“If it has to happen, then it has to happen first,” writes Laura Vanderkam, time management expert and 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, we outline the following 12 things that the most successful people do before breakfast.
The top morning activity of the rich and powerful seems to be exercise, be it lifting weights at home or going to the gym. According to Vanderkam, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns schedules an hour-long personal training session starting at 6 a.m. twice a week; Christies CEO Steve Murphy uses the mornings to do yoga; and Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen runs for an hour every morning starting at 5:30.
'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.
While time management gurus may suggest putting off email as long as possible, many successful people start the day with 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.