Some of the world’s most productive people, such as Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins and James Altucher, do things differently than most others. Their habits, routines and actions are optimized in such ways that they are highly effective, productive instead of just busy and don’t unnecessarily waste time — which is why they’re able to achieve such great results.
Personally, I find it very helpful to look at what these ultra-productive people do on a daily basis and copy their most important habits in order to maximize my own odds of success. That’s why, in this article, I share five daily productivity habits that almost all high-performers share, which I’ve implemented in my own life as well.
These five habits help you to raise your performance to the next level so that you’ll be able to achieve your most ambitious goals in less time, experience less stress and free up more of your time for your passions and priorities.
Habit 1: Doing At Least 2-Hours of Deep Work
I dare to say that implementing a deep focus session in my work day has boosted my productivity levels like no other productivity hack over the past few months.
Through my focus process, I’m able to complete my most valuable tasks both much faster and of much higher quality — simply because I can direct all of my mental resources towards the task, without getting distracted.
In fact, a study led by Harvard showed that the average knowledge worker spends 47% of his or her day in a state of (semi)distraction. In other words, when you learn how to focus well, you can get the same exact task done twice as fast. This is like completing a 4-hour task in merely 2-hours.
On top of that, our ability to focus is rapidly declining because technology is wiring our brain to seek instant gratification (it’s exactly how social media is designed for example), thus it becomes a more valuable skill as not many people can do it anymore.
In fact, RescueTime has researched that the average knowledge worker checks email 55 times per day and instant messaging apps about 77 times per day.
Furthermore, a study by Gloria Mark showed that, on average, each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given projects before being interrupted. All in all, distractions are the number one enemy of intense focus and peak productivity.
The ultra-productive understand this, and therefore they schedule at least 2-hours of uninterrupted deep work in their day, during which they can work on their most valuable task with full focus.
They eliminate all (or the majority) of their possible distractions before they start working, so they won’t have to spend willpower, energy and attention on fighting off possible distractions when they do pop up. That means, no smartphone in their proximity (or at least on flight mode), no email, social media or news tabs open on their laptop and no other forms of distraction available.
It’s only them and their most important task at hand for at least 2 hours in a row. This enables them to work twice as fast (again, we are distracted 47% of our workday), improve the quality of their work and help them actually get the important things done.
Personally, I always write my Medium posts in a state of deep work. This enables me to write at least one post per day, get curated more often (because of higher quality work) and therefore grow my business much faster than before. That’s exactly why I recommend at least 2 hours of deep work on a daily basis in order to massively improve your productivity.
Habit 2: Set 1–3 Daily Goals
Another daily habit of the ultra-productive is setting 1–3 daily goals so that they know exactly what to do today in order to move the needle for their long-term goals.
Either set your goals the night before your workday or early in the morning before you start working. To help you set your goals, ask yourself these two questions:
What thing(s), if achieved, would lead me to consider that this day would be a total success?
What thing(s), if achieved, lead to significant progress towards my bigger goals (weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly goals)?
You absolutely need to have daily goals (you can also call them intentions or targets, it doesn’t really matter) as they are essential to help you consistently make significant progress towards the achievement of your bigger goals.
Often, people know what they want to achieve somewhere far into the future, but fail to make meaningful progress because they don’t create clarity on what they exactly should be doing today. Therefore, they hardly make any significant steps towards their bigger goals.
Because of this lack of clarity, they then end up wasting more time during the day or they work on lesser important tasks and projects instead (something called ‘productive procrastination’). They still feel productive, but in reality, they aren’t. Their lack of preparation and planning leads to low productivity and slow progress.
Therefore, set 1–3 goals for your day so you remove any friction and gain the clarity on what it is that you actually want to achieve today. This way, you prepare for a highly productive day in which you make meaningful progress towards your bigger goals.
“All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do. ”
— Norman Vincent Peale
Personally, I recommend you set one goal as your top priority for the day so that you make sure you actually achieve this goal instead of procrastinating on it.
Way too often, people only tackle their lesser important daily goals and then procrastinate on the most important goal, because it’s the most challenging or intimidating. Therefore, they still aren’t highly productive despite feeling very productive.
In fact, reaching peak productivity is all about tackling those tasks or projects that are your highest priority — as they move the needle the most towards the achievement of your bigger goals.
Habit 3: Prioritize Using The 80/20 Rule
According to the 80/20 rule, only about 20% of your activities should be your priority. These activities will account for the majority of results (about 80%) in your life or business. They are essential to achieving your desired outcome. You should spend more time, effort and energy on those mission-critical activities.
