The 7 Productive Habits of Highly Effective Managers

written by Dan Silvestre
Habits, Productivity

productive habitsWhat makes a manager go from good to great is much more than just skills. The secret sauce is their productive habits.

I’m talking about things that go beyond the usual to-do list or productivity systems. These habits shape how managers handle their time, talk to their teams, and keep growing.

Productive habits are the foundational building blocks for sustained success and effective leadership.

When you develop productive habits, you:

  1. Improve your time management
  2. Empower your team
  3. Make better decisions
  4. Deliver consistent performance
  5. Become more flexible and can adapt to change

Below, you’ll find the 7 productive habits of highly effective managers.

Whether you’re a manager — or soon to become one — they’ll help you not just manage but own the leadership game.

Ready to unravel the secrets?

Let’s do this.

Productive Habit #1: Focus on the Big Stuff First

productive habit focus on the big stuff

Productive managers and constantly juggling spinning plates. You have to balance multiple projects, priorities, and a long list of tasks.

The key?

Focus on the most important plates first – it’s the secret sauce to staying on top of the game.

Consider your to-do list.

There’s always that one task that’s the most important, the game-changer. Doing that task first thing is like hitting a home run. It sets the tone for the entire day.

Start the day by “eating your frog“. Face the toughest task in the morning.

Why does it work?

Well, it helps you beat procrastination. No more delaying things until the last minute. You’re in control of your time, not the other way around.

And here’s the thing:

Completing those important tasks first doesn’t just make you good at managing time. It also rubs off on your team. Your team picks up on that energy, and suddenly everyone is working with purpose.

So, the next time you have a bunch of tasks, remember this simple rule: focus on the most crucial one first.

It’s not just about being productive. It’s about creating a culture of getting things done.

Next Steps: How to Unleash the Power of Prioritization

1. The Morning Power Hour

Kickstart your day right by eating your biggest frog. Dedicate the first hour of your day to the most crucial task on your plate.

2. The 2-Minute Rule

Tackle quick, two-minute tasks immediately. This clears your plate of small distractions. And it also gives you a quick win, setting the stage for more significant accomplishments.

3. Use a Prioritization Framework

Use the Eisenhower Matrix or the ABCD method to prioritize tasks. They help you categorize tasks based on urgency and importance, making it crystal clear where to focus your efforts first.

4. Break Down Big Tasks into Digestible Chunks

Large tasks can be overwhelming. Break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This not only makes the task less daunting but also allows you to celebrate progress along the way.

5. Time Block for Focus

Use time blocking and dedicate specific slots of time to focus on high-priority tasks. This guards against interruptions and helps create a rhythm of concentrated focus.

6. The Three-Task Rule

Limit your daily to-do list to just three crucial tasks. Direct your energy toward high-impact tasks.

7. The Pomodoro Technique

Break your workday into focused intervals using the Pomodoro Technique. Work in 25-minute sprints and take a short break.

Productive Habit #2: Cultivate Deep Work

deep work

Coined by Cal Newport, deep work refers to the ability to concentrate without interruption on cognitively demanding tasks. This fosters a state of flow that unlocks creativity and problem-solving.

Hard things are complex and you need to give them all of your attention and focus.

The batching of hard but important intellectual work into long, uninterrupted stretches is key to high productivity.

Every day is full of emails, notifications, and non-stop requests. Being able to find time for focused work is like having a superpower as a manager.

Your goal is to systematically develop your ability to go deep — and by doing so, reap great rewards.

Deep Work is about working smarter, not harder.

Deep work also unlocks a whole new level of leadership. It’s not just about finishing tasks. It’s a smart way of thinking that aims for important and impactful results.

Show that undistracted work is crucial and you’re signaling that you value doing things well more than doing lots of things.

It’s all about putting in a concentrated effort to reach the big goals of the organization.

Next Steps: How to Work Deeply

1. Establish Deep Work Rituals

Develop pre-work rituals that signal the transition into deep work mode. I like using a specific playlist. But it can also mean the ritual of making coffee. These cues can help signal to both yourself and your team that it’s time for concentrated, distraction-free work.

2. Single-Task

Advocate for a single-tasking approach during deep work sessions. This approach minimizes cognitive load and enhances focus.

3. Create a Distraction-Free Zone

Establish a physical or digital space free from interruptions. Encourage your team to use tools like “Do Not Disturb” during designated deep work hours.

