The annoying habits of highly effective people

This was so refreshing to read.


I really struggle with this - I do get up at 5 am and start working (when I have kids who sleep through the night … ). I do answer emails during two am feedings, and at 8:15 pm when the kids are in bed and my husband is walking the dogs.

Long story short, not sure I can fix me, but I installed a browser extension so whoever I’m emailing it gets it at 8 or so.

I wish I knew the answer. In my field, it’s en vogue for tenured profs to loudly declare they only work 40 hours a week, all the while not addressing what they did before they had tenure and if they cut their junior colleagues slack to do the same.

Do people still say “You do you”? That might be the only good answer.


Yeah, but are you having magazine articles written about you that breathlessly describe your success? I do similar-but-not-the-same things to keep up, but Fast Company isn’t calling me for a profile.

The article resonated with me because of things like:

  • I used to have a boss who would walk the office floor at 5:30pm, checking who was at their desk, not taking into account he was invariably the last person to show up in the morning and that most of us started at 8am. I used to find an excuse to e-mail him about something right after I got to work – not sure if he took the hint, but he never hassled me about my hours.

  • A friend of mine had a boss who spent most of her day talking about what long hours she worked. The boss would get annoyed if people left “early”. My friend is the sort who shows up at 8am, works until noon, eats the sandwich she brought with her at her desk, works until 4-4:30 and goes home, all caught up on her work and then some.

Basically, there are some chaotic types out there who get really annoyed when they aren’t slavishly copied.


I hate those tropes about successful people, too.

Successful people tend to be really into their work because they really enjoy it and have a freedom and power over their work that few others do. So, yeah, they wake up at 5 am and shoot off emails because every day is a new creative adventure that can swing the stock market or bring in new business or create opportunities to travel and speak and be influential.


Yes! I saw a video once of Richard Branson, and he was talking about how he would just wake up with an idea in the morning, and within days it had happened! And all I could think was, his poor reports, never knowing what was going to land in their inbox next.


I worked at a startup company that was on its way up. We had an inventive founder who was fond of giving tours of the plant to perspective vendors and customers. During these tours, he would cook up all kinds of new inventions. We never knew how to tell the listeners that none of these things existed or were even being considered before the walk-thru and that there was no way any of that was going to happen given the current work load.


Oh, totally. I tend to think of this sort of habit-porn in the way I think of “fitspiration” or whatever. Mimicing someone else’s habits is unlikely to get you the same results. I try to find ways to avoid visiting the rigor of my schedule on my employees. Scheduling emails, quantifying the amount of work a task will take before asking for volunteers, etc.


Three things that effective leads do:

  • Educate
  • Delegate
  • Advocate

An empowered report is an effective report. Every effective boss I’ve worked with spent years as frontline staff. They knew how to work efficiently, trained and cross-trained their minions, and didn’t micro.

My favourite bosses also compensated handsomely, both in money, perks, and respect.

Want to be successful? Be born rich. Want to be effective? Educate, Delegate, Advocate.


I have taken the tactic now when people go into the whole, “I worked 80 hours last week…” spiel, I immediately fire back with “That is terrible! What do we need to do to fix that!”


Thank you.

When I was taking project management courses, they showed us studies going right back to the post-war period, up to the present day. Anyone working 80h a week – any kind of work – is only being something like 65% efficient. And no doubt they’re too tired and frazzled to realise that.


The whole thing over that is exploding right now, thanks to Rockstar.

I am glad that you know what the right response is. Unfortunately, too many managers don’t (or are warned away from it).


I know I need to take my own advice, but I don’t expect stupid hours to be worked to maintain the business.

The nature of the job means there is some off hour work. Fine. I figure you can take it out of the 40ish you owe the company this week.

Major project go-lives, well, maybe I’ll need you to put in some long hours for a week or so. I also expect you to remember I don’t care if you take a couple hours for lunch sometimes.

I’ve grown my team from Me + 1 to Me + 5 in 18 months because I will not stand back and see people ground into the dirt over a paycheck.

Burnout is a huge killer in this industry. Figuratively and literally. I don’t want or need super-heroes. I want competent professionals that continue to show up and be productive.


I have got thiiiiiiis close to putting a “no superheroes” sign up in my cube a few times (before self preservation kicked in).

There’s the burnout mind of superheroes you mentioned.

Then there’s the kind who don’t share info. That way they can swoop in to save the day when someone higher-up is watching. I had one former colleague sit on info I needed (despite my reminding her) for three weeks – until she could loudly announce she was providing me with it when the VP was within earshot.

Then there are the superheroes who swoop in to save the day – when they’re the ones who caused the crisis in the first place by not mitigating risk properly. Meanwhile, the ones who make contingencies don’t get noticed because they never have a crisis to be a hero in.

Fuck superheroes.


Not just the work, but all the other stuff too. They can delegate away almost all the friction that normal people have to deal with. They don’t have to wait for the landlord to show up with a plumber to fix the water heater. If their kid’s sick, grandpa needs a ride home from the eyedoctor, etc., they can just have their people deal with it. Car broken down? They don’t have to get it to the shop, get a loaner, stop by the bank to get a loan to get it fixed. They can just drive the Porsche instead and tell their people to get the BMW fixed. They can put not just more time, but more mental energy into work because everything else is handled for them.

