21 Productivity Quotes from Peter Drucker That Are Perfect for Ambitious Millennials

You want to crush it in business. But you don’t want to wait. You want to get farther faster.

Like now. Today.

You look for the best advice the internet has to offer. A Google search of leadership productivity yields 212 million results.

Your eyes glaze over.

If every adult in the United States wrote a blog post on leadership, you wouldn’t get to 212 million.

You check LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook and you’re met with a ton of people quoting themselves on the subject, like they came down from the mountain with these pearls of wisdom etched on stone tablets. Not helpful.

Now what?

You can go back to Google and try to identify the most current, most relevant, technology-sensitive, millennial-embracing productivity solutions…


You can identify the timeless truths and universally applicable leadership ideas about maximizing productivity.

Peter Drucker is the poster child of the latter. He is considered the godfather of modern management and he correctly identified developments in business as inevitable decades before they came to pass.

In addition to teaching management courses at Claremont Graduate University, Drucker wrote 39 books, numerous articles and consulted with organizations of all sizes. I think his book The Effective Executive is a must-read (and re-read) for all leaders.

Here are 21 gems from Drucker that you can use to amp up your own productivity:

Hear that tick, tick, tick?

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Effective leaders are intentional and disciplined with how they spend their time.

1. “Learn to manage your time. The secret is not to do the five million things that do not need to be done and will never be missed.”

As a leader you’ll never be able to get to everything on your to-do list. Don’t be addicted to activity. Become obsessed with execution and results. Be intentional about identifying priorities and focus concentrated effort there. Spend your limited time on your most important tasks. Those less important tasks on your to-do list will fall by the wayside when you are crushing your top priorities — and you won’t miss them!

2. “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”

You have to deal with the constraints of 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Other resources, like capital and labor, can be expanded. Not so with time. Managing time properly gives you the capacity to manage people, initiatives and resources.

3. “Recording time, managing time, consolidating time is the foundation of executive effectiveness.”

In order to manage your time, you need to record how you spend it. Spend two weeks recording your activities in fifteen-minute increments, for all your waking hours. Yes, all your activities. It will be enlightening. Once you know how you are currently spending your time, you can be intentional about consolidating activities, delegating tasks and focusing on what is most important.

4. “To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.”

Our most productive time comes in large blocks of concentrated effort. As you save small amounts, you have to consolidate that time into larger, uninterrupted blocks focused on your most important tasks. Concentrated effort and energy on those tasks can help you become a productivity machine.

Sometimes you have to break a sweat

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Leaders should model the behavior that acknowledges sometimes the desired results come from perseverence and effort.

5. “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

You can’t plan a task without execution or wish a task to completion. You have to do the work. Evan Carmichael promotes what he calls the 5–95 rule. Spend 5% of your time planning and 95% of your time executing.

6. “History has been written not by the most talented but by the most motivated.”

Success is driven by an attitude that applies discipline and energy in a focused manner. The motivated person works harder and works smarter. In the process, the motivated person wins. Take action and go make history.

7. “People in general, and knowledge workers in particular, grow according to the demands they make on themselves. They grow according to what they consider to be achievement and attainment. If they demand little of themselves, they will remain stunted. If they demand a good deal of themselves, they will grow to giant stature — without any more effort than is expended by the nonachievers.”

Set the bar high for yourself. Don’t wait to be motivated or challenged by someone else. You are building your brand every assignment, every interaction, every day. Be known as someone who does great work and achieves results. Be so good that you become a role model and people want to tell stories about you.

More is not better…so keep it simple

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Productive leaders prioritize constantly and concentrate maximum effort on their most important tasks.

8. “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”

Too often we try to get more efficient at tasks we’ve been doing out of habit or because they were a priority at one point in time. Yesterday. Or a long time ago. Take a look at what you do and why you do it, both personally and as an organization. Don’t get more efficient at tasks you shouldn’t be doing. Delegate. Eliminate. That will free up time to devote to your most important tasks.

9. “Successful leaders don’t start out asking, “What do I want to do?” They ask, “What needs to be done?” Then they ask, “Of those things that would make a difference, which are right for me?”

Focus on what brings the greatest value to the organization. Of those things, what are you good at? Spend time and energy there. If you’re good at a task, it brings value to the organization — and you love doing it — then you’ve hit a productivity trifecta.

10. “It’s amazing how many things busy people are doing that never will be missed.”

You don’t get a medal for being busy. You need to be known for getting things done. On time. Every time. Focusing on top priorities is the essence of the Pareto Principal, which suggests that 80% of your revenue / profit / results come from 20% of your activities / customers. Focus on the vital few and not the trivial many.

11. “If you have more than five goals, you have none.”

Overachievers have long to-do lists. You need to identify your top 3–5 priorities — in ranked order — and concentrate your energy and attention on those. When everything is important nothing is important. Have a maniacal focus on your biggest priorities.

12. “Growth that adds volume without improving productivity is fat. Growth that diminishes productivity is cancer.”

We seek to drive growth in our company, but need to make sure that it is not growth for growth’s sake. When it allows you to scale, to make you more productive, that is good growth. Growth that adds complexity and makes you less productive should be avoided. We often grow and say that we are “investing” in the future, but it is nothing more than hope and rationalization. Only later do we find out we’ve sucked the cash out of the company and denied ourselves the chance to grow profitably.

13. “If there is any one “secret” of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.”

