6 Habits of Highly Productive People

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” - Paul J Meyer

One of the most important things to becoming more productive is establishing habits that are conducive to productivity. Willpower is like a muscle; it can only be used so much before it wears out.

Once established, habits become automatic behavior and no longer require willpower to execute.

Here are 6 habits proven to increase your productivity.


1. Stop Procrastinating

We all know that procrastination destroys our productivity. It’s linked to stress and anxiety, causes us to miss goals, and lowers our self esteem in the process.

You’re not imagining how difficult it is to just get started on the task you’re delaying. Research has shown that taking the first step is in fact the hardest step.

So why do we avoid taking the first step? Your brain actually delays starting large tasks, and will instead try to “feel productive” by doing other filler tasks like checking social media, texting, brewing more tea, etc. to avoid having to tackle the real task at hand.

The best way to tackle that daunting task is to just get started on it, but how?

Try using the two minute rule, or modify it to a time length that works for you. The idea is that we can do anything for two minutes, even something we’ve been procrastinating about.

Try it for just 2 minutes, or 5 minutes. Chances are once you’ve started you’ll end up working for a half hour, then an hour, and then you’ve made it past the dreaded first step.

Ever heard of dopamine? That neurotransmitter in your brain usually known as the pleasure hormone?

Yes, so what does dopamine have to do with starting those large intimidating tasks that keep you up at night? A lot, actually.

Science shows that when your brain has more dopamine, it’s more motivated to complete a specific task. A lesser known fact about dopamine is that it’s responsible for fueling the part of your brain that will persevere through challenge.

When you complete a challenge or goal, dopamine is released into the brain, which then motivates to complete another challenge or goal. Get where this is going? It’s a positive cycle that helps you accomplish more.

You can use this to your advantage and "rewire" the brain to produce more dopamine by breaking that large task up into smaller tasks, or incremental progress, according to Neurologist Judy Willis.

When each smaller task is completed, you feel the satisfaction and get a dopamine rush to help you complete the next part of the task, then the next, and the next, etc.

2. Watch Less TV

The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day. Every day.

Five hours a day translates into over two full months out of the year.

That’s two full months that could be used for other more productive things, like maybe starting that business you’ve been thinking about or spending quality time with your family.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that when Tom Corley interviewed hundreds of wealthy people he found that 67% of affluent people watch less than an hour a day, significantly less than the average amount.  

Putting time considerations aside, there’s also evidence to suggest that too much television lowers IQ, stifles creativity, and actually shuts down activity in your brain.

Obviously not all TV is bad for you, but if cutting back will give you an extra hour or two of productive time, then maybe it’s worth considering.

3. Wake up Earlier

"Mind over mattress" - Robin Sharma

The most important habits to obtain are usually the most difficult…

Biologist Christoph Randler found that early risers tend to be more proactive than their night owl counterparts.

Early birds increase productivity by using their morning hours for exercise, goal setting, planning out their day, or identifying their most important tasks.

There is evidence that night owls can be extremely productive, but for most of us the working world favors the early riser. So if you’re a writer or someone that doesn’t have to worry about the working hour norms and you like working late into the night, go for it.

Laura Vanderkam, author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, found in her research that successful people spend a generous amount of time in the morning to do that which is important to them.

She suggests establishing a strong morning routine to increase productivity. “Morning routine” encompasses a broad range of activities from meditation or exercise, to visualizing your ideal day.

Need some inspiration? Here are some of the waking times and morning routines successful people use to be more productive.

  • 5:30 a.m. Square CEO Jack Dorsey wakes up to meditate and exercise.
  • Richard Branson rises before 6 to exercise and eat an early breakfast
  • Disney CEO Robert Iger wakes up at 4:30 to read papers and exercise
  • Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wakes up at 4:30 to walk his dogs and exercise
  • Vogue Editor Anna Wintour wakes at 5:45 to play an hour of tennis before work.

4. Exercise

There’s good reasons why exercise is an important morning routine for successful people. Not only is it beneficial to your health, but a growing body of evidence shows that exercise boosts both your mood and cognition as well as contributes to the growth of new neurons.

Serial entrepreneur Richard Branson is famous for his dedication to exercise, often waking at sunrise to run.

The impact of exercise on the brain can be seen instantly. The beneficial effects continue for 2-3 hours after exercise, according to Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Scientific American released a study showing that regular exercise can increase your brain’s hippocampus region. You don’t have to be doing hard-core running or cycling to see the effects either; a simple 30 minute walk a few times a week is sufficient.

The effects seem to be the best with cardio exercise. All the increased blood flow supplies your brain with plenty of oxygen and glucose.

Every muscle you move also sends hormones rushing to your brain. There, they mix with a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which plays a role in brain cell growth, mood regulation, and learning. "BDNF is like fertilizer for the brain," says John J. Ratey, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Without it, our brains can't take in new information or make new cells."

Yes, all this increased oxygen and glucose and increased hippocampus size does positively impact your productivity. In fact, you might be more productive even if you take time out of your work day to exercise.

People who exercised during their workday were 23 percent more productive on those days than they were when they didn't exercise, says a recent study from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. And the majority of the study participants (72 percent) did aerobic workouts.

5. Take Regular Breaks

The more you work and stay focused, the more productive you’ll be, right? Not if your brain is due for a break.

In fact, taking regular breaks is now proven to make you more productive. Remember that mental concentration and willpower are like muscles? They can only work so long before they need a break.

Working over an extended period of time is fine if it’s invigorating, says Professor Trougakos professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, “But the thing to avoid is when you start getting that dull fuzzy feeling in your head. Try to take a break then, before you hit rock bottom and your productivity really takes a dive.”

Brief mental breaks improve your productivity when you then return to the task, research shows.  You know when it happens, when you start working on a task for so long that soon you’re not focused any longer. This is what researchers call "vigilance decrement.”

Try using the 52:17 method. It’s a bit quirky and lies somewhere between the Pomodoro technique and the ultradian rhythm of 90 minutes.

The guys behind the productivity tool DeskTime found that the most productive employees weren’t those who never left their desks all day, but rather the ones that took frequent scheduled breaks.

The average time for the most productive employees a 52 minute work “sprint” followed by a 17 minute break. They were able to accomplish a lot because they were working with a purpose and were able to stay focused for the full amount of time.

6. Stop Multitasking

Trying to do two tasks simultaneously doesn’t just make you less productive, over time it actually changes your brain structure.

I’m not talking about listening to a podcast while washing dishes, or walking and talking on the phone. These activities are relatively unrelated and one isn’t affected too much by the other.

What is bad is combining two activities that both require the same part of your brain, the frontal cortex. Things like e-mailing while on Facebook, or writing a report and texting simultaneously.

Both of these combinations use your pre-frontal cortex. So your brain has to constantly switch between tasks, taking time to refocus between each task,  thereby making you less productive.

How much less productive? A lot. Up to 40 percent, some studies say.

Need more reason to quit? Here's 6 Reasons Multitasking Destroys Your Productivity

Mobile Analytics