Is There A Secret to Productivity? 6 Habits of Productive People and 2 Ways to Increase Your Own

We’ve all heard it — the most successful people have at least one thing in common. They wake up before 6 am. “Want to be successful, wake up early,” has been at the top of search results in my quest for the most effective productivity practices. But, if you’re a night owl, don’t give up just yet. While early risers get a lot of credit for success, it’s not the only factor that is essential for productivity. The key, as I see it, lies in finding your ideal routine, not just recreating that of others, or waking up at a certain time.

What Makes for a Productive Day? interviewed 14 “successful” people, and according to these leaders, there are some overlapping habits:

  • They wake up early
  • They drink water… a lot of it
  • They exercise
  • They have personal passion projects
  • They spend time with family
  • They start each day with gratitude

A common result I found noteworthy in my search for productivity best practices is that many experts depend on something they do the day before. In fact, most spend their evenings mentally preparing for the next day because it leaves their mornings free to get an early start on important work. Retired American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault ends his evenings by writing down three things he wants to accomplish the following day. For him, when he comes into the office the next day, he doesn’t waste time with excessive planning. Instead, he uses that focused time to get started. 

So, Is There Really a Science to Being Productive? 

The above habits are common behaviors we’d all like to work on or maybe, we may do these things already. So, why aren’t we all feeling productive? Or why is it so hard to actually do these things? I believe it’s a matter of how you’re feeling after doing them that makes the difference. 

Kevin Kruse, CEO of LEADx, has spent a year of his life interviewing productive people — seven billionaires, 13 Olympic athletes, 29 straight-A students, and 239 entrepreneurs. In one article, Kevin interviews Matt East, a productivity coach, and they talk about how to actually plan out a productive day by asking yourself 10 basic questions — check it out here

What stuck out to me is the importance of changing your perspective on productivity and time management. Instead, look at it as “priority management.” Remove the “shoulds” and stop trying to force productivity. Rather, whenever possible,  fill your day with things you want to do. 

So, the “key” is figuring out how to spend your time intentionally. When looking at successful people who wake up before 6am — they don’t just wake up for the sake of being awake. They exercise, meditate, or spend time with family. In other words, their time is spent with purpose by doing that that makes them feel engaged. If you’re not a morning person and force yourself to wake up early for the sake of productivity, you’ll likely encounter tiredness, and maybe even crankiness. Nobody wants to be around that! Remember, according to, your body actually knows what it should be doing and when. Don’t force yourself to be part of the 5 am club if you can’t fall asleep before midnight. 

Creating a Productive Routine, Even From Home

The world is going through an intense period of unrest, but you don’t have to wait until things are back to “normal” to enhance your productivity. As you’ve probably noticed by now, the schedule you had in the office doesn’t translate perfectly to working from home. So, if you’re home for the foreseeable future, make your routines work for you right now and then you can adjust once you’re back in the office.

If possible, try compressing your working hours into your schedule. The typical 9-5 workday is geared to benefit those who function best earlier in the day. If you’ve found that’s not the case with you, ask your manager to adjust your hours. Perhaps even a 10-6 could give you an extra hour of productivity without disrupting your schedule too much. 

Only You Know Your Ideal Productivity Schedule 

Completely overhauling your routine or following someone else’s “magic formula” might work for a little while, but your momentum will fizzle out. Instead, maintain reasonable expectations. Try a new habit or make a small change each week. For example, maybe start by listing out your to-dos the night before. Then, work on prioritizing your tasks. If getting emails is the bane of your existence, try to figure out why that is. Is it because you’re getting contacted for things you shouldn’t be? Or maybe you find yourself constantly refreshing your email, getting set off with every ping? Instead, set time pockets for email reading — such as the top of every hour or every other hour. Once you figure out what you want to change, you can slowly decide on the how. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with your ideal morning routine, this article gives 50 ideas to choose from. Sit with them and see what feels best for you! Above all, focus on getting enough sleep and working during your optimal hours as a starting point. 

Truly, it’s not about when you get out of bed or what you do before logging into work, it’s about setting yourself up to feel your personal best.