What things do really successful and really productive people do every day? It’s our job (we like to think of it as our mission) to study what productive people do, and to study how successful people achieve and build on their success. If we can deconstruct the things that help them be more productive and share them, we can hopefully all benefit.
In our experience, successful and productive people use rituals. Rituals are the routines and collections of habits that these people do every single day to make sure that they get things done, that they don’t get interrupted, and that they can sustainably move towards their goals, one day at a time.
In addition to studying famous world-class performers, we have thousands of productivity-focused individuals in The Dojo, our productivity community with an extensive course library. (Some of them are famous and world-class in their area of expertise, it should be said!) We’re able to find out what works for them and what didn’t make much of a difference.
We’ve found that while no one has exactly the same rituals, there are seven that come up time after time.
Before we get into the list, just remember that it’s not enough to read about the rituals of productive people – you want to take action. Where possible, we’ve given you resources to get started and implement them for yourself.
With that said, let’s take a look at the 7 rituals:
1. Waking Up Early
One of the key traits of modern-day successful people is that they are “morning owls”. They wake up early – sometimes it’s as the sun comes up at 6 a.m.. Sometimes, it’s even earlier… as early as 4 a.m. in some cases.
There have been endless arguments about whether people who wake up early or people who are night owls are more productive or successful, and there are always exceptions to the rule. While we definitely lean towards the “wake up early” camp, the best way to find out for yourself is to test it – try a month of early starts, and a month of late starts, and see which yields you the best results.
To get you started, here’s how these highly successful people wake up so early every single day:
- They set up the night before correctly.
- They optimize their sleeping conditions.
- They implement a Morning Ritual (see below).
If you are a dedicated night owl or are worried about the shock to your system waking up early might be, it’s totally fine to ease into it. Wake up five minutes earlier tomorrow, then five minutes earlier the day after that, and so on until you get to your target time.
When you do these 3 things, getting up at 4 a.m., 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. is no challenge at all.
As a result, you have more time in the morning to exercise, to do other key rituals, to spend with your family, or even to get to work early. In fact, a key benefit that we commonly hear from readers and customers who have implemented this ritual is that they can “get everything [they] need to get done before noon”.
The reason for this is simple: in the morning, others are usually not awake – so there are no phone calls, emails or interruptions to sidetrack you from getting your key things done.
This allows you to start your days extremely STRONG, and the momentum will carry you through almost any challenge that comes up.
While the collective consciousness of late-starters are still dragging themselves out of bed and towards the door, you’re already out in the fresh air and sprinting ahead.
Which would you prefer – struggling to get into work by 9 a.m., not really waking up until 10 a.m. and then feeling lethargic after lunch? Or getting 2-3 power hours in before 9, continuing through to noon and then being able to take it easy in the afternoon have the space to focus on other less urgent but still important tasks?
If you need a little help waking up early, we recorded a podcast all about becoming a morning person, and here are 7 ways to immediately wake up and jumpstart your morning.
2. Morning Ritual
The morning ritual or morning routine is another staple of productive people. It describes the default set of actions that you take from the time that you wake up in the morning, to the time that you are ready to start your day.
The benefits of the morning ritual are many.
A morning ritual guarantees that you will go from groggy to awake by the end of it. So even if you wake up still half-asleep with an alarm going off, and you slightly hate the world for making you wake up before the sun is up, by the time you are through the 6 steps of the morning ritual, you’ll be happy, cheerful, feeling productive and that you can take on anything – even that dreaded Most Important Task of your day.
The morning ritual also gives you a perfect start to your day, and creates a powerful momentum in your life. Don’t underestimate the impact that this can have – when you have consistently productive and successful mornings, you start to have consistently productive and successful days. This routine then turns into weeks, then months, then years… and before you know it, you’ll have become that better version of yourself that you want to be.
The morning ritual lets you start your day with purpose instead of arriving at your morning coffee with no idea what’s going to happen next.
It also streamlines your morning process and trims away anything unnecessary. This means no more 2-3 hours of fussing with clothes, your phone, your email and everything else only to find that you’re still late for work. With a properly structured morning ritual in place, you can be ready to go in 1-1.5 hours every morning and know that you have the best possible advantage at the start of each day.
Here’s how to stick to your morning ritual, and here’s our step-by-step guide to forming a morning ritual. (There is a ton of information on morning rituals on the AE blog that we provide for free, but we have created this laser-targeted guide for you to save time and get you implementing immediately.)
The morning ritual is a great example of how productivity advice that applies on a macro level can (and should) be tailored for each individual. For example, on the AE team, we all have very different backgrounds and very different life situations. Our CEO lives alone with no kids. Another member has 5 kids and church responsibilities. A number of team members are moms. We all have morning rituals, but they are all different. Yours will be too.
The third ritual of highly successful people is meditation, or mindfulness.
Now before you dismiss it as mystic woo-woo, meditation is actually a very powerful and practical routine that helps you create time, attention, space and focus for yourself away from all the chaos of the world around you.
It can take many forms: from straightforward meditation, to breathing exercises, to priming, to walking, to giving yourself some much-needed solitude during the day.
The key to making meditation work is to:
- Find a time that works for you.
