I tried waking up at 4 a.m. every morning like Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, but I ended up creating a perfect morning routine for myself

Indra Nooyi
Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi at Tina Brown’s 7th Annual Women In The World Summit, 8 April 2016. Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Indra Nooyi is best known for being the CEO of PepsiCo, where she is both the first woman and person born outside of the US to hold the role.

She was also named the No. 1 most powerful woman in the world, twice, by Fortune Magazine.

Like many other CEOs and leaders, Nooyi starts her day earlier than everyone else, waking up at 4 a.m. and getting to the office by 7 a.m.

After four weeks of following the morning routines of Jack Dorsey, Arianna Huffington, Barack Obama, and Benjamin Franklin, I was getting accustomed to 5 a.m. starts and exercising before the sun came up.

Waking up at 4 a.m., however, would be a whole new challenge.

It would require going to bed extra early, which meant a radical change in how I structured my day and social commitments.

I didn’t manage to wake up at 4 a.m. the entire week. In fact, I only attempted it for three days, and the earliest I managed was 4:15 a.m.

After the experiment, however, I realised that I’d created the perfect morning routine for myself in the process. It just doesn’t involve starting at 4 a.m.

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The experiment

When I attempted to follow Benjamin Franklin’s meticulous schedule while simultaneously trying to live up to his thirteen virtues, I struggled with practicing all his habits consistently.

After some analysis and some guidance from a man who spent a year trying to be more productive, I realised that I had made my goals too big, too soon. That opened up plenty of opportunities to fall short of what I was trying to accomplish.

So I decided that instead of waking up at 4 a.m. right off the bat, I would try to build up to it. I would try waking up at 4:30 a.m., and then 5 to 10 minutes earlier the next day, and so on until I got to 4 a.m. The same goes for bedtime, until I reached 9 p.m.

I managed to stick with this for three days, starting at 4:30 a.m on Monday, 4:20 a.m. on Tuesday, and 4:15 a.m. on Wednesday. I spent my mornings doing 15 minutes of meditation, reading the news over a cup of tea for 30 to 45 minutes, working out for an hour and a half, and making breakfast and lunch before heading to work. I generally got to work around 8:30 a.m., an hour earlier than my usual time.

I originally aimed to get to work by 7 a.m., like Nooyi does, but in the end, I wasn’t prepared to slash an hour and a half off my morning routine.”
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The results

My productivity levels spiked on Monday, but I noticed them decline on Tuesday and Wednesday as I got up earlier without going to sleep earlier.

On Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with friends and got home at 9:15 p.m.

Pretty early, but not early enough for a 4:10 a.m. wake-up without concentration issues the next day. So I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., though I ended up waking up at 5. The extra sleep made all the difference, and I felt more productive than I had been all week.

On Thursday night, I didn’t finish doing everything I needed to do until after 9 p.m. After playing mindgames with myself, I decided that I would get up at 5 a.m. the next day. Friday morning, I was extremely tired, and I started to feel the lack of sleep in my body, my brain, and my eyes.

Despite the tiredness, I realised that I’d performed a consistent morning routine every single morning. As a result, I started strong every day, even if I struggled a bit mid-afternoon.

I concluded that the experiment wasn’t a total failure. And if not getting up at 4 a.m. every day is a failure, it was one I was happy to accept.”
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I learned that my perfect morning routine takes three hours

Some of my coworkers were amazed that I would choose to try an experiment that required me to be up five hours before work.

However, the extra time in the morning led me to discover that my perfect routine takes three hours.

That timeframe allows me to meditate for 15-30 minutes, read the news over a cup of tea for 30-45 minutes, exercise for an hour to an hour and a half, prepare and eat breakfast, pack my lunch, plan my day, get ready, and go.

It may sound elaborate or excessive to some, but I’ve found that having a slow morning routine sets me up for a productive day.”
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The mentality of being ahead of the game kicked my focus into high gear

Waking before the sun came up gave me the feeling that I was starting ahead of everyone else (despite the runners I always saw in East River Park at 5:30 a.m.).

After exercising, I felt accomplished for tackling a challenging feat early in the day. If I’d already run four miles that morning, a day of reading, writing, and editing should be pretty easy, right?

That’s what I would tell myself before tackling a big task. Most of the time, it worked.”
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But waking up too early can be restrictive

The downside is that waking up early and having a detailed morning routine took time away from socialising in the evenings, quality time with my husband, Skyping with my friends and family, and running personal errands.”
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Exercising makes my morning more enjoyable

I was surprised to discover this, particularly because most days, my workout involved running at least four miles or producing upper-body pain through pull-ups and planks.

But there’s something about doing it in the morning that allowed me to enjoy the process, instead of seeing it as a torturous after-work chore.”
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A routine that suits me, my goals, and my strengths and weaknesses is easier to maintain

Indra Nooyi clearly gets up at 4 a.m. and is at the office by 7 a.m. because that’s how she works best.

But I know that if I tried to follow her exact routine, I’d get less done despite having more hours in the day. That’s because I am at my best after 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

Additionally, I’m much more focused after a physical challenge in the morning. I also like to take my time meditating, eating breakfast, and drinking my tea so I can come to work feeling relaxed and ready, as opposed to frantic and rushed.

Trying Nooyi’s wake-up time just to see if I could do it worked for a couple of days. But the routine just wouldn’t be effective long-term, because it isn’t aligned with my goals and priorities.

However, this experiment allowed me to design my morning routine the way I like, which will make it easier and more pleasant to stick to.”
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