It's no surprise managers rate top performers as their most valuable employees.

But what might not be as obvious is the massive impact a top performer has on the organization. A new study by VitalSmarts revealed employees rated by their managers as Nines and Tens on a ten-point performance scale are three times more valuable to the organization than the average employee.

The study of 1,594 managers and employees, conducted by VitalSmarts' researchers David Maxfield and Justin Hale, also revealed that productive employees are not only more valuable, but they are also responsible for 61 percent of the total work done in their departments.

Even more surprising is that while Tens do more work, it's not at the expense of their sanity or work/life balance. In fact, 83 percent of managers and 77 percent of peers say a Ten's work habits reduce his/her stress. Three out of four leaders also say Tens experience less or about the same stress levels as lower-performing employees. Overall, both managers and peers say Tens work smarter, not necessarily harder.

So what are these stress-reducing, performance-enhancing habits demonstrated by top performers?

Maxfield and Hale asked managers and peers to describe the positive work habits Tens demonstrate along with the not-so-positive work habits of average performers. After categorizing the habits, they found that Tens demonstrate stellar communication and productivity practices. Common phrases used in each category include:

Communication Practices:

  • Top Performers: "Ask for help," "Not afraid to ask questions," "Know who to go to," "Know when to ask"
  • Average Performers: "Lack of communication," "Slow to respond," "Don't listen," "Complain"

Productivity Practices:

  • Top Performers: "Organized," "Good time management," "Attention to detail," "To do lists," "Keep track of," "Block time on their calendar," "Prioritize," "Stay on top of their work"
  • Average Performers: "Not enough time," "Lack of attention," "No follow through," "Too busy," "Late," "Disorganized," "Don't meet deadlines," "Not on task"

Maxfield says learning the productivity skills demonstrated by top performers is key to both personal and organizational success.

"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 Maxfield. "They dramatically improve performance while also reducing stress."

Maxfield and Hale share five productivity practices of top performing employees.

  1. Collect everything that owns your attention. Capture all commitments, tasks, ideas, and projects rather than keeping them in your head. Use just a few "capture tools" you keep with you all the time such as lists, apps, email, etc.
  2. Decide what your stuff means to you. Clarify if the items you've captured have an action or not. If they do, be very clear about what the VERY next action is and who should take it.
  3. Use the two-minute rule. If an action can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Don't defer. The time you'll waste letting these simple actions occupy your attention and to-do list is not worth it—two minutes becomes your efficiency cutoff.
  4. Do more of the right things by reflecting in the right moments. Rather than diving into your messy inbox first thing, take two minutes to review your calendar and your action lists. This reflection ensures you make the best decisions about how to use your time.
  5. Review weekly. Keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with yourself every week to re-sync, get current, and align your daily work and projects with your higher-level priorities.

VitalSmarts' research shows when you compare people who consistently demonstrate key productivity skills with those who don't, productive people are:

  • 55 times less likely to start projects that never get finished
  • 21 times less likely to experience tasks and responsibilities falling through the cracks
  • Never likely to miss deadlines or assignments
  • 17 times less likely to have an inbox with too many unread emails
  • 18 times less likely to feel overwhelmed
  • 21 times less likely to feel anxious and/or worry they forgot something

Hale says this research is key for managers looking to increase the performance of their team.

"Productivity is more than just being busy," says Hale. "Employees who learn to manage their workload quickly and efficiently don't just get more done, they get more of the right things done. They stop carrying the weight and anxiety of work and free up their time and mental capacity for new and better ideas. It's a win-win for both the individual and the business."