12 Unconventional Habits of Highly Productive People

12 Unconventional Habits of Highly Productive People

It is not enough to be busy…
The question is:  What are you busy doing?

I’ve always been someone driven to excel and make the most out of this wild ride called life.

So when I read Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek, a new world of possibilities opened up to me.  After discovering his personal productivity tips, I knew the way I worked was never going to be the same.

Over the ensuing 18 months I diligently applied Ferriss’ strategies, from utilizing Parkinson’s Law to following the 80/20 Principle, to eliminating distractions and batching tasks.  And I saw solid results.

But always looking to optimize, I decided to take it a step further.  I decided to see if I could “out-Tim Ferriss” Tim Ferriss.

So I spent some additional time studying the habits of other successful people – reading their books, blogs, etc. to see what was working for them.  And then I started experimenting with a variety of these strategies also to see just how productive I could get.

Some of my experiments failed, but many were resounding successes.  Today, I want to share 12 unconventional productivity strategies that worked well for me.  As I built habits around each of them, my daily efforts became noticeably more efficient.  And I’m confident they can do the same for you.

1.  Meditate

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about all the wonderful health and cognitive benefits meditation offers.  But did you know Stanford University researchers consider it the #1 way to boost willpower?  Regular meditation increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, which governs decision-making.  Over time, you’ll greatly improve your ability to avoid distractions and stay focused on the task at hand.  To learn how to start meditating, check out this article.

2.  Optimize Your Morning Ritual

How you spend your first waking hour sets the tone for the rest of your day.  In his program Get the Edge, peak performance coach Tony Robbins strongly encourages taking at least 15 minutes every morning to get your body and mind in an optimal state.  This can be done through meditation, visualization, physical activity, prayer, reading, practicing gratitude, yoga, journaling, or even taking a walk around the block.

3.  Visualize Your Ideal Day

It is common practice among elite athletes to visualize their performance before game-time.  Golf legend Jack Nicklaus once said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my mind.”  You can use the same strategy to increase your productivity.  First, get clear on what you want to accomplish during the day, then visualize yourself going through the different activities swiftly and efficiently.  Once you open your eyes, you’ll be ready to make your own day a masterful performance.

4.  Rest Before You’re Tired

One of the keys to optimal productivity is to stay mentally fresh through the day.  Productivity expert Tony Schwartz, author of the book The Power of Full Engagement, tells us, “Human beings are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy.  That’s how we operate at our best.”  In other words, a great way to avoid fatigue is to take one or two small breaks every hour.  I personally use the app Time Out which basically blocks me out of my computer for 10 minutes every 50 minutes.  By resting regularly, you’ll keep your energy up and get more done over the course of a day.

5.  Get Active During Your Breaks

What should you do to optimize your 10-minute break?  While it may be tempting to head straight to Facebook, that’s not your best bet.  What I’ve found to be optimal is 5 minutes of physical activity (50 jumping jacks, 20 push-ups and 20 squats) which increases blood flow to the brain, followed by 5 minutes of meditation that calms down the mind and helps you get clarity over what needs to get done next.

6.  Work with Intention

The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it’s also the greatest time-waster in history.  To avoid falling prey to its endless distractions, make sure that whenever you sit down at your computer, you are intentional about your work.  Get crystal clear on what you’re about to do and write it down.  Once that’s done, get straight to work.  Don’t waste 1 minute.  Even checking Facebook or your email once is bound to throw you off track.

7.  Unplug

In a world that’s constantly connected, we forget how taxing this is to our cognitive system.  Try to take 1 day a week to unplug and do a technology detox.  Put your computer aside and seek out nature, spend time with your loved ones, read a book, paint, journal, lay in a hammock, call a friend, volunteer, etc.  If you’re courageous, why not put your phone on airplane mode for a few hours too?  I promise, the next day, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and refocused.

8.  Optimize Your Work Set-Up

When working on a laptop, it’s easy to get a very bad posture.  The laptop is too low relative to your eye level, which gets you to slouch or look down at an awkward angle.  This is not only bad for your neck and back, but it’s also detrimental to your productivity.  A good posture energizes us, while a bad posture makes us more lethargic.  Consider buying a laptop stand (with an external keyboard and mouse) or setting up a standing desk.  Check this video to see my own work set-up.

