Because early mornings are when most busy people have the most control over their schedules, they can use this time to work on their priorities.
“Mornings hold the key to taking control of our schedules,” says time management expert Laura Vanderkam. “If we use them wisely, we can build habits that will allow us to lead happier, more productive lives.”
Early mornings also offer a fresh supply of willpower, and people tend to be more optimistic and ready to tackle challenging tasks.
In the book What the Most Successful People do Before Breakfast, Vanderkam reveals five strategies successful people use early mornings to improve their health, careers, and personal lives before being swamped by the demands of the day.
1. Rise early
Every day, around the world, successful people are up before sunrise, stealing a march on the day. When you wake up at 5 AM, you give yourself some space to actually improve and make progress as a person.
Early morning advocates include Apple CEO Tim Cook (a 4am riser), LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner (5.30am) and Richard Branson (5am), who has said: “If I rise early, I can achieve so much more in a day, and therefore in life.”
“I’ve been getting up early for a few years,” says Melody McCloskey, founder and CEO of StyleSeat, who wakes up at 5:45 a.m. “For a long period of my life I stayed up very late, but I’ve since found my early morning routine to be the best way for me to sustain a high output and to feel balanced and happy throughout the day.”
“Of course it wasn’t easy at first,” she admits. “It was torture getting up that early; I was never naturally a morning person. But now it’s become routine, and I wake up pretty early on weekends too.”
One way to shift to an earlier waking time is to move it forward by 15 to 30 minutes daily over two weeks or so. If you shift your bedtime back a corresponding amount at the same time, you won’t have to sacrifice precious sleep time.
2. Get moving
It is often tempting for people to deprioritize physical exercise the busier they get. However, daily cardiovascular and strength exercises have been shown to have so many benefits on both the body and the brain.
The top morning activity of the rich and powerful seems to be exercise, be it lifting weights at home or going to the gym.
From Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who starts the day on his treadmill, to Mark Zuckerberg, who likes a morning run, movers and shakers say they perform better if they get active early.
Supporting this conclusion, a 2012 US study from Brigham Young University showed that morning exercisers are more active throughout the day.
“If you find it difficult, start small and work your way up. Just getting out of bed and into your workout clothes might be the first step. Add in the easiest form of movement for you - turn music on and dance, practice the plank position for one minute, or walk the dog around the block,” says psychologist, Jo Mitchell.
“The idea is to break the inertia of sleep and start doing something.”
3. Feed your mind
Junkee Media Publisher and Co-Founder Tim Duggan begins each day with a 20-minute meditation using the Headspace app.
“This is the only time when your brain isn’t going a thousand miles an hour,” he says. “It slows your breathing, your mind and allows you to deal with stress and mental health issues.”
Most Westerners read less than one book per year. They’re too busy at work and then distracted by the media and the internet.
If instead, you woke up and started reading books, you could get to the point where you’re reading more than 20 books per year. Some successful people read one book per week, and others even read more than 100 books per year.
4. Plan your day
Write your to-do list for the day and make a schedule so you know where your day is headed.
“My number one practice is to plan the day ahead. It's easy to split straight into reactive mode, checking email or reading news, but I find it important to take the first opportunity to consider my priorities for the day, week and quarter,” says Tom Dawkins, Founder of crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood.
He adds: “I ask myself: if I only get three things done today, what are the most important?”
Before you look at your calendar, open your email or join a meeting, take 15 minutes to plan your day. You will be more likely to achieve your goals.
5. Be creative
We need to have something in our lives that is an expression of our creativity. It could include playing an instrument, writing a journal, arranging flowers in a vase, making art, woodworking, or gardening.
Engaging in something creative is a way of refilling and refuelling your mind and your heart. It’s like stopping at the fuel station before work.
Often, if you have attended to your creativity first thing, you will feel like you accomplished something important no matter how the rest of the day unfolds.
Whether you’re an early riser or not, the jury is in: The key to enjoying a more successful life lies in mastering your morning routine. This includes rising early, getting moving, feeding your mind, planning your day, and being creative.