4. Silence Digital Notifications

Turn off non-essential digital notifications during deep work sessions. This includes email alerts, app notifications, and any digital distractions that can pull focus away from the task at hand.

5. Batch Similar Tasks

Group similar tasks together to streamline cognitive processes. Batching reduces the mental load associated with context-switching.

6. Have “No-Meeting Days”

Choose specific days or times as “no-meeting” periods. This will give everyone on the team uninterrupted blocks of time for deep work.

7. Take Regular Breaks

Remind everyone about the significance of short breaks during deep work sessions. Breaks are like little productivity boosts. They prevent burnout and keep focus sharp throughout the day.

Productive Habit #3: Delegate Strategically

productive habits strategic delegation

When you’re a manager, you need to scale your impact through your team. That’s where strategic delegation comes in.

If you don’t know how to delegate tasks, it can become yet another burden. One more item on your to-do list, instead of freeing up your time.

But here’s the good news:

When you delegate strategically, the results are nothing short of magical.

You’re empowering your team to work better together and do great things.

Strategic delegation is about understanding the strengths of your team. It’s about fitting tasks to people and making sure everyone’s skills match the task.

Clear communication is crucial in strategic delegation. You need to explain what needs to be done, what’s expected, and why it’s important. This helps the team know exactly what to do and makes them feel proud of their work.

When you trust your team with important tasks, it creates a good work environment. Trust brings everyone together. It makes them excited to work and helps everyone reach success.

Strategic delegation also helps everyone get better at their jobs. Use it to help each person grow and get better at what they do. This will build a stronger and more skilled team.

So:

Strategic delegation isn’t just about sharing work. It’s about making a team where everyone can do their best.

And it’s not just a manager thing. It’s a leader’s way of making sure the whole team succeeds.

Next Steps: How to Delegate Strategically

1. Match Tasks with Strengths

Look at tasks and match them with what your team is good at. When tasks align with what each person is great at, they not only get done well but also help everyone get better at what they do.

2. Talk Clearly

Make sure everyone knows what’s expected. Talk about what needs to be done, what you want to achieve, and any important details. Keep communication open for questions and to share why the task is important.

3. Trust Your Team

Build trust by giving your team important tasks that challenge and empower them. Trust goes both ways. When managers show confidence, team members respond with more commitment and responsibility.

4. Personal Growth Plans

Tailor tasks to help your team members grow in their careers. This helps them get better, creating a win-win for both managers and team members.

5. Keep the Feedback Flowing

Create a loop for ongoing improvement. Recognize achievements, guide improvements, and create a culture that loves learning and growing.

6. Let Them Decide with Responsibility

Give your team some freedom in their tasks. Encourage them to make decisions and take ownership while making sure they’re accountable for the outcomes. This mix helps them feel responsible and sparks creative problem-solving.

7. Plan Tasks Smartly

Sequence tasks strategically. Think about how tasks connect, so your team can build on their successes and take on more challenging tasks step by step.

Productive Habit #4: Embrace the Growth Mindset

growth mindset

“Knowledge is power” is truer than ever for managers. Today, managing means more than just completing tasks.

You need to be adaptable and take a proactive approach to always keep learning.

Tech advances. Market changes. Best-practices evolve. Managers who commit to always learning position themselves as innovators and strong leaders.

Choosing to keep learning is like saying no to staying the same. It’s the opposite of effective leadership.

There’s always room for improvement — in every area. There’s always a better, faster, or cheaper way to do things.

“You should take the approach that you’re wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.” Elon Musk

This is called a growth mindset. And it’s an important skill that separates successful managers from everyone else.

When you have a growth mindset, you know you can learn anything if you put enough effort into it. And if you fail, you approach the problem from a different angle until you find a solution that works. You iterate until you get it right.

Developing a growth mindset goes beyond personal and professional growth. Managers with a growth mindset build a culture that likes curiosity and adaptability.

It pushes your team to grow and creates an environment where everyone gets smarter together.

Next Steps: How to Develop a Growth Mindset

1. Set Clear Learning Goals

Define specific learning objectives aligned with both personal and professional growth. This clarity provides a roadmap for skill acquisition and knowledge enhancement.

2. Allocate Time for Learning

Dedicate specific time in your schedule for learning activities to ensure constant growth. Expand your knowledge with books and courses. Load your brain with fresh knowledge to come up with new ideas and solutions that add value to your job and life.