9.  Learn to Speed Read

Reading is an essential part of daily life, in both personal and professional environments.  Learning to speed-read is a great (and easier than you think) way to improve productivity, but it holds one caveat.  It’s really hard to do on a computer screen.  So instead, you can use a neat web application called Spreeder.  It allows you to paste the text into a box and it then flashes the words across your screen at the speed you choose.  It makes speed-reading on the computer almost effortless and is sure to save you time and energy.

10.  Be Grateful

In his excellent TED Talk The Secret to Happy Work, Shawn Anchor reveals that our brain performs up to 30% better when we’re feeling happy.  A simple way to boost your happiness level is to take a few seconds every hour to think about the things you’re grateful for.  This can be anything, from your health, to your access to food, the internet, your family, your friends, the beautiful weather, etc.  Really feel the gratitude and you’ll be both happier and more productive.

11.  Practice Optimal Breathing

Take a second to notice your breath right now.  It is deep and full, or short and shallow?  If you’re like the majority of people, it’s probably the latter.  When we’re working, it’s easy to get so caught up in what we do that we forget to breathe properly.  Taking a few deep mindful breaths regularly will help you relax, get present, and oxygenate your brain.

12.  Ask for Help

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re the type of person who takes pride in doing things all by yourself.  For the longest time, I did the same.  But recently, I’ve realized that asking for help not only makes my life a LOT easier, it also gives other people a chance to share their gifts and feel more accomplished.  Win-win!  Next time you’re stuck or unsure what to do next, don’t bang your head against the wall, just ask for help.

I’ve shared a lot of strategies with you, and you can’t apply all of them at once, so I invite you to take a few seconds right now and decide which ONE you’re going to consciously implement this week.

When you feel like you’ve got that one down, come back to this post and choose one more, and so forth.  Within a few weeks, I guarantee your productivity will reach new heights.

Phil Drolet is a Peak Performance Coach and runs a blog called The Feel Good Lifestyle where he helps people optimize their lifestyle and take bold action towards their dreams.  He also created an online course where he teaches students how to become (nearly) superhuman.

Photo by: Anthony Sigalas


  1. J. Shae says

    I read your blog all the time. Well done! This article is a must read for anyone who wants to increase their productivity and reduce their stress. And thanks for pointing out some additional reference material to explore these ideas in more depth.

  2. says

    Love your productivity tips here. These habits are unconventional in the sense that many of them aren’t something people typically associate directly with getting things done. Extremely practical. I need to work on many of the suggestions you provided. And I now intend to read The 4-Hour Workweek.

  3. says

    This post is just superb!! I gonna try it out. I find the ask for help tip really useful. If you ask the right person, a little bit of their wisdom always gets rubbed on to u as well :-)

  4. says

    Wow, I really like these. In fact, I like them better than Ferriss’. I do many of them, but not all. I’m going to put them all into practice and see what happens.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

  5. says

    I have adopted some of these activities like meditating, optimal breathing and gratitude and it has made a huge difference to my life. Thanks for sharing these other activities which I will eagerly incorporate in my daily routine.

  6. Ladd says

    I looked at Dejal Time Out and it looks great, but it’s Mac only. Can anyone recommend a great PC/Windows app equivalent?

  7. says

    I’ve had more success speed reading by actually learning to read anything faster as opposed to the methods used by Spreeder which only works when you use their application. If you have an iPad/iPhone there are a few apps such as http://www.rapidreadingapp.com/ that can teach you how to do this.

    Other than that, great tips.

  8. says

    Wow, this is so helpful. Most of the time, I just read about the same old productivity tips, but these are fresh, practical, and descriptive. Definitely going to share.


  9. Tamara says

    Brilliant post to read just when I’m feeling in a really negative, unproductive rut. Great inspiration and some good books and CDs recommended. Thank you :-)

  10. says

    Thank you so much everyone for all the love and great feedback! Excited to see you all ramp up your productivity in the coming days and weeks.