Thank you for that! My boss seems to have the same attitude. After many years of pressure the other way, (including a burnout at a previous job that landed me in a series of doctors offices) I’ve had to reign myself back a bit and remind myself of that. I’m now able to make myself say “I can look at that later or tomorrow, but I have to go to dinner now.” or ask someone else to take over.

There are so many people who don’t understand how counterproductive (literally) overwork and burnout is. Overwork and pressure on tight deadlines are almost certainly responsible for the majority of software bugs and ‘emergency incidents’. Sure, there are bad developers, miscommunications, honest mistakes, etc. But most and especially the worst are from pressure and mental fatigue.


My favorite are the people who are only really effective at selling their brand of effectiveness. What truly effective, successful person would ever even consider bothering to write a lifestyle e-newsletter promoting their effective habits? It’s all coming from the “If you can’t do, teach” school, which with the reach of the internet can be really lucrative.

As a counterpoint, though, I am a horribly inefficient worker, with objectively bad work habits and a lot of procrastination. I am also highly effective if/when I set my mind to it, but that is a small fraction of the time. With better habits, I would inarguably be way more effective and successful (particularly with the freelance work I do). So I totally understand the draw of this kind of stuff.

But I know that my bad habits are personal, with my own specific causes. I think what would be interesting would be to dig way deeper into the “effective habits” - learning the reason behind each habit (the habit having been developed as a solution to a problem) would be illuminating.


I was a bit like at work that but I learned that the latter outweighed the former. Perhaps you could see if it’s true for you.

People work in different styles. It could be that while you were procrastinating, your subconscious was actually working on the problem, so that you could be highly effective when you got around to it.

My wife worries about playing solitaire while working, but she’s really de-stressing and thinking about how to solve problems.


There are still just 24 hours a day. The virtue signalling productivity of going past 5 or 6 productive hours is used up by the diminishing returns. For an executive, there is a certain monopoly value in working those 5 or 6 hours and then being in everyone’s shit for another 5 or 6 hours. They only have to apply themselves to this scam for a while until they reach the end goal: making people believe that threatening to be in their shit is the whole of their boss’s job.


That is definitely true for me too, and I never miss a deadline or anything. But I know that I could be doing twice as much work as I do while still having plenty of subconscious-working time.

It’s tough because the additional work I could be doing is completely optional - it’d be to expand my freelance business. It’s stuff I enjoy doing so the goal of doing it full-time (or, ideally, half-time with a full-time income) is very attractive, but because I don’t have to do it, I don’t do enough. It’s also creative work, though, so a lot of it can’t be forced, but realistically a lot of it can.


This is also me.

When I have something interesting to do, I will work right through my lunch and other breaks, because the actual functional part of my job is a lot of fun.

However, a lot of the work is make-work: sending stuff along to three different people to sign off; write-only documentation and reports that will never get looked at; trying to figure out exactly what percentage of the work for this particular project has been completed at this particular moment.

For instance.

The last time I took an extended (week-long) vacation, they came to me with a request of “How do we fix X system if it goes down?” I wrote a ten-page illustrated document of how and where to check what brought the system down, the most common things that would bring it down and how to resolve them so that the system could be brought up, and how to bring the system up again and notify the appropriate people to correct any errors caused by the system going down.

A month later, I get into work, and people are panicking because the system has gone down, and they’re asking me to investigate, because surely this is a problem with the recent changes that have gone in. I follow exactly the same process I had documented - and it was one of the problems I had gone into great detail of showing how to diagnose and restore service (to the point where I made a note that “if this part of the system ever goes down, it’s probably for this exact reason”).

I spend my time writing the documentation they ask me to, and the moment it would be most useful, they don’t use it, but wait for me to come in instead. Write-only documentation. I can’t stand it.

If they handed me off more work-work to do, I would get it done in a trice, and I’d be happier for being busy with it. I got a particularly interesting task today, that took a whole day of being alternately triumphant and frustrated, and I plugged away at it until it was done. But I know that if I ask for more to do, they’ll assign me more of the bureaucratic stuff and not more of the stuff that will keep my brain engaged.


Ah, yes.

At my work, there exists the “Knowledge Base” (hereafter KB)

In concept - a great idea; in practice - terrible.

The interface is overly cumbersome, such that to use it natively with embedded images and helpful formatting and tables is a fool’s errand.

So, I end up doing the write up in word and attaching the document. Now it is much less easy to use because once you find the article, you need to open the document.

When you do click on an article, it’s a pop-up window. From the KB page, there is no option to get a direct link. So if you are trying to help people use the KB and send them the article link, you can’t easily. BUT, if you select the “Email Article”, you can email them a direct link. Oh, and the KB can’t look up emails in the company directory because… damned if I know. The authentication to the KB is tied to your AD identity.

There’s this helpful feature that articles can expire (so that workaround you documented 15 months ago, but have since fixed properly doesn’t show up) But, everything expires and no one has the time to go back in and unexpire them because the interface is so cruel. I asked can we just flag articles that are old and push them lower in the search results? Great Idea, maybe next upgrade (that will never happen to this system)

So, at the end of the day, documentation stays siloed in particular groups and through tribal knowledge.

The Next Big ITSM Project is going to solve ALL THESE ISSUES though…just you wait. (That was supposed to have been live 6 months ago and currently is T.B.D.)


@nimelennar You must have struck a nerve.