4 Habits of Successful People, But Not Me

Self-improvement lists keep flashing across my ‘suggested reading’ pane, and I can’t help but click on them.

7 daily habits that will change your life

10 life improving habits you need to start immediately

5 things to do to be successful in your career

Some of the things I have heard my entire life: eat a healthy breakfast! Make sure you drink enough water! Healthy people exercise!

I click on the articles for the same reason most people do: maybe there is a quick trick or habit I can implement to improve my productivity. However, I realized that a lot of the daily habits are things I don’t do, and to be honest with myself, I don’t really want to do.

At first, I wondered if I should feel bad about this. These are the habits of ‘successful’ people! If I don’t implement these routines, am I willfully deciding to be less successful? Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that some of these habits just don’t work for me, and that is okay. Here are 4 main things we are ‘supposed’ to do, that I simply don’t.

Wake up early for a morning routine

Why they say you should wake up early

Waking up early allows you to carve out a piece of the day especially for you. You can use this time to get centered, be productive, practice mindfulness, or just enjoy breakfast and coffee. Or you can be like me, groggily going through the motions until I feel like a true human (it takes approximately forty minutes).

Though I start work early to see this view, I don’t have a 5 am routine to start my day

What I do instead

Even though I see the benefits of having some “me” time early in the day, I have not made any moves to set the alarm clock back. If I do wake up in the pure darkness of the morning, I use the time to get to work earlier so I can get home earlier. I take those things you are supposed to do as the sun rises and do them in the afternoon instead. I go for walks, stretch to a yoga video, and write. The point of an early routine is to center yourself and prep for the day, but I just don’t feel conscious or capable in the morning. I admire those who wake up early, but it is not a priority for me.

Write Down Goals

Why they say you should write down your goals

white ipad

Goals are meant to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. I would teach to other kids this every morning as a golf coach at my high school summer job. I could recite it in my sleep. Some writers set goals to publish two articles every Monday and Wednesday, for example. Some people make savings goals, targetting putting away $X amount in a year.  It helps to measure progress if there is a concrete point to work towards and compare against. While researching for this post, I found a stat from a Harvard study that said 3% of the graduating class made 10x the amount than the other 97% put together. Why? Because they wrote down their goals.*

What I do instead

My goals are ethereal, a general sense of wanting to improve and move forward. I turn desires into action, like putting one step in front of the other. Basically, I see it this way: I will try my hardest whether or not I have set a goal, so if I set a goal and miss it, what was the point of it to begin with? I consistently witness people shaming themselves for not hitting a goal, and if you did your best, what is the point of being upset over not hitting a completely theoretical target?

Neil Gaiman mentioned a similar tactic in a keynote speech, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be […] was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right.”

man standing on cliff

I keep walking towards the mountain. When I wanted to start a blog, I started writing consistently. When I wanted to be healthier, I went on more walks. When I wanted to save money, I automated my paycheck to go into savings. But I never set a number-of-articles-in-a-week goal, a weight goal or a net worth goal. I did the work to make it happen without trying to predict an outcome. While I recognize the benefits of keeping oneself accountable to small, specific goals– I don’t mind a meander as long as I am headed in the right direction.

*Oh, and that Harvard study I referenced? I tried to find out more, and it turns out that the whole thing is a myth that keeps getting repeated in different articles.

Keep A Planner

Why they say you should keep a planner

There is a finite amount of time, and it is easy to let it slip through your grasp. Keeping a planner will help you schedule and prepare for upcoming deadlines. People often suggest using Sunday to map out the week, or the evening to schedule the next day.

laptop calendar and books
My desk is more of a haphazard jumble of notes and wires, to be honest

What I do instead

In school, we were forced to use a planner. Each week, the teacher would walk around the room and check off whether we were keeping track of our assignments. As soon as she stopped checking, I stopped keeping the planner. I did not keep one throughout college, either. I keep due dates in a mental file, mindfully scanning for important events. Even when I tried using a planner, it ended up being redundant. I remembered exam dates better than I remembered to check off the tasks at the end of the day.


Why they say you should keep a budget

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper

You’ve heard it a thousand times, in bold at the top of every list of financial advice: YOU NEED A BUDGET! An article on budgeting on Investopedia empathically states, “If you and your family want financial security, following a budget is the only answer.” Indeed, a budget gets you to sit down a map out your goals, keep track of spending, and ensure that you aren’t spending money you don’t have. However, I don’t believe following a budget is the only answer.

