10 Habits of Highly Productive People—and How to Build Them Into Your Routine

 10 Habits of Highly Productive People—and How to Build Them Into Your Routine

When you have a busy schedule, being productive can be a true challenge. Sure, you have every intention of seizing the day and starting your morning with a fresh cup of coffee—then fast forward to 3 p.m., and you're zombie-eyed as you scroll through Instagram. The day is half gone and that to-do list is still unchecked.

Here's the thing: Nobody is 100 percent productive all of the time, so remember to cut yourself some slack. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. To help you take back some control, we asked productivity experts to weigh in on the top habits of extremely productive people. As you go through this checklist, identify how many of these habits you are already practicing—and which ones you can improve on.

Manage Priorities Before Your Inbox

Letting email dictate your day can be the ultimate productivity crusher. Instead of starting your morning by answering messages as they roll in, use that chunk of time to create your daily to-do list—before you look at your inbox, says Melissa Gratias Ph.D., a productivity coach, author, and speaker. "Once you have entered the packed subway car that is your email inbox, you are whisked off for the day," she says. "You are attending to other people's needs. Keeping your priorities up front helps you stay focused and proactive."

Get Moving

It's no secret that exercise improves brain functionality. Studies show that incorporating exercise into your workday can improve time management skills by up to 72 percent. This also boosts energy, encourages you to make healthier food choices throughout the day, and helps you sleep better, explains Krystal Conner, a life coach and host of the How to be a Dangerous Woman podcast. "All of these benefits improve your ability to be productive," she says.

Streamline Your To-Do List

It's no surprise that people who keep a daily to-do list are more productive than those who don't. But the medium you use is as important as the list itself. "Save the last 15 minutes of each day to update your master task list," says Gratias. "Delete what you have completed, add new items that came onto your plate, and take a moment to breathe and acknowledge that you did the best job you could." Ultimately, this is a sign that you are making progress.

Schedule Brain Breaks

It may seem like a given, but it's worth stating: Breaks are essential to productivity. When we have a lot on our plate, it's easy to power through, instead of carving out time to relax. "Do things that rest the analytical and problem-solving parts of your brain: Stand up from your desk, take a short walk, stretch your muscles, listen to some music, and meditate," says Gratias. "Avoid scrolling social media during these breaks because that activity does not give the prefrontal cortex time to rest."

Get Creative in the Morning

Creating a morning habit that you look forward to gets you out of bed and alleviates tough feelings, says Ayse Birsel, a life coach and author of Design the Long Life You Love. "I often wake up feeling frightened, empty, or pessimistic, and when I feel like that, all I want to do is pull back the covers and sleep some more," she says. "Instead, I found being creative to be the best antidote to pessimism. It is because of this that I taught myself to wake up early, make tea, and to pick up my pen and sketch between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m."

Don't Multitask

We tend to associate productivity with multitasking, but it's actually the opposite. If we focus intently on one thing, we're more likely to get it done faster than juggling multiple tasks. Include two to three important tasks to complete in the day, explains Conner. Don't move to the next task until the one you are currently working on is complete. "This will prevent you from trying to multitask, and feeling like you have not completed anything at the end of the day," she says. "When you leave several tasks undone, you end up feeling like you didn't complete anything—and that feels unproductive."

Set and Track Your Goals

Highly productive people determine, document, and share their goals for the year ahead, notes Gratias. Set aside time each month (or every week) to evaluate your progress toward those goals. "Without goals, you are wandering through your life focused on the ground immediately in front of you instead of the mountaintop in the distance," she says.

Delegate When Possible

Freeing up time can make you more productive, which is why Conner recommends delegating tasks for a more successful personal and professional life. "Delegate activities that can be done more efficiently and more quickly by someone else," she says. That might mean hiring someone to help tidy your home, ordering groceries or meal delivery, or passing off tasks to colleagues who are better equipped to handle them.

Practice Compassion

Tell yourself "I love you" at the end of each day to boost productivity down the line, Birsel suggests. "It may seem silly at first, but do this for a minimum of 21 days to make it into a habit," she says. "Once you've reprogrammed your brain, you will catch yourself being self-compassionate and avoid self-degrading remarks like, 'That was stupid of me.'" Eliminate those reductive quips, and you'll be more efficient when handling every daily task.

Start Something New

As we grow personally and professionally, it can be difficult to start over as a novice in another area. But having a "beginner's mind" is only to your benefit. "It is counterintuitive, but being the best can hold us back," says Birsel. "I coach top creatives, executives, and thought leaders and remind them that all great projects are ambiguous in the beginning." Exploring the unknown can lead to your most meaningful work, she says.


By: Emily Popp and Nashia Baker I Martha Stewart I January 31, 2023

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