It’s a New Day: Early to Rise and Other Morning Rituals of CEOs


Most successful people have mastered time management. Leaders strive to create routines and structure throughout their days to maximize their productivity and accomplishments. Some might schedule every minute of the day, some by the hour, and others prioritize tasks to be crossed off the day’s to-do list. The key is structure.

Great leaders and thinkers throughout history have dedicated themselves to their chosen routine. W. H. Auden, one of the 20th century’s great poets, wrote “routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” Author Tim Ferriss describes the daily customs of composer Ludwig van Beethoven, which included counting out exactly 60 coffee beans each morning. The Huffington Post has a wonderful infographic that shows the daily routines of many of “history’s most creative and influential figures,” including Benjamin Franklin’s, who had a “scheme” that specifically outlined his entire day.

Recently there have been numerous articles, blogs and columns focused on the importance of the morning routine, no matter what time it begins. Whether you start the day before the sun comes up or meet the day at a more leisurely pace, what you do in those first few hours of the morning can determine the outcome of the rest of the day.

First Thing’s First
Wake-up times are very personal; there is no universal, perfect time at which to set your alarm. Last year, AOL Research completed a comprehensive study of Americans’ morning rituals, based on over 4,000 participants. The study found that 47% of Baby Boomers rise before 6am; Generation Xers get up at 6:20am, while Millennials generally wake around 7am “and half report they hit the snooze button every day.”  Multinational furniture giant IKEA produced a “Life at Home” report that studied more than 8,000 people in eight major cities across the globe. Results showed that 40% of Mumbai residents are up by 6am, 61% of Stockholm residents and more than half of New Yorkers wake before 7am, while 56% of Londoners wake up after 7am.

Many of today’s leaders wake up long before sunrise every day of the week. Research suggests that waking up at the same time every day, weekday or weekend, makes us more alert, less stressed, and helps us start the day in a calm and centered state. Yahoo! Finance studied the daily routines of 17 CEOs, and the “latest any wake up is 6am, with almost 80% waking up at 5:30am or earlier.” There are only so many hours in the day.

Fast Company describes the morning routines of some famous names, both current and past: Ben Franklin started the day at 5am (remember “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”); former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher woke at 5am daily, despite her late night political meetings; PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi wakes at 4am and is in the office no later than 7am.

However, there is hope for you late-risers. As discussed in a recent blog written by my colleague Sarah Mitchell, psychology journal Thinking and Reasoning found that “leisurely morning habits, such as sleeping in, hitting the snooze button, and eating breakfast at home enhance imaginative thinking and problem solving skills.”

What next?
After waking up, most professionals are tempted to immediately grab their phone, tablet, or laptop. “Business is my morning meditation…I get up and work immediately,” Mark Cuban told Business Insider recounts that Apple CEO Tim Cook and Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg both attend to emails as soon as they wake up. In fact, the AOL study reports that one in four people looks at his or her smartphone before getting out of bed, and half of us check our social media networks before heading out the door.

However, LinkedIn Influencer Dr. Travis Bradberry states that when you dive straight into emails, texts and social media, “your morning succumbs to the wants and needs of other people.” He suggests starting with exercise, whether it is a workout, running, biking, or meditation. Sometimes, there are deadlines, projects, and clients that truly require attention first thing in the morning. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, many things are not so pressing that we can’t take a few minutes to set a positive tone and assert control of our day from the start.

Get Moving
Daily exercise is good for the mind and body. For many, early morning is the only unscheduled part of the day, before our busy lives take over. It can be an uninterrupted time to work out while marshaling one’s thoughts and momentum for the day. According to the AOL study, only one in five people exercises every morning, although those who are up before 6am are 20% more likely to work out. More than 70% of the CEOs in the Yahoo! Finance survey exercised in the morning.

Steve Reinemund, former Chairman and CEO of Pepsi, goes for a four mile run at 5am every day. According to Business Insider contributor Vivian Giang, many successful people work out in the morning to “keep their productivity and energy levels up.” Square CEO Jack Dorsey is jogging at 5:30am; by 6am Xerox CEO Ursula Burns is working out, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is biking with his wife, and Starwood Hotels’ CEO Frits van Paasschen is starting his 10 mile run. Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor-in-Chief, starts each day with a 5:45am tennis match. Even President Barack Obama gets his day started with a 6:45am workout.

Energy and fueling the body
Numerous studies have shown that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Entrepreneur and author John Rampton suggests seven reasons breakfast is so important, including promoting overall health, improving memory, mood and concentration, and boosting energy. My colleague Tim Johnson blogged about the important effects breakfast has on our momentum, focus levels, and general well-being throughout the day. Don’t be one of the 60% of working adults highlighted by AOL Research who don’t make time for breakfast before work.

Business Insider relates that Winston Churchill ate a hearty breakfast consisting of eggs, cold meats, toast, jam, and grapefruit (with a whisky soda on the side, though that’s not universally recommended); and Popeyes’ CEO Cheryl Bachelder eats scrambled eggs, crisp bacon and rye toast. Both Whole Foods founder John Mackey and The Today Show’s Al Roker make breakfast smoothies packed with protein. Virgin Group’s Richard Branson eats fruit and muesli, a granola-like dish popular in Germany and Switzerland.

There are many ways to start a workday. No single routine works for everyone. Often your chosen profession dictates your daily schedule and whether you can sleep in or are at work before anyone else. People tend to have strong beliefs about their own system; it is a highly subjective and personal matter with many variables. A little inspiration from those at the top of their game might be the impetus for creating your optimal morning. The beauty is that there are plenty of days ahead for everyone to find out what works best.  

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