What I do instead

I am ruthless when it comes to my spending. Rather than putting pen to paper to make a budget, I put an ax to my desires for more. I consistently talk myself down from things I don’t need. A budget is a fantastic tool to be mindful about spending, but the truth is that I am extremely conscious of my spending regardless of budget. If you can walk in-and-out of Target without buying anything, if you carefully analyze each purchase according to your needs, if you find it difficult to part from money, you have that conscientiousness already. It is like tightening the reins on an already well-trained horse. A budget can still be helpful, but if you already carefully consider each and every purchase you will probably be okay.


I am not saying that these things are bad—just that they haven’t worked for me…yet. Who knows, I might decide one day to set my alarm for 5AM and make early mornings a daily habit. I may dabble in my living room to make a vision board, and then set specific and measurable goals to get there. In the future I might be managing multiple projects and people and need a task manager app to keep it all straight (my coworker recommends Things). And if finances get tight, I would be open to sitting down to draft out a budget.

I noticed that these things I don’t do: a morning routine, writing down goals, keeping a planner, and budgeting all have something in common. Each pertains to very specific and deliberate planning for the future. Maybe it is time for me to reflect on my attitudes about the future. I move through life figuring that most things are going to work out. An unknown destination excites me rather than frightens me. I tend to take a bigger-picture view than worry about the tiny details. Maybe this is a personal flaw, or maybe simply a different perspective.

I strive to be better, but I don’t check off all the boxes of what we should be doing. I doubt that every successful person follows the same set of daily prescriptions, either. Though I have the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (affiliate link) next to my bed, I am okay if some strategies don’t work for me. There are some things I simply don’t do.

What things “should” you be doing, but you don’t?

Share in the comments below!

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  1. Thank you for this – another well-written and thoughtful piece. I love that you push back on the standard “wisdom” people have put in place.I can relate to this,as I, too, am not a Morning Person (more of a mid-morning person) and it is annoying that some of those who get going at the crack of dawn (I am thinking of you, Bob the Risk Manager!) regard others with disdain as though the rest of us are somehow less productive!
    Personally, I don’t follow the “if you can dream it, you can achieve it” crowd. While chasing dreams is fine for some, for me it just leads to dissatisfaction .I would rather dwell on what I feel good about. However, as a natural risk-taker, there are always plenty of fun projects that come along that I can jump into (usually new fix it projects!) to keep life from getting mundane.

  2. I am guilty of every single of these, as well. I’m totally the oddball night owl in a sea of early risers. I also found that for the most part, I never really needed or wanted to buy more than my income allowed, so a budget wasn’t needed. I noticed a lot of PF bloggers don’t use a budget, so it’d be interesting to try to figure out why!

  3. Wow! It sounds like you have an incredible amount of self-motivation and a very healthy sense of self. I completely agree that if these things don’t help you, you shouldn’t do them. We don’t have a budget (we do the anti-budget) because we don’t need it. We control our spending pretty well. Although we sometimes set micro-goals (such as when we were explicitly trying to reduce our food spending, although not to fit into any specific budget).

    I also think that there may come a time in your life where some of these habits (or different habits) would be helpful for you. If that time comes, that is okay too. It’s okay to not be able to do everything through willpower and self-motivation. As someone who has pretty intense anxiety, getting up early to have a morning routine of coffee, journaling, meditation, planning for my day, and being able to get ready at a leisurely pace allows me to prepare for any stress the day could bring. In fact, I would say, the routine is actually pretty necessary for me to be able to “successfully” make it through any given day.

    So maybe it isn’t that successful people do these things; it’s that some people need to do these things in order to be successful?

    When I started needing some of these habits/strategies/skills, it was hard to accept that I “couldn’t just do it myself” (through willpower and changing my attitude), and then I realized that the habits/strategies/skills ACTUALLY ARE me doing it myself. 🙂

    I hope you don’t need to use these strategies in the future, but I hope you will remember, that if you do, that’s okay too!

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. “So maybe it isn’t that successful people do these things; it’s that some people need to do these things in order to be successful?”
      Love this perspective. It’s okay to use strategies, develop new habits, try out new things to get things done the way we need. I won’t take it as a personal failure if I pick up these habits later on, and I certainly don’t think it is a failure to do these things in the first place! Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  4. Good post. In general, I’m with you. I do most of them, but often, inconsistently. Usually, I’m ok with it, because I’ve made significant progress, and I believe it’s counter productive to “beat ourselves up” too much. …however, when I see exponential growth is when I’m sticking to the things in the original list.

    1. Yes I think the techniques you use and the motivation behind them are important. There’s no denying that some of these tools majorly help people in their every day life. If it works for you, stick to it!

  5. I’ve tried to use a “to do” app on my phone and it just isn’t for me! Although I have a more orderly/organized personality, I just don’t like feeling like I have to do things in a certain time frame or in a certain order. I’ve found I’m more happy when I chose what I do each day instead of having to do what I’ve written down in the past. Great post!

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