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4 things successful people do in the morning (and one they avoid)

Liana Tallarico

October 3, 2016

Hightail morning ritual

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.

Hightail morning ritual

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.


  1. Krystal

    2 years ago

    This sounds exactly like my routine, except I keep checking emails. I definitely need to stop bcz it puts my minds at slight unease before I get to the office. Thanks for this!

  2. Tim Motion

    2 years ago

    By commenting here at 10am I reveal that I open emails in the morning! However I agree that it can be counter-productive. I am a sole operator without a secretary And find it better to deal with administration, letters, accounts in the morning. I am a ‘night person’ – my body-clock rests between 2am and 10am. I am aware of the advantages of waking at 6am and starting the day, and vow to adjust a lifetime’s habit! Creative people often work at night and I find that, for instance, editing photographs is particularly rewarding late at night. Much depends on individual circumstances, projects and not forgetting social life.

  3. Susan K. Stewart

    2 years ago

    I’m an early riser … no later than 4 a.m. I usually have my day’s priorities already set. I do mine by the week. I spend the first hour of the day with prayer and reading. I do check e-mail first thing. I get so much cleared away; those less than one-minute items are done. I can then focus on more creative pursuits.

  4. Val Williams

    2 years ago

    Hi – I agree with Tim on us creatives working at night. I do my best artwork in the evenings and late night, and the mundane tasks and emails in the morning. I can’t say I’ve met an artists that is an early worker. I have tried in the past several times to make the change to early mornings, but find myself not enjoying my work, feeling foggy and being less productive… and creativity is lacking. Loving what you do makes you more productive also, not what time you do it. We all have different internal clocks, so do what makes you the best you can be – not matter what time of day.

  5. Randall

    2 years ago

    I share the 4 traits except I check my emails. I will delete this habit!

  6. Patrick Pfeiffer

    2 years ago

    First thing in the early morning it’s into the bass corner to practice for an hour or so. That way I’ve taken care of myself and can spend the rest of the day joyfully taking care of everyone else.

  7. Christian Lowery

    2 years ago

    I’d love to know how they wind down at night as well! I have trouble not checking email until I go to sleep, and I always feel guilty just sitting down to watch something and unwind before bed. What would be the equivalent of their nightly routine?

  8. bert write

    2 years ago

    Thanks for this, Hightail. The one thing i am not following yet is exercising… all, much less in the morning. If i already wake up on weekdays at 4:30 a.m. to prepare myself for the day, adding exercise could mean having to wake up at 4 or, gasp, 3:30 a.m.

    Here’s to everyone’s wellness and productivity! More power to all of you in Hightail!

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