The 9 Habits of Highly Productive People (And How to Implement Them)
Have you ever wondered how the world’s most productive people manage their time so effectively?
How does the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, run Amazon and stay sane?
How does Warren Buffett maintain his position as one of the world’s most successful investors?
We decided to find out.
We researched the habits of some of the world’s most successful people and asked;
How do they maximize their available time?
How do they avoid procrastinating?
How do they stay focused?
We identified nine powerful habits and wanted to share them with you. We’ve also included action steps that you can take right now to make these habits part of your daily routine.
Habit #1: They remove trivial choices to avoid ‘decision fatigue’
We all know what it feels like to be physically exhausted after exercise; our muscles need to rest and recuperate. But how many of us recognize mental fatigue as easily? Our brains are organs, not muscles, but research shows that when we make a series of decisions, the quality of our decisions worsens over time. This is known as “decision fatigue”, a term coined by social psychologist F. Baumeister, and the world’s most successful people avoid decision fatigue by eliminating trivial choices.
According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s mercurial co-founder adopted an ‘apples-and-carrots-only’ diet, in part so that he wouldn’t have to make choices about what to eat. While clearly unhealthy, this and other strange eating habits helped him avoid decision fatigue.
Similarly, the worlds’ third richest man, Warren Buffett, has claimed to drink five cans of Coke per day, telling Fortune that he drinks Coke for breakfast and gets almost one-quarter of his daily calories from the sugary soda.
Eliminating trivial choices doesn’t just stop with food. On his habit of wearing the same color clothes every day, former U.S. President Barack Obama told Vanity Fair; “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Likewise, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained his decision to wear the same style of clothes every day by saying he wants to “have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve” the Facebook community.
While we don’t recommend that you start guzzling cans of Coca-Cola or restricting yourself to certain foods, we do suggest removing trivial choices such as what to eat and what to wear from your daily routine.
- Unless you work at Google or some other cool company that offers free food, set aside ten minutes every evening to prepare lunch and snacks for the following day.
- Organize your wardrobe so you know roughly what you’ll be wearing every day for the following week. There’s no need to wear the same thing, just know what you’ll be wearing ahead of time.
Habit #2. They begin each day with their most important task (MIT)
Research shows that when it comes to knowledge work, our brains are capable of around four hours of good work per day. That’s why the most productive people stay on top of their tasks by beginning their day with their most critical work. For example, Elon Musk starts his day at around 7 a.m. and focuses on important emails for the first half an hour. At his USC Commencement Speech, Musk advised: “Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.”
It doesn’t matter whether you sleep under your desk like Elon Musk, wake up at 5 a.m. like Richard Branson, or putter around your home until 10 a.m. like Jeff Bezos. What matters is that the first work you do is your most important work – regardless of the time you start.
Each evening, take a few minutes to decide upon your most important task (MIT) for the following day. This should be the task that has the greatest impact on your work. Tackle it first and get into the habit of doing it before you move onto anything else. This doesn’t mean you have to roll out of bed at 3:45 a.m. and start working. What it means is that when you’re ready to work, you start with your MIT.
Habit #3: They meditate
According to best-selling author and podcaster Tim Ferris, more than 80 percent of successful people meditate. Ferris describes the practice as being like a “reset button” that helps him think more clearly. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, is also on the record as saying that he practices meditation daily. In an interview with Inc., Weiner said that meditation has a positive impact on his productivity. But what does the science say?
According to the American Psychological Association, clinical studies have shown that that meditation can help lower stress and boost people’s working memory. Empirical evidence seems to suggest meditation can help you think more clearly and be more productive. If you haven’t carved out a regular spot in your routine for meditation, it’s worth trying.
Jeff Weiner uses a free app called ‘Headspace’ that teaches you to meditate in just ten minutes per day. The app walks you through the basics of relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness, helping you to clear your mind and increase your productivity.
Habit #4: They take regular breaks
Highly-productive people understand that they can’t be perpetually productive. They structure their workdays to ensure that they have periods of work and regular rest periods. According to Business Insider, Bill Gates and Elon Musk break their daily schedules into five-minute chunks, while some entrepreneurs such as Gary Vaynerchuk, claim to plan their days down to the second.
Well, research supports the idea that setting aside specific times for breaks helps boost productivity. Our biological clock ticks in both a Circadian rhythm (24-hour periods) and in ultradian rhythms (120-minute periods).
The circadian rhythm looks like this:
By studying these graphs we can see how managing when we rest is just as important as managing when we work. Setting aside a five or ten-minute break shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure – it’s an essential strategy for staying productive.
We suggest trying the Pomodoro Technique, which calls for a five-minute break after every 25-minute interval. It looks like this:
This handy step-by-step process explains everything you need to know to get started.
Habit #5. They focus only on things they specialize in
Almost all of the world’s most productive people have a laser-like focus on things that they specialize in and outsource the rest. For example, in Amazon’s 2017 annual shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos wrote that he used “disagree and commit,” approach to making decisions at the board level where there wasn’t group consensus. Bezos recognized that he couldn’t possibly master all the information necessary to make a perfect decision so he focused on what he excelled in: seeing the bigger picture. This strategy meant that decisions could be made faster and productivity quickly increased. Many hyper-productive people apply the same approach in all areas of their lives. If they need to get something done, and they can pay someone to do it cheaper, they outsource the work.
