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8 Key Behaviors of Highly Productive People

Published: 15/06/2020

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Recently, I ran across a very interesting article by Travis Bradbury, on, in which he wrote about the behaviors exhibited by some of the world’s most successful people. It was populated with research done by Dr. Kevin Kruse, Ph.D., a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, who teaches 20th century US history. In this particular study, Dr. Kruse interviewed over 200 highly successful people, including billionaires, Olympians, and noteworthy entrepreneurs. His research was driven by only one question: “What is your number one secret to productivity?" Mr. Kruse then utilized a coding system for the answers, which yielded some fascinating ideas.

I’ve always had a very analytical approach to things (my family sees it as being more obsessive-compulsive), which I’ve used to come up with efficiencies for many aspects of my life, including my photography. As such, I’ve always thought that I ran my day-to-day as a pretty tight ship. After reading this article, though, it was clear that I wasn’t being as productive as I’d presumed. So, I thought I’d summarize some key points from the article, in the hope that it might help you to re-examine some behaviors that impact your photography business or perhaps, even your personal life. In any case, here are some of Dr. Kruse’s key findings from his research with highly successful people:

1. They focus on minutes, not hours. According to this research, the most successful people are laser-focused on accounting for their time. Dr. Kruse cited former Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller, who said, "To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute."

2. They set aside blocks of time to focus on only one thing. Dr. Kruse reported that most successful people he interviewed were very diligent at staying focused on their most important tasks and they do not allow distractions for a set period of time - usually one to two hours. In other words, they know what their “main thing” is; and, as Stephen Covey once said about the importance of focus in business: “The main thing is to keep the Main Thing, the main thing.” So what is your main thing? Whether it’s improving your craft or ramping up your marketing efforts, do you set aside at least an hour a day to it? I know I don’t and I can tell you that this one’s got me thinking!

3. They don't use to-do lists. This one threw me for a loop, as the ubiquitous "to-do list" has been a staple in my life for as long as I can remember. Dr. Kruze says throw it out! Research shows that “only 41 percent of items on to-do lists ever get done. All those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik Effect, which in essence means that uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them.” This can (and often does) cause undue stress.

4. They make it home for dinner. For me, this one speaks to putting up appropriate boundaries between work and home. It’s so easy to get caught up in the notion of, “Let me take care of just one more thing” before I call it a day.

5.  They use a notebook. This is a common best practice used by senior executives in the corporate world and I think it can be effectively applied to our creative world, too. Writing stuff down whenever a thought hits us can be so helpful. Whether it’s at a shoot when we’re trying a new lighting technique and we want to remember how it went or something that our client is expecting at an upcoming shoot, not having to always remember every little detail allows us to use that mental energy on more creative things in our day-to-day photography.  

6.  They follow the 80/20 rule. This is known as the Pareto Principle. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist and sociologist in the late-19th/early-20th century. He famously noted that approximately 20 percent of the people owned 80 percent of the wealth. This principle has been shown to apply to other areas, including customer impact on one’s business (i.e., 80% of our photography business’s revenue usually comes from only 20% of our clients). The nugget here is: Figure out which of your customers make up that 20% group and then do everything you can to keep them!

7.  They focus on their energy reserves. Knowing that the amount of time we all have every day is finite, highly successful people make sure that their energy reserves are always full. This means a strict adherence to getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking breaks throughout the day, so as to re-charge. This is what enables long periods of intense focus on achieving their goals.

8.  They practice a consistent morning routine. The article reports that the one finding from Dr. Kruze’s interviews with highly successful people that surprised him the most was “how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with him.” This often included drinking lots of water, having a good breakfast, and devoting time for “meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, or journaling.”

Going through this article opened my eyes to just how much I need to do to incorporate these behaviors into my everyday work/personal life. I hope you’ve been positively influenced as well--and of course, if you practice certain behaviors that have contributed to your success, please feel free to share!

Tony Colangelo