“If it has to happen, then it has to happen first,” writes Laura Vanderkam, a time-management expert and the author of “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.”
Those among us who have managed to find professional success and eke out a life actively embrace this philosophy. They must set aside their first hours of the day to invest in their top-priority activities before other people’s priorities come rushing in.
Science supports this strategy. Vanderkam cites Florida State University psychology professor Roy Baumeister’s famous finding that willpower is like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse. Diets, he says, come undone in the evening, just as poor self-control and lapses in decision-making often come later in the day. On the other hand, early mornings offer a fresh supply of willpower, and people tend to be more optimistic and ready to tackle challenging tasks.
So what do successful executives and entrepreneurs do when they are rested and fresh? From Vanderkam’s study of morning rituals and our own research, we outline the following 14 things that the most successful people do before breakfast. While they might not do all of these things every morning, each has been found to be an effective way to start the day.
Many successful execs reach for water instead of coffee first thing in the morning.
Kat Cole, president of FOCUS Brands, the parent company of Auntie Anne's, Carvel, and Cinnabon, wakes up a 5 a.m. every morning and drinks 24 ounces of water.
The top morning activity of the rich and powerful seems to be exercise, be it lifting weights at home or going to the gym.
For example, Vanderkam notes that Xerox CEO Ursula Burns schedules an hour-long personal training session starting at 6 a.m. twice a week. Plus, 'Shark Tank' investor Kevin O'Leary gets up at 5:45 every morning and jumps on the elliptical or exercise bike, and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk starts every day with an hour-long workout with his trainer.
'These are incredibly busy people,' says Vanderkam. 'If they make time to exercise, it must be important.'
Beyond the fact that exercising in the morning means they can't later run out of time, Vanderkam says a pre-breakfast workout helps reduce stress later in the day, counteracts the effects of high-fat diet, and improves sleep.
Expressing gratitude is another great way to center yourself and get the proper perspective before heading to the office. Writing down the people, places, and opportunities that you're grateful for takes just a few minutes but can make a real difference in your outlook.
For example, a pharmaceutical exec told Vanderkam she spends a good chunk of her morning 'expressing gratitude, asking for guidance, and being open to inspiration.' When she gets to work, she always has a clear vision for herself and her staff.
Similarly, entrepreneur and author of 'The 4-Hour Workweek' Tim Ferriss spends five minutes each morning writing down what he's grateful for and what he's looking forward to. It 'allows me to not only get more done during the day but to also feel better throughout the entire day, to be a happier person, to be a more content person,' he said.
While time-management gurus may suggest putting off email as long as possible, many successful people start the day with email. In fact, one recent survey found that the first thing most executives do in the morning is check their email.
They may quickly scan their inboxes for urgent messages that need an immediate response or craft a few important emails that they can better focus on while their minds are fresh.
For instance, Gretchen Rubin, author of 'The Happiness Project,' wakes at 6 every morning before her family's up at 7. She uses the time to clear her inbox, schedule the day, and read social media. Getting these tasks out of the way from the start helps her concentrate better when she moves on to more challenging projects, she told Vanderkam.
Whether it's sitting in the corner diner and reading the papers or checking the blogs and Twitter from their phones, most successful people have a pre-breakfast ritual for getting the latest headlines.
For example, GE CEO Jeff Immelt starts his days with a cardio workout and then reads the paper and watches CNBC. Meanwhile, Virgin America CEO David Cush uses his mornings to listen to sports radio and read the papers while hitting the stationary bike at the gym.
By the time they get to work, they have a good idea of what's going on in the world. Then, they can get down to the business of changing it.