Focus on your top priorities and complete them, starting with your top priority. Don’t do a half-assed job on multiple initiatives. You don’t get credit for how many tasks you start. Studies suggest that multi-tasking makes us ineffective and lowers our productivity. And no, you’re not superhuman and the exception to the rule. Devote uninterrupted, concentrated effort on your top priorities. One at a time. Then watch your reputation grow as someone who gets things done. Gets the right things done. And magically, additional opportunities will come your way.

Don’t just sit there…

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Productive leaders take action. There are often different ways to address challenges or to accomplish tasks, but they all require taking action.

14. “The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do but the absence of doing it.”

When you know what to do, don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Don’t procrastinate. Take the action. Jump. Now. Be known as a doer, not merely a dreamer.

15. “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

If we refuse to take risks, we’ll miss opportunities and merely protect the status quo. That’s a recipe for disaster. We’re not talking reckless risk-taking here. But when we stretch ourselves by taking risks, even when we make mistakes, we can learn and grow. Or we may create the new opportunity or uncover the new path to success. Don’t let the little voice in your head talk you out of taking action — and accepting some risk.

16. “Ideas are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action.”

You need to dream and you need to think strategically. But carrying those dreams through to action steps is critical. Many of the great developments in business were not even original ideas, but they were successful because the ideas were coupled with action and a commitment to execution. Plenty of people thought electric cars would be inevitable or that private space travel would happen one day. It took Elon Musk and his team to have a relentless commitment to execution to make Tesla Motors and SpaceX realities.

17. “Follow effective actions with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

Be action-oriented, but occasionally hit the pause button to reflect, learn and improve. Part of continuous improvement requires you to evaluate what works, what doesn’t work and to ask: What did you learn? What would you do differently next time? Who excelled — and did you let them know?

Focus on the blue sky, not the monster under the bed

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Great leaders focus attention and resources on opportunities. They don’t spend more time than they need to addressing problems, which are sometimes real and sometimes imagined.

18. “Effective people are not problem minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. They think preventively.”

Keep moving forward. Don’t ignore problems, but also don’t obsess over problems and lose sight of opportunities. Organizations have a tendency to focus on problems because fixing them protects the status quo. Make sure that you’ve got the bandwidth to see opportunities when they are in front of you — or to smell them when they are not in sight. Pursuing opportunities strategically can often prevent problems from ever developing.

19. “Staffing the opportunities instead of the problems not only creates the most effective organization, it also creates enthusiasm and dedication.”

A-players want to work for an organization that is dynamic and growing. When you staff your problems it creates a protective, defensive mentality. Usually finger-pointing and the blame game are not far behind. There may be some uncertainties around new opportunities, but when you focus resources on opportunities, you create energy and enthusiasm that forges relationships and builds dedication.

20. “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete — the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.”

Be passionate about execution and results. Constantly look for new opportunities. Don’t fall in love with ideas that didn’t work as planned or programs that have outlived their usefulness. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and every successful program in place today is ripe for improvement or replacement tomorrow.

21. “Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.”

The beginning of successful leadership is self-awareness. Behavioral assessments and honest peer feedback are helpful tools to discover your strengths, your unique behavioral style and the values you bring to your job. This awareness sharpens your antennae to spot opportunities that seem tailor-made for you. As you consistently deliver results, a virtuous cycle is created and more opportunities will come your way. In the process, your career track gets more successful and more interesting.

Why Peter Drucker was talking directly to you

Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” in 1959 to describe professionals who provided value based on what they know and their ability to solve problems and think creatively. This applies not only to accountants and attorneys, but programmers, web developers, systems analysts and digital marketers as well.

Yes, entrepreneurs, it applies to you, too.

Before any Gen Xers were born and decades before the term Millennial was ever used as a label for a generation, Peter Drucker was letting us know that you would be important and you would need to be managed differently.

He might have been describing Millennials directly when he suggested that knowledge workers need:

  • To be led and not managed; they need a certain amount of autonomy. Gone are the days of command and control and “do it because I said so.” Drucker believed the relationship needed to be more like that of the orchestra conductor and the musicians than that of the boss / subordinate roles.
  • To know an organization’s mission and believe in it. Much has been written about Milliennials needing to connect with the purpose of an organization. Simon Sinek suggests that this is a human need in his Ted talk (and book), Start With Why. Companies need to be able to convey why they matter as an organization and why the work you do makes a difference.
  • To engage in continuous learning in order to adapt to the challenges and opportunities in a fast-changing workplace. It is helpful when training comes from the company, but it doesn’t stop there. This one is on you. The proliferation of online platforms and the access to subject matter experts is unprecedented — and growing.

Those three observations were made by Drucker decades ago. All three are consistent with observations that have been made about Millennial workers.

Let a Dose of Druckerisms Drive Your Productivity

You want an edge. And you want it now.

But you don’t want to wade through the mountains of pablum spewed by all the self-serving, self-quoting, sycophant-seeking leadership “gurus” out there.

No, you want that combination of wisdom and insight that applied yesterday. Absolutely applies today. Definitely will apply tomorrow.

Peter Drucker let us all know to expect your arrival. He said you’d be difference-makers. Before you were born he described how you would work and what would motivate you.

This is the same guy who was the leading management expert in your grandparent’s generation. And his observations and recommendations still apply today.

So when he shares his ideas on leadership and productivity, it makes sense to listen.

The 21 quotes are designed to make leaders more effective and more productive. To excel. To win.

But don’t post them on a wall or put them on your screensaver. Apply them.

When these Druckerisms begin to show up in your strategic focus, your communications and your decisions, you’ll become much more productive.

They’re timeless. They’re truth. And they’ll help you accelerate your progress on achieving your goals. Getting results. Crushing it.

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