Five work habits of productive and happy people

Stay positive—but not too positive, says expert

Five small changes can help you be more productive, happy, and efficient at work, Tom Rath writes in a post for Readers Digest.

Rath is a senior scientist at Gallup and has written numerous books on productivity and wellbeing. His latest, "Are You Fully Charged?", is an exploration of the habits and techniques that lead to engagement and success at work.

He shares five techniques from his book that he says are common among highly productive and engaged workers.

They stay positive—but not too positive. "Being blindly positive or perpetually negative can cause others to be frustrated or annoyed or to simply tune out," Rath writes. Instead, workers should strive for the right balance of positive thinking—about 80% of the time. "We need at least three to five positive interactions to outweigh every one negative exchange," Rath suggests.

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They are focused on the big picture. The most productive workers are those who are able to remind themselves of why what they do is important. For instance, in an experiment when radiologists received a photo of a patient before they reviewed CT or MRI scans they wrote longer reports and were 46% more accurate in their diagnosis. Effective workers "find a way to infuse each day with a reminder" of their mission, Rath writes.

They take breaks. The most productive people work in intense bursts followed by short breaks. For instance, a survey by the makers of DeskTime, a software application that tracks time use, found the most productive 10% of workers worked about 52 minutes at a time followed by a 17-minute break. Such a work structure helps workers stay energized, Rath writes.

They ask questions. Questions, Rath says, are one of the best ways to connect with new people—even if you are anxious in social settings. "I have learned that it's easier to start talking with people when I focus on asking good questions and then listen to the answers," Rath writes. Learning to ask questions helps workers build productive relationship and trust.

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They hit pause. "When you face an immediate and acute stressor, your instinct is to fight back and respond immediately," Rath observes. In a work context, Rath says this is not the right response. Instead, workers should "take a moment to gather [their] thoughts, and then have a rational discussion" (Rath, Readers Digest, accessed 5/13).

The takeaway: One expert says efficient workers often share five productive habits, such as taking breaks, asking good questions, and having a sense of purpose.

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