3. Value the Process

Focus on the process of learning and growing rather than fixating solely on the results. Appreciate the journey, recognizing that continuous improvement is a lifelong pursuit.

4. Create a Learning Network

Foster a network of peers, mentors, and industry professionals. Regularly engage in discussions, seek advice, and share insights. Networking not only broadens perspectives but also opens avenues for collaborative learning.

5. Reflect and Apply Knowledge

Integrate reflective practices into your learning routine. Pause to assess how new knowledge can be applied to your managerial role. This bridge between theory and application enhances the effectiveness of learning.

6. Cultivate Curiosity

Stay curious about the world around you. Ask questions, explore new topics, and remain open to learning from various sources. Curiosity fuels a mindset of continuous improvement.

7. Experiment with New Strategies

Be willing to experiment with different approaches and strategies. Maybe one method doesn’t yield the desired results. So consider it a learning experience and adjust your approach accordingly.

Productive Habit #5: Communicate Effectively

productive habits effective communication

Effective communication is a key skill for managers.

You want to make sure everyone on your team understands what you’re saying. Great communication ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Be clear and direct in your messages. Avoid using complicated words or phrases that might confuse your team. Keep it simple.

Listening is also a big part of good communication.

It’s not just about hearing words. It’s about understanding the emotions, concerns, and perspectives behind those words.

Actively listening to your team members demonstrates empathy and respect. This creates a positive and supportive work environment.

Adaptability matters too. Be flexible in how you communicate. Different team members may prefer different ways of getting information.

So use a mix of communication channels to reach your team effectively.

Sometimes you need a team meeting. Others a one-on-one discussion. And sometimes a simple digital message will do. Choose the medium that best suits the message.

Encourage openness within your team. Make sure everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns. This builds trust and transparency, making collaboration more effective.

In uncertain or changing times, provide more communication than usual. Keeping your team informed helps manage expectations and reduces anxiety.

As a manager, honing effective communication skills is not just a necessity. It’s a cornerstone for building a cohesive and high-performing team.

Next Steps: The Art of Effective Communication

1. Active Listening

Practice active listening by giving your complete attention to the speaker. Make eye contact. Only interrupt to ask clarifying questions. Summarize the main points to confirm your understanding and reinforce the speaker’s sense of being heard.

2. Be Approachable

Establish an open-door policy. Be available for discussions, questions, or even casual conversations. Encourage your team to approach you with their ideas, concerns, or feedback.

3. Use Positive Language

Don’t focus on problems. Frame messages in a way that highlights solutions and opportunities. Use words that inspire confidence, growth, and collaboration. Create an optimistic work environment that promotes innovation and resilience.

4. Provide Constructive and Specific Feedback

Focus on improvement rather than criticism. Highlight both strengths and areas for improvement, offering actionable suggestions for enhancement. Be open to also receiving feedback from your team.

5. Timely and Transparent Updates

Keep your team informed with timely and transparent updates. Project developments. Organizational changes. Regular communication fosters a culture of trust and openness.

6. Regular Check-Ins

Schedule regular one-on-one check-ins with team members. Go beyond work-related discussions and talk about their well-being. Ask about their workload, challenges, and satisfaction. Actively listen to their responses and offer support where needed.

7. Be Mindful of Non-Verbal Cues

Our body language, facial expressions, and gestures convey as much information as words. A nod, a smile, or maintaining eye contact can convey attentiveness and sincerity. Conversely, be mindful of negative cues. For example, crossed arms or frowning show disagreement or discomfort.

Productive Habit #6: Set Clear Goals

productive habits goals

Effective managers understand the power of effective goal-setting as a foundational pillar for success.

Goal-setting is like drawing a treasure map.

You’re saying: “Team, this is our X marks the spot.” Clear objectives give everyone a sense of direction and purpose.

It’s not just about checking off to-dos. You’re getting everyone on board with the big picture and aligning efforts with the grand plan.

But here’s the kicker:

Tracking those goals is where the magic happens.

It’s not about being the goal police. It’s about staying in the loop. Tracking gives you the report on what’s working and what needs a tweak. Only with proper goal-tracking can you steer the ship in the right direction.

And don’t forget the A-word: accountability.

When goals are clear, and everyone’s keeping an eye on progress, it’s like a built-in accountability party. Team members aren’t just doing tasks. They’re owning their piece of the success pie.