This also means that about 80% of your activities account for only 20% of your results. In other words, they are non-essential. Yet, they take up the biggest portion of your time, effort and energy. You should resolve to spend less time, effort and energy on these activities.
The ultra-productive master the 80/20 rule like no other. They do an 80/20 analysis on a daily basis and then protect and schedule their time to work on the top 20% of tasks, while delegating, eliminating or batch-producing the lesser important tasks.
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
— Peter Drucker
Essentially, the 80/20 rule is all about identifying the things that are truly important to your life or business. Usually, there are only a few things that are essential to your happiness, business success, health or wealth. Only a few things contribute significantly to your desired outcome. Write these tasks down on a list and refer to this list every single day.
Although the rest can definitely be nice and still add some value to your life or business, it’s non-essential. It won’t move the needle that much — unlike those few things that are essential. Be ruthless about delegating or eliminating the lesser important tasks so that you have more resources available for those things that truly matter.
For example, by doing an 80/20 analysis myself, I came to the conclusion that I should focus primarily on 3 key tasks:
- Creating high-quality, valuable content that impacts people’s lives (aka, writing on Medium)
- Create strong, highly valuable, email marketing sequences through which people can see more of my content and products
- Create products (courses and e-books) that blow people away in terms of value
Doing this analysis has had a powerful impact on my productivity levels and has helped me to quickly increase my monthly profit by more than 134%. I look at these 3 tasks every single day and I make sure that at least one of them is placed on my daily ABCDE List (my to-do list on steroids).
No longer do I waste time and effort spend on ‘busywork’. Rather, I’m able to make consistent progress on those tasks and projects that are truly important for me and my business.
Habit 4: Rest & Recovery
Yes, sleeping and doing nothing are incredibly important parts of a highly productive day. Many people assume that the ultra-productive work 24/7, but that’s not true at all. In fact, working more than 8 hours per day has been proven to be not that effective at all. Your productivity levels drop quickly as soon as overtime starts.
In fact, recharging is essential to generate high levels of energy so that you can fully crush it again the next day. If you don’t recharge yourself enough, you’ll eventually burn out. It’ll be like trying to keep your phone running while it’s only at 12% battery life.
The ultra-productive understand this — and therefore they take rest & recovery very seriously. They make sure they get at least 7 hours of high quality, deep sleep and usually go to bed and wake up at the same time each (week)day.
This enables them to have peak levels of energy the next day, which is associated with better focus, stronger discipline and higher productivity levels.
A few days ago I received a harsh reminder of the importance of high-quality sleep. For two nights in a row, I didn’t sleep that well. Immediately, my performance dropped. I had trouble focusing, following my routines and I felt more like procrastinating (probably because my brain wanted me to preserve the little energy I had left).
Funnily enough, this used to be all too common for me in the past. My sleep schedule was a mess. I had a hard time waking up early and I always used to fall asleep on my daily commute back from university. No wonder why, at that point in time, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted (I was also running a side-hustle at the same time).
Nowadays, however, I make sure that during the weekdays I get at least 8-hours of high quality, deep sleep, which enables me to have consistently high energy levels throughout the day to perform at peak levels.
Habit 5: Applying Parkinson’s Law
By using Parkinson’s Law for their most important tasks, projects and goals, the ultra-productive make sure they don’t unnecessarily waste time and finish their work much faster than most others. In fact, Parkinson’s Law is probably one of the key reasons why they are so incredibly productive.
Essentially, Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’ which means that if you give yourself a day to complete a two-hour task, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting. We will, in fact, take the entire day to accomplish this relatively minor task.
The extra time might not even be filled with more work to actually improve the quality of the output. Often, the extra time is just filled with more stress, tension and worrying about how to get it done. Often, we fill a lot of the time procrastinating and wasting hours away.
By assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity. In other words, we need to make our deadlines shorter. Almost always do we find ways to get the task done within the deadline we set for ourselves.
When under (the right kind of) pressure, we’re capable of amazing things. All of a sudden we turn into a creative, problem-solving, productivity machine.
Because of this pressure, you force yourself to focus on those elements of the task that are actually most important, instead of nit-picking about the details and thereby wasting valuable time.
For example, I aim to write my Medium blogposts within two hours. Whenever I don’t set this time limit, I waste much more time on non-important details and re-write most sentences much more than is necessary. In fact, those articles that I write under time pressure often get more views and claps than those articles that took me an entire day to write.
Now Do It
Improvement only happens when you take action — not just by knowing stuff. That’s why, as an action point, I encourage you to try out at least two of these five habits for your very next workday.
This way, you can start to reach the levels of the ultra-productive so that you can get better results in less time, free up more of your time for what’s important and achieve your goals much faster.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab