5 habits that can help anyone on your team become a top performer

A few small habits separate high-performing employees from everyone else, according to a study by VitalSmarts.

To conduct the study, the researchers asked nearly 1,600 managers and employees to identify the work habits of star employees. Then, researchers asked more than 2,000 participants to complete an assessment about their personal productivity practices, job performance, and level of stress.

High performers are, by definition, more productive than their peers; the researchers found that the top employees were responsible for about 61% of the work done by their departments.

But perhaps more surprisingly, despite doing more work, high performers did not tend to be more stressed out than their colleagues.

The researchers attribute this finding to the work habits of high performers, which they argue contribute to their success.

For example, respondents commonly described high performers as great communicators, saying they "ask for help," "know who to go to," and "know when to ask." In contrast, respondents described average and low performers as having weaker communication skills, saying they have a "lack of communication," are "slow to respond," and "don't listen."

What most organizations get wrong about managing high performers

Respondents also described high performers as having good time management skills, saying they are "organized," make "to do lists," "block time on their calendar," and "prioritize," among other traits. In contrast, respondents described average and low performers as having weaker time management skills, saying they are "disorganized," "don't meet deadlines," or have "no follow through."

"The message in this research is that a very small number of self-management practices literally change a person’s life and are also beneficial to the organization," says study co-lead David Maxfield.

The researchers recommend five productivity habits based on their research of star employees and David Allen's book about productivity, Getting Things Done:

1: Collect. Track everything that needs your attention in an external tool, such as a to-do list or mobile app.

2: Find the next step. Review your to-do list and ask yourself: What's the very next step in this task? Is it my responsibility or someone else's?

3: Just do it. Look for items on your to-do list that can be accomplished in two minutes or less. Do these right away. It's not worth letting them take up space on your to-do list, the researchers say.

4: Double-check your routine. Before launching into your typical routine, such as checking e-mail first thing in the morning, glance over your to-do list. Is there a better task to work on right now?

5: Review regularly. Set aside time each week to review and update your calendar and your to-do list. You can also use this time to check whether your plans still align with your and the organization's priorities (Bolden-Barrett, HR Dive, 8/9; Zipkin, Entrepreneur, 8/1; St. George News, 8/6).

The 5-minute change that could make your team more productive


Next in Today's Briefing

A common admissions practice may favor the wealthy, study finds

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague