“Routine basically gives us the mental freedom to think about what's actually important,” he says. “That way we don't have to think about all the mundane aspects of life. Getting to relegate all those things to sort of an automatic thought process, we gain all the mental bandwidth we need to do the really important things in life.”
If your morning routine consists of the snooze button and a half-drunk coffee, perhaps it’s time to press reset. Be inspired by those who’ve made fine arts of their a.m. schedules.
1. START THE DAY BY REACHING OUT
Connecting with others isn’t just a nice to have; it has a whole host of health and work-related benefits. Research by Stanford has shown that those who reach out and talk to others more often are less likely to fall ill with colds, tend to live longer, happier lives, and are much more likely to contribute to groups, communities and wider society. There’s also evidence that fostering a diverse social circle can limit the impact of unconscious biases.
Even introverts, who thrive on time alone, can benefit from moving 1-2-1s and brainstorms to the first hour of the working day. And for anyone who works from home or as part of a remote team, building and maintaining in-the-flesh relationships is critical.
Someone who puts this to great effect in her morning routine is Group President of FOCUS Brands, Kat Cole. When she isn’t travelling with work, she starts every day (weekends included) having a coffee or breakfast meeting in her hometown of Atlanta.
“I'll meet with a co-worker, candidate we're interviewing, potential business partner, start-up, existing employee, or a group of local students,” she says. “Talking, learning, and thinking with other humans creates a purposeful start to any day.”
2. MAKE TIME FOR A QUICK BLAST OF YOUR FAVOURITE ACTIVITY
If you’re the kind of night owl who’s engaged in a permanent war with the snooze button, the thought of setting your alarm an hour earlier to squeeze in some ‘me time’ probably has you choking on your hastily-eaten cereal. But how does 15 minutes earlier sound? More doable, certainly, and just a quarter of an hour of an activity you enjoy could be all that’s needed to set you up for a calmer, more productive and self-connected day.
“My morning starts with music,” says Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes. “When I was a child, my mother woke us up with inspiring music, and I have continued that tradition. Recently I created a playlist of songs that wake me up and play through my morning activities [putting me in] the right frame of mind for the day.”
An avid reader, she also makes time for whatever book is currently gracing her bedside table. “Reading and quiet time to reflect are the most important part of my morning routine,” she says.
“To have the energy to lead, we need to be restored and prepared before we get to the workplace. When I honour these routines, it makes a big difference in the day.”
3. PLAN YOUR DAY USING THE PARETO PRINCIPLE
Also known as the 80-20 rule, the Pareto principle – named after the economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas - determines that 80% of your results come from 20% of your best efforts.
Georgetown Professor Cal Newport – a husband with a young family, who, alongside his day job of lecturing students, has authored four books, writes multiple academic papers and a professional blog - uses the principle to prioritise his workload each morning, ensuring he’s done by 5.30pm.
“All tasks are not created equal,” he says. “Most of us deal with two fundamentally different types of work, Shallow and Deep: Shallow work is little stuff like email, meetings, moving information around. Things that are not really using your talents. Deep work pushes your current abilities to their limits. It produces high value results and improves your skills.”
Put another way, “Shallow work, says What The Most Successful People Do At Work author, Laura Vanderkam, “stops you from getting fired — but deep work is what gets you promoted.”
In other words, start the day by whittling your to-do list down to those tasks that will really make a difference to you, your team and your business.
4. EAT AMPHIBIANS FOR BREAKFAST
Mark Twain famously wrote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Thankfully, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer author was speaking metaphorically – suggesting that if you start your day with the most challenging task on your to-do list, the rest of your day will feel like a breeze. Not only that, but the sense of achievement you gain from tackling that job you’ve been procrastinating over, will spur you on to do even greater things.
Twain’s idea inspired Brian Tracy’s bestselling time-management book Eat That Frog, and there’s science behind it too: Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the National Institute of Education in Singapore deduced that self control comes in limited supply. Rather like a muscle that must be regularly flexed to stay strong, self-control dwindles through lack of use and gets depleted over time. So putting that brain-bending chore off ‘til 5pm is unlikely to work in its favour.
Watch Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani explain how doing the thing you dread the most before you’ve even opened your inbox can set you up for success, day in day out.
5. GET UP AND START MOVING…
University of Bristol researchers found that employees who worked out before work were better equipped to handle whatever came at them during the day ahead. For anyone who’d rather eat a frog for breakfast than break a sweat, the same researchers found that those who exercised at lunchtime reaped similar benefits.
Moving before work – whether it’s a full blown core strength session, some gentle deep breathing or a walking meeting – is the swear-by success secret of many a leader. From Michelle Obama, who says getting up early to run is just as important for her wellbeing as working and taking care of her kids, to Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, who starts every day with a dawn tennis match, to Kohl’s CCO, Michelle Gass, who credits her business acumen to the clarity gained on her morning run. There’s something to be said for swapping snooze for move.
6. …OR JUST STAY IN BED
When you’re exhausted from juggling everything in your life, setting your alarm at dawn to eat all those metaphorical frogs before you notch up 5k on the treadmill clearly isn’t going to lead to success. For those days when only a lie-in will do, waste no time feeling guilty: take whatever time you can for a precious 40 winks, and that alone could put you on the path to a brighter, happier, more productive day.
Huffington Post Founder Arianna Huffington is a firm believer in the power of sleep. Watch her speak about her ‘big idea’ below.