You often hear about the morning routines of successful people involving pre - 6 am starts and entrenched morning rituals, but what does an effective morning routine actually look like and do the techniques you hear about really make a difference? I decided to investigate how to start your day effectively and made significant changes to my own morning routine as a result. Read on and discover 5 top tips towards the best morning routine for success:
1. Wake up early and with purpose
I used to believe that you were born either a morning person or a night owl and that this was a fixed characteristic. My own natural preferences leaned towards being a night owl and so I would structure my time so that daily tasks needing greater effort and concentration would fall later in the day. Whilst I was generally able to get done what was needed using this approach, I would often feel a sense of inefficiency and stress when I was playing catch up in the evening. I was secretly jealous of morning people, even though I pretended to hate them; they just seemed more composed and energetic throughout the day. This ultimately led me to explore the evidence behind the differences of morning larks and night owls and to test the approach of the other side out for myself. I have to say that I was surprised by my findings and the changes in my own habits as a result.
Firstly, there is actual scientific data to support the fact that being a morning person has its advantages. As an example, research led by the University of Birmingham revealed fundamental differences in the brain function of night owls when compared to ‘morning larks’ and suggested that night owls could find productivity during ‘normal’ working hours more challenging as a consequence. The study went further to suggest that night owls who could bring their typical routine forward by a few hours would see a reduction in levels of stress and depression, as well as enhanced cognitive and physical performance. If you work normal hours then it seems that by ensuring your biological rhythms are more in line with the regular demands of society, you can increase your likelihood of success and lower risks of poor mental health. No matter how fervent a night owl you are, information like this should not be ignored.
Moving away from the science, there seems to be endless anecdotal evidence to support the benefits of early morning orientated routines. When you examine the morning routine's of successful people in the business world in particular, most favour early starts and early means EARLY. Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly wakes up at 3.45 am, Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi at 4 am and Disney CEO Bob Iger at 4.30 am. In fact, an article in the Wall Street Journal claims that 4 am is the most productive hour as there are minimal distractions and no-one is emailing or texting you. Furthermore, time management expert and author Laura Vanderkam noted in her book ‘What the most successful people do before breakfast’ that 90% of executives she polled claimed to wake up before 6 am. How does this compare with your usual wake up time?
The science coupled with the anecdotal evidence was enough for me to want to test a change. I started by gradually moving 9 am wake-ups to 8 am, then 7 am, then 6 am and I’m now at 5 am and to my own astonishment, willingly considering pushing this to 4 am. My motivation is to be able to make more progress on The Unknown without distraction and to have more time for personal development before the day starts and normal life takes over. The switch to an early start has already helped me much more than I expected. I feel better about my productivity and I'm confident this will become a permanent change to my daily approach. An important point to emphasize is that I’m really feeling the benefits because I’m able to use the extra uninterrupted time productively. I can’t imagine there would be much benefit to waking up at an ungodly hour if you have nothing to do (see the rest of the tips for things to do). I can now completely appreciate why so many successful people start their day so early, but the early start itself is not going to lead to success; it’s what you do with the time that counts.
If what you have read so far has made you consider setting your alarm clock earlier, then you need to plan for the changes. Make sure you know what you are going to do with the extra time, set yourself some goals and structure. The transition itself isn’t easy, but if you are motivated enough then you might be surprised at how quickly you can make progress. Now if you are accustomed to getting yourself out of bed at 11 am ever day without a justifiable reason (e.g. you work night shifts) then suddenly waking up at 4 am every day is going to be quite a shock to the system and so likely to be ineffective. You will have much more chance of convincing your body to feel alive (and maintain it) if you ease yourself into it a little more. You ideally need to maintain at least 7 hours of sleep (7-9 hours is widely regarded as a healthy amount of sleep) so try going to bed and waking up 15 minutes earlier every few days until you hit your target. Exactly what that target should be will depend on your personal circumstances, just try to allow enough time to achieve what you planned for before your normal workday starts. Remember, this exercise isn’t just about waking up earlier, it’s about optimizing your time to help you accomplish what you need.
2. Do something you are passionate about
When considering how to start your day and have the best morning routine for success, then you really need to include something that you are passionate about and that inspires you. Your passion might be your work, particularly if you are an entrepreneur, but it will often be something separate like a hobby or creative escape. It’s healthy to have passion projects away from your regular endeavors, especially if you are currently working in an industry or role that you are not naturally passionate about.
