15 Overall Productive Habits — to Have Overall

We all know someone who has done the impossible. They bust their tails off, while somehow being able to have a life. I mean, how can someone like Dwayne Johnson have multiple projects, workout for several hours daily, and spend time with his family?

Maybe he’s an anomaly. But, for someone who doesn’t defy logic, such as The Rock, it’s conceivable to have it all. It just takes having the right habits — such as the following 15 that you should have overall.

1. Set three goals for the day.

“For some strange reason, our brain is wired to think in threes,” states Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project. “As kids, we grow up immersed in stories that involve threes: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Three Blind Mice, and the Three Little Pigs,” he adds. “In high school, when we’re forced to dissect books like The Three Musketeers for English class, we break down the plot into three parts—the beginning, middle, and end.”

Even as adults, we’re still drawn to the number three. Think of the saying the “third time’s the charm.” And, during the Olympics or fantasy sports, participants are awarded either the gold, silver, or bronze medal.

“There is something oddly attractive about the number three which can help you a lot as far as productivity is concerned,” Bailey says. For example, as opposed to a to-do-list that could rival the length of a CVS receipt, create a must-do-list that only contains three items. It’s an effective way to keep you focused and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

Best of all? It’s incredibly simple to get started.

“At the start of every morning, fast-forward to the end of the day and ask” one question. “When the day is done, what three things will I want to have accomplished?”

2. Don’t succumb to complexity.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a common thread when it comes to productivity; it has to be extremely regimented and complex. Examples that spring to mind are bullet journals and the zero-based calendar.

I’m not saying that these can’t be effective—case in point, bullet journals. If you need a creative outlet and help to identify important and urgent tasks, it can be an effective tool. At the same time, they’re extremely time-consuming and intimidating.

I’d even say that for a lot of us, they’re unnecessary. You’re probably better off with a planner, calendar, or stick-it notes. In fact, research shows that we’ll stick with habits when they’re simple and doable.

3. Skip what you don’t know.

“This is a tip I don’t see often enough,” writes Ericson Ay Mires over at Lifehack. “If you hit a snag in your work, then come back to it later as you learn how to not get distracted.” And, in the meantime, aim your “attention on what you can do to keep working ‘mindlessly’ at all costs.”

In short, tackle the easy parts first and build-up momentum.

“Eventually, you can come back to the more difficult parts,” adds Ericson. And, “hopefully by then, it’ll have come to you, or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.”

What if you’re still stuck? Get help from an expert who can teach you. Or, delegate the right tasks to the right individuals.

4. Don’t feel guilty about taking shortcuts.

I’m sure that we’ve all heard “there are no shortcuts to success.” While that’s true when it comes to learning a new skill or achieving a large goal, there’s nothing wrong with taking the easy route for simple tasks.

One example would be learning keyboard shortcuts for your calendar. You can also follow the 2-minute rule, using automation for redundant tasks, or using voice dictation.

5. Have a contingency plan.

According to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

While it’s unreasonable to expect someone to have a back-up plan for everything, you’ll be able to put out “fires” if you;

  • Prepare and plan your ideal week in-advance.
  • Implement a triage system to identify where your priorities should be at the moment.
  • Surround yourself with good company who can help pick up the slack.
  • Hire a virtual assistant to be your calendar’s gatekeeper.
  • Allow yourself more time needed for tasks. And, leave blocks of time in your calendar blank so that you can shuffle your schedule when something comes up.

6. Stop aiming for perfection.

I would like to think that we all give it our best, as opposed to phoning it in. But, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be perfect. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.

As Salvador Dali once said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” It’s true. Perfection is something that you’ve constructed in your own mind. Constantly trying to pursue it will only cause anxiety, procrastination, and falling behind.

It takes practice and self-discipline. But, change your mindset to “done is good enough” if you’re a perfectionist. If there’s a serious error, you can always go back and fix it.

7. Declutter…everything.

A little bit of clutter? No problem. Studies have found that a messy desk can encourage a creative mind.

For the majority of us, though? Too much clutter in our lives doesn’t just hinder productivity. It also increases stress, sleep problems and makes it more difficult to unwind.

Overall, too much clutter is just trouble for your health and performance.

With that said, block out a chunk of time to declutter everything. I’m talking about your calendar, workspace, home, and relationships. Also, since it takes 66 days to build new habits, only focus on the ones that are meaningful to you.

I know that that might induce a panic attack. But, take a deep breath. You don’t have to do all this in one shoot.

Rather than overwhelming yourself, take baby steps. Maybe during a break from work, you spend 5-minutes straightening-up your desk. If you don’t have concrete plans this weekend, clean out your bedroom closet.

8. Become a creature of habit.

There’s nothing wrong with occasionally shaking things up or being spontaneous. On a day-to-day basis, though? Humans are creatures of habit.

What exactly does that mean? Well, establish a consistent sleep schedule — preferably based on your circadian rhythms. Try to work, eat, and exercise at the same time each day. And, implement morning and evening rituals that prime you for success.

Having structure makes it easier to plan how we spend our time. It also makes it easier to say no and promotes healthy habits. Routines also provide structure in an uncertain world.

9. Manage your energy, not your time.

“Whenever someone says they need to get more done during the day, the answer is always to improve time management,” writes Choncé Maddox in a previous Calendar article. “The amount of time you have will never change,” explains Choncé. “What you do with your time can change, but it is heavily dependent on your motivation and energy levels.”

