Articles from
Ed Caldwell.

Are You Overwhelmed and Feel Stuck in Your Career? Develop these 7 Cardinal Virtues of Highly Productive and Effective Workers and Leaders

3d Image Efficiency Issues Concept Word Cloud Background Stock Photo Photo by David Castillo Dominici.

3d Image Efficiency Issues Concept Word Cloud Background Stock Photo Photo by David Castillo Dominici.

Today’s workplace environment is often so dynamic and fast moving that workplace studies indicate in a recent Gallup poll that over 70% of workers are disengaged. “Disengaged” means going through the motions to perform the minimum in order to keep one’s job, while high performance of achieving real results is elusive. Motivation to achieve is minimized. This mental frame of mind causes us to lead “empty lives,” especially at work where we spend more than a third of our time, and then end up feeling  stuck. But it doesn’t have to remain that way if we start a journey to re-energize ourselves and learn to make our work lives easier. Here’s what you can do.

Virtues are cultivated by practicing certain behaviors over time that become habits and characteristics over longer periods. To rejuvenate yourself and your work life begin practicing these 7 Cardinal Virtues of Highly Productive and Effective Workers and Leaders.

1. Develop the reading habit. Reading unlocks the mind in many ways – from inspiring our souls, to learning new things, and being instrumental in finding breakthrough ideas for creative and effective problem solving. Additionally reading is a gateway skill for nearly all jobs in today’s knowledge economy. Unfortunately most people do only enough reading to unclutter their email inbox. High performance reading is a skill that too few people have developed. For most, reading skill development ended around fourth grade. With the adoption of digital devices and “always on” culture, interruptions are welcomed leading our mental lives to become exhausted. We haven’t created space to feed our minds without over-depending on visual stimuli. Reading has become a burdensome task. With a few tweaks, you can re-energize your mind by developing the reading habit, especially if you have learned to more fully develop these capabilities.

2. Focus on results, not disorganized to-do’s. The workplace demands of doing more with less causes people to be tasked with requests from many directions simultaneously. We lose focus and enter a state of “chronic busyness.” “Chronic busyness” happens when people are focused merely on tasks, not on goals or results. By changing your focus from clearing out “to-dos” to achieving goals and outcomes, you’ll make better choices on how you spend your time. You will self-motivate because you’ll start feeling a sense of true achievement. People run out of time, while never running out of tasks to do.

3. Agree on SMART goals. This is a big deal for non-assertive types, especially for workers who don’t realize that a job is a two-way contract. You know your job better than your manager. Stop thinking you always have to yield to what’s being tasked to you. Too often employees yield to the dynamism of the workplace and don’t recognize the importance of working in collaboration with the manager to accomplish meaningful results. Just as you feel like you have to juggle many different things in your job, so does the manager. Managers can often get overloaded and not remember what all has been tasked and may even seem to contradict their directives. As an individual contributor you are paid to think! Assert yourself and ask for clarification while informing the manager of the natural consequences of mixed directions and directives.

The phrase “work SMARTer, not harder,” is not a cliché. It is a way of articulating important results your organization needs, while decreasing the chances of differences of opinions on the results delivered. When the manager and employee agree on these goals both sides win. Your performance will be more accurately measured and rewarded. The problem is that too few people know how to create effective SMART goals. Agreed SMART goals are the pathway to high performance. As a consultant I have seen far too often that even when an organization tries to utilize goals, they are over-general, non-specific, and subject to great differences of interpretation.  The performance bar keeps moving and causes workers to become demoralized, especially during performance reviews. If you are an individual contributor learn to manage your manager’s expectations. If you are a manager learn to create effective goals for the various tasks, activities, and outcomes you are tasking your staff.

4. Develop a Daily Plan. This goes beyond a to-do list. It contains your most important (not necessarily urgent) things to do that day and also includes important meetings, phone calls, reports, etc. with an actual timetable to start work on them. Be careful to not over-schedule leaving enough time for the “unexpected” and important emergencies. High performers recognize what constitutes an “important” emergency, and do not respond to all the cries of the workplace wolves (some of whom can be the managers).

5. High Performers Choose and Use Systems to Organize Plans, Documents, Communications, etc. to help keep focus and track results. There are so many electronic and non-electronic tools available today. Research and find ones that work for you. Types of tools include (but not limited to) knowing the less obvious functions of your current email system, timers, task trackers, file organizers,  project management systems, etc.

6. High Performers Protect Their Focus and Concentration knowing that to perform well multi-tasking on tasks that require the same part of the brain to engage is not effective over long periods of time. They know that an “open-door” policy does not mean 24/7 availability and will often work off-site for a few hours at a time so as to not get interrupted and actually get something done with full focus.

7. Highly Productive Performers are Careful about their First Activity/task of the Day. In other words, upon arriving at their desks, opening email is not the first activity they do because they know they can easily get their plan for the day high-jacked and swept into infinite cyberville.
Bonus Virtue: This bonus virtue is not a behavior like the seven above. Instead, this virtue is actually a mental perceptual shift. Highly productive performers are confident in their value and skills and are always learning to become better which increases their value and skills. Continuous learning has become an ongoing way of their lives that keeps their curiosity fueled and enriches their true selves.  With this frame of mind, it becomes far easier to engage with our jobs and establish a pattern of long-term success.

If you liked this article, you may want to also see, “Which of These 7 Deadly Productivity Sins Are You Committing?”
Ed Caldwell and Productive Learning Systems, Inc. has helped thousands of individuals and organizations work more productively and effectively for over 20 years. Be sure to check out the Productivity Series of Virtual Classes at and Or call for a free initial consultation – 800-852-7903.