Early Bird Gets The Worm: The Only Tip You Need To Increase Productivity

by James Clear

Ernest Hemingway woke up each morning and immediately starting writing.

He described his daily routine by saying, “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.

There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”

Hemingway’s routine -- along with hundreds of other prolific authors, artists and scientists mentioned in Mason Currey’s book, "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work" — hints at the most productive strategy I have found for getting things done and making daily progress in the areas important to you.

Let’s talk about the only productivity strategy you’ll ever need, why it works and what holds us back from using it consistently:

Productivity Simplified

This productivity strategy is straightforward: Do the most important thing first each day.

It sounds simple, but no one does it.

Like Hemingway, who produced a remarkable volume of high-caliber work during his career, you can also make surprising progress each day if you simply do the most important thing first.

Why It Works

We often assume productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong.

Productivity is getting important things done consistently. And, no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important.

Being productive is about maintaining a steady, average speed on a few things, not maximum speed on everything.

That’s why this strategy is effective. If you do the most important thing first each day, you’ll always get something important done. I don’t know about you, but this is a big deal for me.

There are many days when I waste hours crossing off the fourth, fifth or sixth most important tasks on my to-do lists, and I never get around to doing the most important things.

As you’ll see below, there is no reason you have to apply this strategy in the morning, but I think starting your day with the most important task offers some additional benefits during other times.

First, willpower tends to be higher earlier in the day. This means you’ll be able to provide your best energy and effort to your most important tasks.

Second, from my experience, the deeper I get into the day, the more likely unexpected tasks will creep into my schedule.

Doing the most important thing first each day helps you to spend your time as you planned.

Finally, the human mind seems to dislike unfinished projects. They create unresolved tension and internal stress.

When we start something, we want to finish it. You are more likely to finish a task after starting it, so start the important tasks as soon as possible.

(Just another reason why getting started is more important than succeeding.)

Why We Don’t Do It

Many people spend most of their time responding to someone else’s agenda rather than their own.

I think this is partially a result of how we are raised. In school, we are given assignments and told when to take our tests.

At work, we are assigned due dates and given expectations from our superiors. At home, we have tasks or chores to perform in order to care for our partners and/or our kids.

After a few decades of this, it can become very easy to spend your day reacting to the stimuli that surround you. We learn to take action as a reaction to the expectations, orders or needs of someone else.

So, naturally, when it comes time to start our days, it doesn’t seem strange to open our email inboxes or check our phones for our latest marching orders.

The tasks others assign to us might seem urgent, but what is urgent is seldom important. The important tasks in our lives are the ones that move our hopes, our dreams, our creations and our businesses forward.

Does that mean we should ignore our responsibilities as parents, employees or citizens? Of course not. But, we all need time and space in our days to respond to our own agendas, not someone else’s.

Not A Morning Person?

Does the word "morning" make you mourn? Does the morning sun remind you of the The Eye of Sauron? Can you think of nothing worse than rays of golden sunshine streaming softly onto your pillow?

No worries, night owls. As I scanned the daily habits of hundreds of authors, artists and musicians in Daily Rituals, I noticed an important trend: There was no trend.

There is no one way to be successful. There are just as many night owls producing fabulous work as there are early birds.

But, no matter how a particular routine looked, productive artists embraced the idea of protecting a sacred time each day when they could work on their own agendas.

The phrase, “Do the most important thing first each day,” is just a simple way of saying, “Give yourself a time and space to work on what is important to you each day.”

James Clear writes at, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

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