While you don’t have to be a morning person to be a successful entrepreneur or political powerhouse – UK wartime prime minister Winston Churchill famously started the day with a cigar and whiskey – the evidence suggests that it does help.
We took a look at the morning rituals of some of the world’s most productive people and found four common habits that could help you on the road to similar success.
1. Plan ahead
While not strictly a morning ritual, making a plan the night before is a great way to get what President Obama calls “a head start on tomorrow, tonight”. It can also free up time in the morning to do things that are important to you.
POTUS typically dines with his family every evening and returns to his office when they’ve gone to bed. He then works until about 10PM, catching up on the day’s events and, crucially, making a plan for the following day. This means he has time to exercise in the morning (cardio and weights, if you must know) and to enjoy breakfast with his wife and children.
2. Rise and shine
Whether they’ve prepared a to-do list or not, rising early is another common habit among productive people. Laura Vanderkam, a time-management expert and author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, cites a poll of 20 executives in which 90% said they wake up before 6AM during the week.
Effective early risers include PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who wakes at 4AM and is in the office no later than 7AM; Disney CEO Bob Iger who starts his day at 4:30AM with some reading; and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who rises at 5:30AM to meditate.
3. Get moving
As you might expect, successful people often combine an early start with exercise. Richard Branson is up every day at 5:30AM to swim around his island or go kite surfing (choices, choices…). He then plays tennis before sitting down to a healthy breakfast.
Anna Wintour is another tennis enthusiast. The infamous fashion editor starts the day with an hour on the court – after waking before dawn – while Oprah hits the gym every morning before her work day starts in the make-up chair at 7:30AM.
4. Get s*** done
With body and mind refreshed, productive people will often use the morning to really get stuck in to work. A study of the daily habits of musicians, writers and other artists, including Mozart, Victor Hugo and Stravinsky, suggests that the morning is a particularly good time to tackle creative projects.
Laura Vanderkam tells the story of a successful business strategist who used the morning solely for project work. She routinely ignored meeting requests and avoided other distractions so she could spend a solid couple of hours on a top-priority project – a tactic also shared by Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos.
Whatever you do, Don’t. Check. Email
However you start your day, a growing body of evidence suggests the last thing you should do is check your email.
Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email In The Morning, says that starting the day in your inbox can make it impossible to get what you want done. The problem is that email is reactive and not proactive. As a result you get pushed from task to task, letting your inbox set your agenda.
Tumblr founder David Karp is one of a number of entrepreneurs who doesn’t check emails until he gets into the office. “Reading e-mails at home never feels good or productive,” says Karp. “If something urgently needs my attention, someone will call or text me.”
Getting away from your inbox doesn’t mean turning your back on technology. Using tools and software specifically designed for project work can really help you focus on priority tasks and avoid the unnecessary distractions that come with email.
Are you a rise and shiner or do you swear by the snooze button? Let us know what works for you in the morning (and what doesn’t) in the comments or tweet us using #MorningRitual.