    @Ladd: I don’t know an equivalent to Time Out, but you can use Focus Booster (http://www.focusboosterapp.com/)- it’s based on the Pomodoro method so it’s 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off.

  11. Buyuka Aristarichus says

    This article made my day today… gave me to extra push I needed to get back on track. Looking forward to implementing some of these ideas.

  12. says

    This is a CRUSHING article. We could do some stellar stuff together as I’m focused on high performance healthcare, and regularly integrate the brilliant things you’ve put into your article. KILLER content! Keep crushing it! DrJ

  13. Kay says

    A very well timed post! As a mother, aspiring blogger and business woman, one of my continuing challenges is to make the best use of the time at my disposal. Often I find myself in reactive mode rather than proactive mode. I believe that the goal is not productivity (we Americans wear our “busy”ness as a badge of pride) as much as it is being proactive and present.

    I enjoy all of the posts on this site tremendously and it is my way of getting my days off to a great start!


  14. says

    I incorporate almost all the points you have listed…like you, I’ve worked very hard at balancing and creating a really good life for myself. I will have to say tho that the very best point you made is #7…unplugging. When I go on vacation (1-2 weeks)…I totally unplug…I don’t even make a phone call! And I come back happier than ever with that essence lasting weeks later! Everyone thinks it’s impossible, but it’s not and the impact of it is amazing!!

  15. says

    >4. Rest Before You’re Tired
    Tony Schwartz wrote a great book on this topic. I’ve almost forgotten about advices that were mentioned in it! If you have no energy you’ll not be able to focus and achieve your goals. Rest and changing the work type are very important! Covey also mentioned his book in “The 8th habit.”

    >7. Unplug
    For me sometimes it’s really hard to unplug :( But great advice.

  16. says

    Phil – quite simply one of the best life hacks I’ve read yet. And the fact that you’ve decided to “out-Tim Ferriss” Tim Ferriss makes me want to read anything and everything you’ve written! I’m personally on a mission to out-non-conform Chris Gillebeau, so your advice is certainly a welcome annotation to getting the most from the experience. I think this post will be one to print out and keep near to keep me on track. Thanks for sharing!

  17. says

    Thanks Phil, I’m certainly going to check out your blog and try a few things…and I now have seven additional tabs open! :-)

    Also, with two kids (6 and 5) and living as an expat, I often look for advice geared to “dads” and “husbands” like me. I think most of these are do-able; unlike some advice that is certainly geared to the I-live-alone person.

  18. Mike Slavin says

    Great stuff Phil! I like how a lot of these are realistic about energy. I’ve seen some productivity junkies who are only concerned with the “doing.” They don’t know that rejuvenation is critical.

    I plan to phase some of these into my routine in the coming weeks. Especially getting active during my breaks. Love that one.

    I dare all readers to pick one of the twelve tips and commit to implementing it this week!

  19. says

    Thank you for sharing, definitely helpful! Number 10 (Be Grateful) particularly impresses me: up to a 30% increase in productivity when we are feeling happy, wow!

  20. Victoria says

    Angel, thank you for this invaluable article. You gave me a lot of good advice. I started meditation immediately after reading this article, and it already gave me great results, helping me to organize my life and to be more productive.

  21. says

    I actually JUST (I know a little late) got my copy of Tim’s book, and can’t wait to finish the one I’m on now in order to read it. I’m so glad it touches on the 80/20 rule, because though I see tremendous value it trying to find those 20%’s I find it difficult.

    All very good tips, and helpful!


  1. Mind opening, forward thinking advice. Bottom line: If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. Unproductive people sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and get to work.

  2. Meditation, this is something I can incorporate into my life. More than that, I think it’s something I NEED to incorporate into my life. Do I think it’s a cure all and fix all for all the stress in my life – absolutely not! What I do think is that it is a powerful and amazing tool to help me COPE with all the stress in my life. So I’m going to give it a whirl and see how it goes.

    Great post as usual, thank you.

  3. Thumbs up! Certainly practical and productive advice. I love the meditation tip – something I intend to put into practice starting today.

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