- Find a place that works for you.
- Just start doing it.
The benefits of meditation are many: a calmer mind, the ability to collect your thoughts at will, and the ability to focus at will.
These benefits are in addition to happiness, productivity, and a superpowered psychological processing engine that helps you regulate emotions, mood and the ability to manage the increasingly complex world around you.
With a very wide range of methodologies, apps and information on meditation available today, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t reap the benefits of 1-2 daily meditation sessions.
4. Regular Exercise
When asked what the secret of his success was, Richard Branson famously replied: “exercise”. And he’s absolutely right – regular exercise is one of the rituals that many if not most highly successful people have.
The great thing about exercise is that there’s no one “right” exercise, and there are literally hundreds of exercises you can choose from, from weight lifting, to CrossFit, to cycling, to team sports, to simply going for a brisk walk.
The key thing with this ritual is to work out what it is you want to do, and then make a timeslot for it in your schedule. Then do whatever it takes to make sure that you show up.
There is an endless snowball of benefits that come from a properly implemented exercise ritual – it makes all your other rituals and habits stronger and it helps you build ongoing self-discipline.
It also releases a spectrum of natural hormones and feel-good chemistry into your system, which makes in self-reinforcing over time. This means you’ll live longer, be able to do more and be more awesome – what’s not to love?
Members of our Dojo community fall into three main camps when it comes to exercising:
- Those who wake up early to exercise as a way to get energy for the day.
- Those who use exercise as a break during the day to recharge.
- Those who exercise in the evening and use it as a way to transition from work time to personal time.
There’s no right way to do it. Whatever works for you is great, as long as you can be as consistent as possible.
5. Structural Productivity
The next ritual of highly successful people is structural productivity, and is a method of planning your day.
The reason we call it “structural” productivity is because the ritual involves setting up a time-based structure and schedule for your days, and by simply doing this (and following the schedule), you automatically become productive.
Here’s how it works. First, you find your core activities (like work and exercise) and you solidify them – you put them on your schedule. You then locate the times around these core activities, and fill them with other activities.
This highlights the things that you MUST do every single day and flags them as “non-negotiable”. It also contrasts them with the things that ARE flexible every day, and lets you know that if an emergency comes up, there are things that you can push back against.
After you implement this ritual, you’ll be able to go into every day knowing that you got most you could get done in that day. This is an extremely liberating feeling – we’re all confined by 24 hours each day, and most of us feel that we could or should be doing more. By having structural productivity in place, we know that our days are optimized and that we did the best we could… and we can be proud of that.
Structural productivity provides a real progress tracking system for our time that other people just don’t have – they’re always getting swept up in the day’s emergencies and ebbs and flows. If you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed and snowed-in by things just happening around you – you NEED structural productivity. It will restore the sense of control and order that you’re looking for.
For an in-depth guide, here’s how to get started with structural productivity.
6. Taking Breaks
This particular ritual is a bit of an odd one – the goal is to NOT do anything.
Taking breaks is all about disconnecting from work, letting your mind/body rest, and then being able to come back from that and continue being productive.
Most people feel like that they want to “power through” the work day and get all their stuff done. But what they don’t realize is that they’re really just tired all day, trying not to fall asleep, and end up using stimulants like caffeine as a substitute for taking breaks. And that cycle of tiredness and trying to power through wears one down over time.
When you implement a proper “taking breaks” or downtime ritual, you’ll be able take breaks, know that you’ve worked enough on a given day, and (this is important), you’ll be able to pause from your work, go away, enjoy your break, and then come back and pick up exactly where you left off.
This gives you a great sense of control over your energy throughout the day, and can really prevent you from feeling overwhelmed, tired, or constantly sleepy through a tough day.
Here’s more on why taking frequent breaks is the key to productivity, and an in-depth guide to a way to add structure to your breaks to make sure you’re more productive than ever – the Pomodoro Technique.
7. Evening Ritual
The final ritual of highly successful people that I want to cover here is the evening ritual. It is the opposite end of the morning ritual.
A morning ritual starts your day – an evening ritual ends it. The evening ritual describes the wind-down process that you go through at the end of the day to get a fantastic night of sleep.
This means no insomnia, and it gives you an ability to forget about worries and stresses at the end of the day. Most importantly, it gives you a great night of rest.
If you’ve ever had a long night of sleep but still wake up feeling like you didn’t sleep at all, it’s possibly because you were lacking an evening ritual.
The evening ritual consists of a few key moves – from writing down any stray thoughts and open loops, to turning off your electronics after a certain time of day.
Here are some resources to dive more in-depth into evening rituals:
- The 7 Ps of a Highly Effective Evening Routine
- Evening Rituals: Getting Better Sleep with a Little Preparation
- Things You Should Do Before Bed to Wake Up Refreshed and Productive
Here are the 7 Rituals of Highly Successful people:
- Waking Up Early
- The Morning Ritual
- Regular Exercise
- Structural Productivity
- Taking Breaks
- Evening Ritual
Where do you get started? We’d recommend starting with the Morning Ritual – it’s the easiest and fastest to implement, and you’ll see the most benefits in your life from it, almost immediately.