Next Steps: How to Set and Track Goals

1. Get Specific and Tangible

Don’t be vague with goals. Get down to the nitty-gritty. Hitting a sales target. Or launching a project by a certain date. Get specific with your goals to give your team a clear target to aim for.

2. Break It Down

Big goals can be overwhelming. Break them into bite-sized chunks. It’s not just more manageable. It also gives your team mini-victories along the way, boosting morale and momentum.

3. Choose the Right Metrics

Tracking is all about metrics. Pick the ones that matter. This could mean the number of sales, project milestones, or customer satisfaction scores. Choose metrics that directly reflect your goals.

4. Regular Check-Ins

Schedule regular check-ins to assess progress. These meetings provide opportunities for feedback, discussion, and adjustments as needed. Regular communication ensures everyone stays on the same page.

5. Adapt and Pivot

Goals aren’t set in stone. Be ready to adapt. If something’s not working, pivot the strategy. Flexibility is key to staying on the road to success.

6. Implement Learning Opportunities

Consider each goal as an opportunity for learning and skill development. Encourage team members to get new skills or expand existing ones during the pursuit of goals.

7. Celebrate Achievements

Celebrate milestones and achievements along the way. Recognition boosts morale, reinforces the importance of the goals, and encourages sustained effort.

Productive Habit #7: Make Time for Reflection

make time for reflection

Most managers often find themselves immersed in the daily grind. They are handling emergencies, making decisions, and getting things done.

When you have a lot of responsibilities, creating time for reflection seems like a luxury.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The practice of intentional reflection is a must for effective leadership and long-term success. Reflection serves as a cornerstone for continuous improvement.

Think of regular reflection as your manager check-in.

It allows you to step back, evaluate outcomes, and identify areas for improvement. 

It’s not about beating yourself up over past decisions. You’re learning from experiences. Mistakes become lessons.

It’s about looking back, figuring out what worked, what didn’t, and why. It’s like your leadership GPS, helping you navigate the twists and turns of managing a team.

Now, here’s the cool part:

Improvement isn’t about fixing what’s broken; it’s about leveling up. It’s the mindset that says, “Hey, there’s always room to be a better leader.”

It could mean tweaking your communication style. Or refining your strategies. Or just figuring out how to keep the team morale high.

Whatever the specifics, improvement is the name of the game.

Next Steps: How to Make Reflection a Habit

1. Scheduled Reflection Sessions

Set aside dedicated time for reflection. I like to do my Weekly Review (or GTD weekly review) every Friday. Having a scheduled slot gives you the space to dive deep into what’s working and what needs a tweak.

2. Use Reflection Prompts

Develop a set of questions or prompts to guide your reflection process. These could include queries about challenges faced, lessons learned, and areas for improvement. Answering these prompts can structure your reflective thinking.

3. Set Reflection Goals

Establish specific reflection goals. For example: identifying one improvement area each month. Or recognizing and addressing communication challenges. Having clear objectives adds purpose to your reflective practice.

4. Journaling

Maintain a reflective journal where you jot down thoughts, experiences, and insights. Writing helps clarify your thoughts and gives you a written record of your journey as a manager.

5. Integrate Reflection into Meetings

Dedicate a part of team meetings to reflection. Discuss recent projects, challenges faced, and lessons learned. This encourages a culture of shared reflection within the team.

6. Learn from Setbacks

Embrace setbacks as learning opportunities. When things don’t go as planned, dig into the why. Understanding the root cause helps you adjust strategies for future wins.

7. Rotate Perspectives

Consider situations from different perspectives. Reflect not only on your viewpoint but also on how others may perceive situations. This helps in developing a more comprehensive understanding.

The Transformative Power of the 7 Productive Habits of Highly Effective Managers

Adopt these 7 habits and you’re on your way to go from good to exceptional as a manager.

As you embark on this journey of mastering these habits, remember:

It’s not about perfection but progress. Small steps lead to significant results.

Start by mastering one habit. Pick one, any one habit. Integrate it into your routine until it becomes second nature.

Mastering one habit lays the foundation for the next. Once you’ve mastered one, move on to the next. And then the next. And the next. Until you’ve mastered all 7 productive habits.

Remember, it’s not a race, but a journey of continuous improvement. Celebrate each mastered habit as a victory. As another step toward becoming an exceptional manager.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned manager or just starting.

Integrating these habits into your routine is the key to long-term success.

Thanks for reading!

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