drained, it will count for nothing. However, if you have little time but plenty of power, you can get a lot done. The other personal qualities below more or less relate to energy. If you have them in surplus, they increase your store of energy; if you are deficient in them, they deplete it.
Ambition gives energy a target to aim at, refining its crudeness and transforming its amorality into an emulative quality.
Ambition is a word that has gotten a bad rap in our culture. Many put ambition in the same bucket as ruthless, uncaring, selfish, and even sadistic. Ambitious people can certainly be all of those things, but they are not exclusive traits. Lazy sloths, too, can be ruthless, uncaring, selfish, and even sadistic. Ambition simply means you want to get ahead. It means you have given yourself the permission to be better at your vocation. It means when you see an opportunity, you seize it. It means you have resolved to deliver results, not excuses. It means you have decided to contribute rather than take; to create rather than consume; to live rather than merely exist. It is impossible to be productive without ambition.
I will be honest with you: the one quality that has saved me more than any other is ambition. I naturally have high energy; it takes a lot to get me tired. But high energy is a double-edged sword. Without proper guidance, the list of its destructive uses is endless. Enter ambition. Ambition gives energy a target to aim at, refining its crudeness and transforming its amorality into an emulative quality.
Ambition alone doesn’t lead to productivity. It must be coupled with focus. Focus exists on two levels: the strategic and the tactical. Strategically, focus seeks to answer questions like: What are the top priorities that must be achieved? What key objectives should attention be directed to? Focus is a prime energy-management tool. Focus takes for granted that energy is a limited resource; economy, therefore, is crucial. Focus is where the potential of high energy and ambition is realized. It is becoming rarer to be focused in an increasingly distracting world. This opens up a massive economic opportunity for anyone who can master the ability to be focused. They will produce much more than others. They produce quality at speed and are disproportionately rewarded precisely because of the rarity of the trait.
On a tactical level, focus is about using tools to enable a distraction-free environment. For example, Pomodoro, which we touched on a while back, keeps you on track in 25-to-45-minute intense work periods without interruptions. Some apps or sites can also restrict your freedom to, for instance, check Facebook during work hours. There is also what bestselling author, Cal Newport, terms “Deep Work,” where you block parts of your calendar to fully concentrate on a task. All of these tactics aim to operationalize the concept of focus. I encourage you to try them.
“Know thyself” is timeless advice. What drains your energy and what replenishes it? What are your strengths? How can you leverage them? What are your weaknesses? How can you manage them? What opportunities are available to you? What landmines should you avoid? What is your why? These are a few examples of questions that a self-aware person knows the answers to. Self-awareness will enable you to take on what you can accomplish. It will make you appear competent and honest because you will never commit to what your ability cannot deliver. Self-awareness is humbling—it takes humility to admit your personal weaknesses—but in that humility lies tremendous strength.
Every other personal weakness can be overcome…if one is self-aware. You will start earlier, stay later, finish sooner, seek help, dig down, do whatever is necessary to reach your goal so long as you are self-aware, regardless of deficiencies in other qualities. What’s more, outside of the workplace, the self-aware person is always fun to be around.