Tapping the Power of Your Morning Routine
by Jim Citrin
How disciplined are you about your early-morning routine?
If you want to maximize your success while achieving the best possible balance in your life, you may want to take a fresh look at what time you wake up and what you do with your time before getting to the office.
A Wakeup Call
Last week, I contacted some of the business leaders I greatly admire and inquired about their early-morning schedules.
Specifically, I asked 20 CEOs and top executives what time they wake up, when they have their first cup of coffee, when they start on email, what if anything they do for exercise, what time they leave for the office, and what else they do before walking out the door.
I heard back from half a dozen of them within 10 minutes, and, in a matter of a few hours, I received answers from a total of 17 out of the 20 — a response rate that would be the envy of any market researcher.
It didn’t take long for the patterns to emerge. Based on an analysis of the executives’ schedules and activities, I discovered seven practices you should seriously consider adopting in order to make the most of your morning.
1. Start early.
This is the part of your morning routine over which you have the greatest control. To fit it all in, it’s a must to start early. The latest any of the surveyed executives wake up is 6 a.m., and almost 80 percent wake up at 5:30 or earlier.
The early-bird-gets-the-worm award goes to Padmasree Warrior, chief technology officer for Motorola, who rises at 4:30 a.m., spends an hour on email, reads most of the news online, and then does an hour of either cardio or resistance training each morning. This allows her to get her son ready for school and drop him off, and still get to work by 8 or 8:30 in the morning.
2. Get a jump on email.
If you think you’re alone in feeling overwhelmed by email, take comfort: even top CEOs and the most senior executives feel compelled to stay on top of their email, and most of them find time in the early morning to do so.
Ursula Burns, the No. 2 executive at technology giant Xerox, says, “I do email from the minute I get up [5:15 a.m.] and all day long, finishing around midnight.” Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of investment firm Saban Capital Group, starts email right after his first cup of coffee “at 6:02 a.m.” and works on it for about an hour before his 75-minute morning exercise regimen.
Lou D’Ambrosio, chief executive officer at telecommunications equipment leader Avaya Communications, is “on email literally within one minute after waking up. I spend about an hour at home in the morning doing email to jump-start the day. This allows me to have a clear mind when I set priorities for the day.” Lou also does email from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at night.
Several executives wait until they get to the office before they start working on email. Matt Ouimet, president of the hotel group for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, for example, rises at 5:30 a.m. and leaves the house at 6 a.m. to get to the office very early — “I’ve always been anxious to get to work: game time” — and responds to email undisturbed for an hour while the office is very quiet.
3. Exercise every morning.
It’s often difficult to find a way to fit exercise into your busy schedule, but knowing that some of the most successful businesspeople do so might motivate you to find a way to work it into your routine.
More than 70 percent of the business leaders in my survey perform their exercise in the morning, while 15 percent find a way to do it during the day (one does it late at night before turning in). Only two of the executives admit to not exercising on a regular basis, although one said, “I know I should.”
The individual who demonstrates the greatest exercise discipline is the CEO of a high-performing global technology company (I promised him anonymity so as not to blow his cover). “I exercise at lunchtime,” he says. “I block the time every single day. This is because I’m a runner and that’s the best time to run outside all year long.”
4. Be thoughtful about the source, form, and timing of your news.
Much has been written about the demise of the newspaper, and, along those lines, about a quarter of the executives I spoke with has switched to online news. Yet most of the others maintain the morning newspaper as a central part of their routine.
Steve Reinemund, the CEO of PepsiCo, reads the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Dallas Morning News. Rafe Sagalyn, CEO of the prestigious Sagalyn Literary Agency of Bethesda, Md., blends traditional and new media. He says, “I simultaneously skim online newspapers from Boston to Los Angeles and half a dozen blogs one really has to keep up with. At about 6:30 a.m., I fetch three morning papers — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.”
The quiet of the morning is often the time when your mind is at its clearest and most well-suited to solving important problems.
Steve Murphy, CEO of publishing company Rodale, says, “A line in a William Blake poem inspired me to think differently about my day: ‘Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.’ This has made a huge difference in my life. Now, I take out a yellow pad every morning and write my thoughts for the day, which allows me to be much more strategic and proactive than reactive.”
6. Make family time.
Many business leaders find that the morning encourages important family time. Some have breakfast with their families or make taking kids to school a central part of the morning routine.
Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media Corporation, says, “I try to talk one of my kids into going outside to get the paper, but end up getting it myself. I then have breakfast with my wife and kids, help the latter get dressed, and drive the older boys to the bus stop at 7:40 a.m.”
7. Be creative with your morning routine.
Despite all the discipline and structure described in the above best practices, it doesn’t mean you can’t be creative with your morning rituals. Gerry Laybourne, founder, chairman, and CEO of Oxygen Media, maintains a routine similar to other business leaders.
However, she adds a unique twist to her schedule: “Once or twice a week, I go for a walk in Central Park with a young person seeking my advice. This is my way of helping bring along the next generation. I can’t take time at the office to do this, but doing it in the morning allows me to get exercise and stay connected with young people at the same time.”
The examples cited here have led me to reassess how I structure my early-morning time, and I hope they help you in making the most of your daily routine as well.
Jim Citrin Leadership by Example