5 productivity habits of high-performing employees that you can start today

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A new study from leadership training company VitalSmarts reveals that top-rated employees perform better than their colleagues because they work smarter — not harder — when it comes to completing tasks.

It comes as no surprise that employees who were rated by their managers as a nine or 10 on a 10-point scale are three times more valuable to an organization. What does come as a surprise is that these employees also tend to maintain low stress levels.

What's the key to becoming more valuable in the workplace without over-extending yourself? VitalSmarts researchers David Maxfield and Justin Hale share the top five productivity habits that top-rated employees use to thrive in their career:

How to be more productive

1. Keep careful track of all your commitments 

According to Maxfield and Hale, rather than keeping a mental note of all the commitments, tasks, ideas and projects going on, top employees use "capture tools" such as a sticky note, an app or email to jot down the things that occupy their schedule.

"When someone gives you a to-do don't hold it in your head," says Maxfield. "Get it out of your head and write it down in two places."

According to a study by Wake Forest University professors E. J. Masicampo and Roy F. Baumeister, just writing down a plan for getting tasks done can easily free people from experiencing anxiety.

2. Prioritize to-do list items

Top-rated employees clarify whether or not every item on their list needs to be followed by an immediate action. If something does need immediate action, then Maxfield and Hale says these employees identify right away what that action should be.

These successful people share how to get more done in your 24-hour day

3. Implement the two-minute rule

If an action can be completed in two minutes or less, then Maxfield and Hale says top employees often complete those tasks right away, rather than allowing them to pile up and take more mental space than they deserve.

4. Reflect on the things that matter

Instead of diving into their cluttered inbox first thing in the morning, most high-performing employees take two minutes to review their calendar and the action items that are already on their list.

By doing this, Maxfield and Hale say these employees are able to reflect on how to best use their time for the workday.

5. Hold weekly self-meetings

Top-rated employees set aside alone time every week for a non-negotiable meeting to refocus and align their to-do lists with their high-level priorities.

For employees who are looking to follow the same practice, Maxfield suggest asking yourself during this meeting, "Is this task getting me towards where I want to go in my relationships, in my career and in my life?"

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