“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.
They wake up early.
Successful people know that time is a precious commodity. And while theirs is easily eaten up by phone calls, meetings, and sudden crises once they’ve gotten to the office, the morning hours are under their control. That’s why many of them rise before the sun, squeezing out as much time as they can to do with as they please.
In a poll of 20 executives cited by Vanderkam, 90% said they wake up before 6 a.m. on weekdays. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, for example, wakes at 4 a.m. and is in the office no later than 7 a.m. Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger gets up at 4:30 to read, and Square CEO Jack Dorsey is up at 5:30 to jog.
The bottom line: Productive mornings start with early wake-up calls.
They exercise before it falls off the to-do list.
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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; Christie’s 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.
They work on a top-priority business project.
The quiet hours of the morning can be the ideal time to focus on an important work project without being interrupted. What’s more, spending time on it at the beginning of the day ensures that it gets your attention before others (kids, employees, bosses) use it all up.
Vanderkam uses the example of business strategist Debbie Moysychyn, who dealt with so many ad hoc meetings and interruptions throughout the day that she felt she couldn’t get anything done. She started thinking of the early mornings as project time, and chose a top-priority project each day to focus on. Sure enough, not a single colleague dropped in on her at 6:30 a.m. She could finally concentrate.