10 Predictable Habits of Productive People

The most productive people share a common set of workflow habits. These habits are predictable, identifiable, and they are different from what normal people do.

chinese business man having coffee

If you would like to be abnormally productive, integrate these 10 habits into your workflow….

  1.  Start early. Ben Franklin's advice that being “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” seems to be true. The most productive people almost always start their day earlier than everyone else. I recommend 5 AM. Trust me, interruptions are much less of a problem at this time of day.
  2. Do the hard stuff first. Ask yourself, “If I only get one thing done today, what must that one thing be?” Do that thing first.  Then move to the second item on your list.
  3. Work in focused blocks of time. Dedicate blocks of time to specific tasks, use a digital timer, don't do anything else during that time. For instance, if you set aside one hour to write, set your timer for an hour, and no matter what don't do anything else but right. Don't answer email, shut off your cell phone, close your office door. Only writing is allowed.
  4. Do not tolerate interruption. Interruption is the killer of productivity. Guard your time carefully. Even a 10 minute interruption can cost you dearly. Estimates are that it may take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for you to get back on track with what you were working on before the interruption.
  5. Schedule your predictable interruptions. Predictable interruptions include phone calls, emails, and “got-a-minute” meetings (as in, someone walks into your office and says, “Have you got a minute?”)… Schedule specific times in the day to check your voicemail and return calls, to check your email and return emails, and for all of your “go- a-minute” meetings.
  6. Check email only once a day. The world will not come to an end. As I've said before, your inbox is a fantastic productivity tool… for other people.
  7. Beware the “walking dead”. The world is populated with zombies, who seem determined to wander the landscape and eat up everyone else's time with meaningless conversation. Love these people, treasure them as God's children, and do not permit them to use up your most valuable resource. Just say no to coffee klatch gossip, lengthy bull sessions at work, and most deadly of all, the nefarious “got-a-minute meeting”.
  8. Embrace the power of One. Ancient Proverb: a man with one watch always knows what time it is, a man with two watches never knows. Repeat after me: one calendar, one email inbox, one phone number, one capture device for all the random notes and tasks. One.
  9. Embrace the power of No. Rick Warren: “The most powerful productivity technique I've ever learned is the word no.” It has nothing to do with nice. Every time you say yes, there is a cost. Count the cost. And learn to say no most of the time.
  10. Have a bias to action. The battle rarely goes to the general who can't make up his mind. Develop a tendency to leap into action more quickly than you're comfortable with. Remember the saying, “The people who complain that it can't be done are very annoying to those of us who are busy doing it.”

These habits are not new. They are not revolutionary. They are not even surprising. They are, however, rarely employed.

Put them to work for you, and someday soon I predict your peers will be wondering how you get so much done.

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Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • Gems of eternal wisdom.

    Fads and techniques will come and go but somethings are forever true. And into the latter category falls your 10 Productive Habits.

    Thank you for reminding me of them.

  • Wow – there is so much goodness packed into this post. I recently started experimenting with an early start time – and it’s turned out to be true for me. Starting early – more specifically getting something done early – has been incredible. And I loved your “Walking Dead” analogy – haha. Thanks for the great post!

    • Well, I couldn’t resist working in a “Walking Dead” reference…

  • Thanks so much for this Ray. “Beware the walking dead” is definitely my biggest one.

    I have to confess as someone whose job it is to help folks become better people it can be very hard to draw the line between a “yes” and a “no”. I definitely fall on the “yes” side far more often than I should and find a lot of time wasted because of it.

    It’s some good food for thought for me today!

    • Phil, I walk that same line every day. It always helps to remind myself that even Jesus withdrew from the pressing ground for rest, refreshing, and connecting with his Father.

      • Thanks Ray, a reminder I really need to remind myself of. haha

  • Ray, Great post! Checking email only once per day is something I can strive for. As a part of the “instant” society, I am guilty of looking at the vibrating box on my hip…good stuff.

  • Ray, this is a great list. Timely, too, as this is something I’m focusing on right now.

    My favorite tip is #1 – get up early. I haven’t always been a morning person, so this hasn’t been easy. But once you establish the habit of rising early, you start reaping the benefits.

    I would add a twist to your #3: not only work in focused blocks of time, but also focused DAYS of time. For example: Writing/recording projects on Monday, sales calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays, etc.

    Thanks again,


  • Love the idea of embracing the power of One. It is definitely a time to cut back and simplify the constant pings of society in this ‘on demand’ world we live in. Am I am man? or an on-demand muppet?

  • Bee Johnson

    Thanks Ray! I really needed this list. I get sidetracked so easily as I’m working on my business. Something new, another idea of how to do the website, a new report to read…and on and on. I will adhere to this list and let you know how it goes. But I sure thank you today.

  • Hello Ray,

    The “power of One” is really new to me. This principle is very suitable in the new age when we are invaded by a multitude of gadgets, devices and media.
    Also I am a big advocate for the uninterrupted blocks of time. Even if we think to ourselves “what damage could do 1 minute of checking an email”, well the truth is that the “innocent” minute become “10” and we are not even aware. The time flies quicker than we act.

  • Ray,

    I recently read Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit” where he writes about a three step process of “cue” to “routine” to “reward” which makes up our habits be they productive or otherwise. He says that the only step we can really influence is the “routine” step with our conscious behavior. Your post gives me ten conscious actions that one can do “routinely” for 21 days or so that can form more productive habits. Of course this is exactly what successful and productive people in every walk of life do as a matter of course. Thanks for the ten “routines” to practice until they become habit.

    BPLD =Boldness, Power, Love & Discipline (2 Tim. 1:7)

    – Brad

    • You’re welcome. Duhigg’s book is quite good.

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