10 Secrets of Today’s Most Productive People

Getting up early and exercising are two productivity tips that are evergreen. But new priorities have emerged over these past two years, and with them, new ways of getting things done. Here, 10 top industry leaders explain how they make time for family, nature, and larger societal goals.

[Photo: Christina Ebenezer]

Riz Ahmed

Actor, producer, musician, and activist

When Ahmed isn’t on set, he follows his own strict regimen. He’ll wake up in London by 7:30 a.m. and do a bit of breath work or meditation. He’ll then write until about noon—a screenplay or lyrics for an album. After a run or home workout with weights or resistance bands, he’ll eat lunch, then shift to calls and meetings, just as folks in New York are logging on for the day. “Working out, having a shower, cooking, that’s the transition” from writing to his business obligations, he says. “It burns off some of the frenetic energy.”

Read more about Riz Ahmed’s productivity secrets, and check out the Fast Company winter cover story about how Riz Ahmed is working to increase Muslim representation in film.


[Photo: Nora Lorek]

Fredrika Klarén

Head of sustainability, Polestar

“Sometimes I have to be the boring person in the room and say no to projects that might be popular, or look really good on Instagram, if they’re actually not having any impact. It also ensures that my team doesn’t get overworked.”

[Illustration: Dilek Baykara]

Anthony Fauci

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; chief medical adviser to the President

“If you’ve accomplished what you need in the first eight minutes of a meeting, it’s on to the next thing. People love that because they know that I focus like a laser when I’m with them.”

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[Photo: Nik Antonio]

Luis von Ahn

Cofounder and CEO, Duolingo

“In the morning, I take five Duolingo lessons. I do three French lessons, one Portuguese lesson, and, of late, a Japanese lesson. It’s mostly to test out the product: My teams get reports from me at 6:30 a.m. every day.”

[Illustration: German Gonzalez]

Candace Parker

Forward and center for the Chicago Sky; NBA analyst

“I don’t like to wake up and immediately start. I need a second. So I set my alarm for earlier so that I can lie in bed and just breathe. I’ll have my coffee in the morning, and then I’ll usually work out, then eat breakfast. I’m very big on the reward of things.”

[Photo: Jen Garcia; Stylist: Janice Angelica; hair: Moira Frazier; makeup: Jamie Lobel]

Quinta Brunson

Comedian, producer, and showrunner

“Productivity to me right now is about communicating to create a solution. It’s about articulating my ideas to larger groups of people and companies who may not get it right away. That’s often looked at as a bad thing, like, “Oh man, these people don’t get my ideas.” But what I’ve learned is that it just takes some expert-level communication to paint the picture for different people you’re working with.”

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[Illustration: German Gonzalez]

Grant Van Horn

Research engineer, Cornell Lab of Ornithology; lead researcher on the Merlin Bird ID app

“My best brainstorming time is not on a computer. If I’m deep in a problem—typically there’s some bug in the code and you really want to solve it—if I go on a bike ride, I’ll come back and quickly solve it, and then move on to productive work.”

[Photo: John Francis Peters]

David Bronner

CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer), Dr. Bronner’s

“I’d say about two-thirds of my time is spent in a traditional CEO role—managing the company, making sure we’re rocking everything we need to rock. And the other third is dedicated to activism, which primarily nowadays is psychedelic integration [the process of incorporating what one experiences while under the influence of psychedelics into everyday life] and regenerative agriculture.”

[Illustration: Dilek Baykara]

Emily Ratajkowski

Model, author, entrepreneur, and actor

“Most of [My Body, a collection of personal essays published in early November] was written before I even had a book agent, so I wasn’t on deadline or anything, which was nice. I was extremely productive because I didn’t feel the pressure. I wasn’t aware of readers. The more self-aware you become, the harder it is to write. Once I sold the book and was on a deadline to finish it, it was much more difficult. I’d also had a baby, and was like, What have I done?”


Samsara Duffey

Forest Service forest fire lookout

“[Most days], I knit or do things that I can drop in a heartbeat to answer the radio. Around 4:30 p.m., the radio is still on, but in my head I kind of turn it off. If it’s nice, I go outside and listen to the birds or pick up a book. If I’m baking bread, that’s about the time I put it in the oven. Then that’s my dinner: bread with butter and honey on it.”