With that in mind, “it’s much more important to manage your energy over managing time,” she suggests. “All the buzz about time management hacks can be helpful to a certain point, but ultimately, you need to start by managing your energy first if you want to be more efficient and have a better-balanced schedule.”

Some pointers to get started, stop trying to be perfect and re-using previous materials. Take care of your wellbeing to avoid emotional exhaustion, keep information overload in-check, and develop new skills.

10. Weed out the non-important.

Productive people are extremely protective of their calendars. After all, time is your most valuable and finite resource. As such, they aren’t afraid to reject time requests if it doesn’t serve a purpose.

As an example, they get invited to a status-update meeting that’s going to be an hour long. They immediately know that this is a waste of time. As such, they decline the invite, but will also offer an alternative, such as a 10-minute phone call.

11. An active body equals an active mind.

“We all know exercise is good for our physical and mental health,” says Dr. Kristin Hillman, who lead researcher on a study regarding this topic at the University of Otago. “But these data suggest that regular exercise may also help make us more productive when it comes to getting tasks accomplished each day.”

The study found that “rats that ran 20 minutes a day for five days a week outperformed their non-exercised counterparts across the board.” These were in areas like problem-solving, persistence, and being able to complete tasks more quickly.

I know that this has been a struggle throughout COVID. But, you can work out and stay active from anywhere — even when working from home. For instance, as a part of your morning, do some cardio to get the blood flowing, and at night do yoga to relax.

Other suggestions include;

  • Setting alarms to remind you to stretch and move throughout the day.
  • Creating a “commute,” like taking a walk before diving into work.
  • Keep workout equipment and accessories visible.
  • Use technology like apps and “smart” fitness machines to keep you accountable.
  • Swap-out your old desk for a standing desk.
  • During calls, stand or walk.
  • Incorporate movement throughout the day, such as doing heal-raises or push-ups on the counter while the coffee is brewing.
  • Get outside and play as much as possible.
  • Partake in fitness challenges with colleagues, friends, or family.

12. Start a procrastination journal.

Procrastination is severely misunderstood. Sure, there are negative consequences like missing deadlines. But, procrastinating can be used to help you remove the unnecessary from your life.

But, that’s not all. If you actually dig deeper, you may discover what’s really causing you to drag your feet. Maybe it’s because you’re a perfectionist, lack self-confidence, or disorganized. Or, perhaps you’ve set unrealistic expectations.

The only way to get to the bottom of this? Start a procrastination journal. Record everything that you do, as well as what you don’t. Take note of when you get distracted, how long tasks have been on your to-do-list, and how you feel about them.

It may seem like a lot of work. But, if you do this for a couple of days, you should have a better understanding of what’s causing you to procrastinate.

13. Set clearly defined goals.

Clearly defined goals prevent you from falling into the “busyness trap.” Moreover, they can guide you in developing a plan of action and track your progress to keep you motivated.

A tried and true technique for goal setting? Use the SMART formula, which is short for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

14. Rest your eyes.

Eye strain is a serious concern these days. In fact, since the pandemic, we spend 19 hours and 6 minutes per day between our phone, laptop, TV, and gaming devices. In turn, this can impact your productivity due to symptoms like dry eyes, mental fatigue, and headaches.

To counter this, take frequent screen breaks to give your eyes a much-needed break. One strategy you can try is the 20-20-20 Rule. Every 20-minutes, you look at something that’s 20-feet away for 20-seconds.

15. Learn from failures and move on.

“From a distance, failure seems noble,” writes Tracy Brower, Ph.D., MM, MCRw. “But in reality, it’s painful and messy.”

It’s true. If you’ve ever experienced failure, you’re well aware of how painful it is. You might feel anger and sadness. I couldn’t blame you if you also wanted to crawl into a hole and never reappear.

“It can also cost money and time (like the new suit you bought for the interview or the move you made to the city for the job that didn’t last),” adds Brower. “It can cause you to course correct (the meeting went sideways, and now you need to rethink the project).” And, it “can make you question yourself—who you are and what you’re good at. This is what makes it messiest of all.”

In short, failing is the worst. But, it can still be valuable.

  • Remind yourself that this has nothing to do with you as a person.
  • “Failure provides you with the opportunity to learn and consider how you can strengthen your game for the next go, even if it’s under unfavorable conditions,” says Brower.
  • Take into account that “the work you did as an investment in your process.”
  • Share your pain with others, whether if it’s opening up to a mentor or writing a blog post about your experience.
  • “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger is another tried-and-true mantra about failure,” Brower adds. “If you’re doing it right, you’ll gain resourcefulness, resilience, and perseverance from failure.”
  • Finally, take a step back, reflect, and then focus on the future using the lessons you learned.

15 Overall Productive Habits — to Have Overall was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.


  • John Rampton

    I write about interesting startups.

    Hey, my name is John Rampton. I’m a serial entrepreneur. I love helping people in addition to building amazing products and services that scale. I'm currently the CEO of Calendar. John was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine as well as a blogging expert by Forbes. Time Magazine recognized John as a motivations speaker that helps people find a "Sense of Meaning" in their lives. He currently advises several companies in the bay area. John loves helping others succeed online. It's all about helping and giving back. It brings me joy in my life. You'll also find that when you give to people that it always comes back. You can connect with me @johnrampton. I blog about my success and my epic failures on Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, TechCrunch, Mashable, Huffington Post and many more.