You may not be a CEO or C-suite executive but you can apply the same technique to help boost your productivity. Simply outsource a task you don’t want to do to free up your time to work.
Habit #6: They guard their time
When Elon Musk wanted Tesla employees to adopt a 24/7 shift model to get the Model 3 electric car production on schedule, he sent them an interesting email. The email contained a list of his own productivity recommendations including advising Tesla staff to “walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time,” he wrote.
While this behavior may not go down well in all workplaces, Musk was actually sharing something that all productive people instinctively know how to do well: guard their time. According to Atlassian, the average person spends 31 hours per month in meetings but considers just 50 percent of that time to be productive. In other words; if you don’t value your time, no one else will and your productivity is sure to tank.
Saying “No” and guarding your time is actually quite difficult to do as our brains are hardwired to help people. An area of our brain called the Right Supramarginal Gyrus automatically triggers empathy in certain situations:
One solution was developed by Mark Suster, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and angel investor. Suster developed a “No template” for his email account that he’d use to reply to people he didn’t want bothering him.
In your email account, write your own “No Template” that basically lets people down gently and says “no” without being rude. Send this response when necessary.
Habit #7: They rein in their email inboxes
There’s a reason why Musk devotes the first 30 minutes of every day to his emails; no matter how determined you are to get to inbox zero, it’s like fighting an uphill battle.
All productive people rein in their email inboxes in various ways. One approach is to use email batching, a strategy where you check emails at certain times throughout the day.
But what if you’re dealing with hundreds of emails per day?
An increasingly popular way of getting control of your inbox is BitBounce, a free service that filters out messages from unsolicited senders unless they pay you a fee. Renowned venture capital investor Tim Draper is one of BitBounce’s key investors and the service currently helps millions of people ‘bounce’ spam emails every day, while also passively earning money.
With BitBounce, your contacts can continue to email you as usual but any senders you don’t know will receive an autoresponder asking for a small fee in cryptocurrency.
Sign up for BitBounce and start filtering out spam emails today! The service works on any existing email account including Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, Yahoo! or AOL and others. Simply sign up on bitbounce.com or download the app on the App Store, Google Play Store or as a Gmail extension.
When you sign in to your account’s main page, you’ll see that your contacts will automatically have been added to your whitelist and can continue to email you as normal. By clicking on ‘Settings’, you can set your BitBounce fee and customize your autoresponder message.
BitBounce ensures that your inbox only contains emails from people you know or emails you’ve been paid to receive. This helps minimize distractions, achieve inbox zero, and maintain your productivity throughout the day.
Habit #8: They practice philanthropy
According to Bloomberg, at least 184 philanthropically minded billionaires including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Stephen Ross, and Mark Zuckerberg have signed up to ‘The Giving Pledge’ – a commitment to give away at least half of their wealth. There’s a huge amount of evidence indicating that giving charitably and being grateful for what you have helps increase productivity.
- A University of Southampton study showed that working to benefit a good cause increases productivity by up to 30 percent.
- UC-Berkeley research suggests that keeping a gratitude journal improves sleep.
- A Yale study indicates that giving to charity results in higher levels of alertness and determination.
- Warwick University research proves that gratitude increases happiness, which increases productivity.
There are many apps that make charitable giving simpler and easier. We recommend One Today, a Google app that lets you donate $1 per day to a charity of your choice. Download the app and start today!
Habit #9: They view their failures as learning opportunities
The ninth habit that unites productive people is their ability to view their failures as learning opportunities.
- Sir James Dyson went through over 5,000 prototypes before creating a working dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.
- Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s early idea to let people order pizza via fax failed but inspired them to solve problems that truly mattered.
- Microsoft cofounders Paul Allen and Bill Gates failed in their traffic pattern measuring business Traf-O-Data but their experience convinced them that low-cost microprocessors were the future and this led them to create Altair BASIC.
According to Carol Dweck, a Ph.D. psychologist, people can have either a ‘fixed’ mindset or a ‘growth’ mindset. People with fixed mindsets assume that people’s character, qualities, and skills are unchangeable givens. Those with a growth mindset believe that all skills and qualities can be learned.
The following illustration helps you visualize these differences.
Credit: Nigel Holmes
The most productive people all have growth mindsets and are always striving to learn something new. In the words of the late Paul Allen, “every failure contains the seeds of your next success.”
Ponder what kind of mindset you have; fixed or growth. If you’d like more advice about adapting your mindset, Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success is worth a read.
If you started reading this post in the hopes of picking up habits that would help you in your daily life, the final habit is perhaps the most important. Instead of looking at other people, you must think independently and reflect on your own failures. There is no one set of habits that will magically lead to success. The ten habits on this list certainly correlate to success but that doesn’t mean that they have a higher cause-to-effect ratio than other habits. The journey to success requires constant change and evolution. Looking at yourself and learning from your own mistakes is the key to becoming more productive.