Perhaps you have always wanted to write a novel, learn a new skill or have time to be creative with a particular craft? Maybe you have spotted an opportunity for personal development but have never previously given it the time? Whatever your unfulfilled passion is, allow time for it (an early start helps) and do it, every morning if you can. By doing it early in the morning you will remove the obstacles that might otherwise act as a barrier when the demands of the day take over. Aside from any personal development, being productive towards a passion can significantly boost your energy levels and give you feelings of inspiration, satisfaction and meaning. Take advantage of the opportunity to feel this way, your well-being warrants it.
If you haven’t already covered this as part of your passion, then make time in the morning to read for at least 15-30 minutes and broaden your knowledge with information and skills that will benefit you throughout your life. It’s a widely known fact that most successful people read a lot more than their less successful counterparts. They also tend to read for learning and education as opposed to pleasure. Warren Buffet spends 80% of his day reading, Bill Gates reads 50 books a year and in 2015 Mark Zuckerberg committed to reading a book every two weeks and even turned the commitment into a book club. Whilst I’m not suggesting that you need to match or exceed the reading habits of these particular business leaders, by reserving at least 15-30 minutes in the morning for reading you will gradually but consistently up your personal development game.
Not convinced yet? Well then let’s list some science-backed benefits of reading:
- helps keep your memory sharp
- could reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 2.5 times
- strengthens your brain
- can help relieve stress
- promotes wellness
- increases empathy
Convinced now? Read in the morning and it won’t become another casualty of excuses or lack of time later in the day. The only question now is what is it that you are going to start reading more about. Check out our blog on 28 books to help you be successful for inspiration.
It feels like meditation is gaining more attention and acceptance every day, but it is still some way off becoming mainstream. I used to judge meditation with a high degree of skepticism myself, despite witnessing numerous successful people around me adopting it as a regular part of their routine. I eventually knocked down my internal barriers and gave it a try. I then tried it, dismissed it, and then convinced my internal barriers to try again, but with more commitment and patience. Only then did I start to feel the benefits.
The reason why I tried so hard to give meditation a real chance is the same reason you should. There is an abundance of information, research and evidence on meditation, both scientific and anecdotal, and the vast majority of it is positive. Here are some evidence-backed examples of how meditation can help:
- Leads to increases in brain density
- Increases your focus, concentration and attention
- Helps preserve the brain
- Builds your self-awareness
- Develops your memory
- Increases resilience to stress, anxiety and depression
- Can help with some addictions
- Could have a positive impact on your relationships
As you can see, that’s a pretty substantial list of benefits. If you could gain these benefits with a pill I’m sure you would be willing to pay a premium for it, but the great news is that they are within reach free of charge. You just need an open mind, patience and commitment. There is no real downside so you have nothing to lose. Give it a try today.
This is a topic that needs little justification; its benefits are widely understood and rarely doubted. It could be a lengthy blog post in it’s own right but, I’ll keep it succinct by focusing on why exercising in the morning may be an important factor in how to start your day effectively. This is again something that I have personally had to force myself to become accustomed to. Like many others, I would usually reserve time in the evening for exercise, heading straight to the gym after work and before dinner. This was until I eventually realized the disadvantages my schedule was causing.
I found it much easier to find excuses in the evening. If I felt tired or had a particularly stressful workday, I would often give in to my urges to just head home and relax. Does this sound like a familiar situation for you? The evenings when I did hit the gym, my motivation and commitment was hit and miss depending on how my day had been and what my plans were for the rest of the evening. What’s more, regardless of the success of my workout, there was one constant disadvantage that I could not prevent by exercising in the evening. Time. Loss of time for relaxing and being with my family to be more precise. Exercising in the evening will often mean getting home late and/or having to make social sacrifices. If you have kids, then it’s likely to be at or near their bedtime and you still need to eat (and potentially cook). You also don’t want to exercise too late as it could affect your sleep. Frustrating right? The time that can be optimized by exercising in the morning is potentially more valuable to you than you might recognize. Consider making a change if you don't already exercise in the morning.
My personal examples aside, here are some more benefits that you can experience by making exercise part of your morning routine:
- you start your day more energized. It seems a little counter-productive to boost energy levels later in the evening
- improved sleep as you are no longer exercising close to the time you go to bed
- start the day in a better mood. Why wait until later in the day to get the benefit of the dopamine, serotonin and endorphins?
- start work with less stress. You may be surprised by how much more effective this is than relieving stress after work
- control you blood pressure. This 2014 study shows that morning exercise may maximize the benefits of your exercise for blood pressure control.
- better blood glucose control as this study that was published in the ‘Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology’ shows
- help weight loss by exercising before breakfast. Look at this study for evidence
And there you have it, a guide to help supercharge how you start your day and create your own morning routine for success. Share your views on the tips above and let us know how you maximize your mornings by leaving a comment below.