The Morning Routines Of The Most Successful People

Does your morning look like Margaret Thatcher's, or Ben Franklin's? These routines might inspire you to create your own.

Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, we all start our day at some point. And we all seem to start it differently.

Some of us hop online to check social media, others dive in to email, still others eat breakfast, exercise, or pack lunches for the kids. There’re a million different ways a morning could go.

Which morning routine might be best?

While there’s probably not an ideal morning routine that fits everyone, we can learn a lot from the morning routines of successful people as well as from the research and inspiration behind starting a morning on the right foot.

I collected a wide range of opinions on how best to start a day, from the scientific to the successful. Here’s the best of what I found—maybe it’ll help you get a little more productivity, creativity, and enjoyment out of your morning.

Science says: Willpower is highest in the morning, so start strong

You’ve maybe heard the advice that your first work of the day should be something meaningful and significant, a task that might take a lot of focus, will, and determination to accomplish. The reason: We’re limited with our self-control.

That’s the idea purported by the strength model. Self-control draws from a common resource that gets depleted over time. You can think of self-control as a muscle—fatigue sets in after exertion.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the National Institute of Education in Singapore reviewed 83 studies on self-control to come to the following conclusion:

Results revealed a significant effect of ego depletion on self-control task performance. Significant effect sizes were found for ego depletion on effort, perceived difficulty, negative affect, subjective fatigue, and blood glucose levels.

For those scoring at home, that’s both a psychological and physiological effect on your ability to get work done.

The longer the day goes on, the more fatigue your self-control experiences, the more important it is to make those early morning hours count.

The easiest way to hack your morning: Tomorrow List

From research and meta-analyses to Mark Twain, the advice is the same: Get big work done early.

Twain’s advice stems from this famous quote of his:

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

We’ve co-opted Twain’s saying to mean, "Do your biggest tasks first." When you start with a big item (a project/frog), the rest of your day looks pretty great by comparison.

The saying even inspired the title of a best-selling time-management book, Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. Fast Company highlighted Tracy’s work in an article about morning rituals and asked Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani to explain how exactly one implements the frog strategy into a daily system.

Step one: Choose your frog.

Once the frog is chosen, Trapani continues, write it down on a piece of paper that you’ll see when you first come into your office the next day. Then when your alarm goes off in the morning or when you arrive at work, bon appétit!

There are many examples of this specific method of frog-eating, a couple examples of which you’ll see below. The concept is something I like to call a "Tomorrow List."

  1. At the end of your day, write down the tasks you need to complete tomorrow.
  2. Look at the list when you start the next day.
  3. End your day by creating another list for tomorrow.

And keep repeating.

Steve Jobs’s morning routine: One simple question

In a commencement address he gave at Stanford back in 2005, Steve Jobs revealed the motivational tactic that he used to start each and every day.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"

And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Pretty powerful stuff. Would asking that question help keep your morning to-dos in perspective?

10 morning rituals of successful people

OK, we’ve talked about the science behind morning rituals, the frogs to eat first thing, and the inspiring questions to ask to get you started. Now it’s time for some specifics.

Here’s how some famous names in history, some entrepreneurs, founders, and executives do first thing in the morning.

Ron Friedman, founder and author

An inspiring morning reminder is one shared by founder and author Ron Friedman. It goes like this:

Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?

For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.

Kenneth Chenault, American Express CEO

The last thing Chenault does before leaving his office at night is to write down the top three things he wants to accomplish tomorrow. Then he’ll use that list to start his next day.

Anna Wintour, Vogue editor-in-chief

One of the more enthusiastic morning routines I found was Wintour’s daily ritual of playing tennis. Starts each day at 5:45 a.m. with an hour-long tennis match.

Margaret Thatcher, former U.K. prime minister

Thatcher was believed to be a short sleeper (a person who can get by on less sleep than usual), so her late-night political meetings never kept her from waking up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to listen to "Farming Today," a popular program on BBC Radio about food, farming, and the countryside.

Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States

Franklin’s much-lauded to-do list (seen below) included some specific rules for how he started each morning. His three-hour block of morning routine stretched from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. and included addressing "Powerful Goodness" and setting a plan for the rest of his day.

Every morning Franklin asked himself, "What good shall I do today?"

P.G. Wodehouse, author and humorist

When Wodehouse woke at 7:30 a.m., he’d head right to the back porch for his "daily dozen" calisthenics. Then he’d come inside and make breakfast (always toast, coffee cake, and tea) and read a "breakfast book," some sort of entertaining mystery or adventure novel.

(Wodehouse’s writing routine was also quite neat. He’d start by sitting in an armchair, writing a few paragraphs in pencil before moving to the typewriter to write out the rest.)

William Styron, novelist

As evidence that our mornings do not all begin at the same time, look no further than William Styron. He slept until noon, and his "morning" routine involved staying in bed for another hour to think and read.

Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine

First thing when she wakes up, Chen checks Twitter and her favorite websites. She’ll skip TV because she tends to get sucked in to shows like "reruns of The O.C.." After checking the web and putting on makeup, Chen dresses herself from the shoes up.

Once she arrives at the office, her first order of business is a venti green tea.

David Karp, Tumblr founder

Karp saves all of his e-mail until he arrives at work at 9:30 or 10:00 a.m., after a 15-minute walk (or even faster Vespa ride) from home. "If something urgently needs my attention," he said, "someone will call or text me." Once at work, email is Karp’s first task. He’ll check his inbox, which contains only emails from Tumblr staff and from his girlfriend. Then he’ll sift through an "unsorted" folder of other emails, all the while making a list in a notebook of the things he needs to get done.

Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder

How does the Craigslist founder start his day? When the question was asked on Quora, Newmark answered: "Customer service." Few founders have taken the path Newmark has; he considers himself a customer service rep at Craigslist. So while other executives might start their days with meetings or email, Newmark focuses on the customer.

Six tips to form a better morning routine

We’ve talked before on the blog about the daily routines of successful entrepreneurs, including six helpful tips that these successful morning routines had in common.

If you’re interested in starting a great morning routine of your own, here are some ideas.

  • Eat a good breakfast (it can be fast and easy).
  • Listen to your body clock. Do creative work when it feels best.
  • Set an alarm to wake up and an alarm to go to sleep.
  • Disengage: Zero notifications from apps and phones at night.
  • Develop a morning routine that works on weekends, too.
  • Track your habits to better understand yourself.

Do you have anything in common with Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, or others? What does your unique morning ritual entail?

Mine has evolved quite a bit over the past several months—and will likely keep evolving. It feels like I’ve settled into a pretty good rhythm with this schedule:

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Consult my Tomorrow List
  • Head to the computer and start writing a blog post
  • Shower/breakfast at 7:00 a.m.
  • Back to writing

I’d love to hear about your routine, too. Feel free to share your morning schedule here in the comments.

This article originally appeared in Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

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[Image: Flickr user Ben Seidelman]

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33 Comments

  • Julian Dario Colucci

    I struggle in the morning to get up at 8:30am. I've literally tried for years.

    I LOVE staying up late. I go out in NYC late.

    Yes these routines people speak of are nice, but man oh man.... haha

  • Founder of Tri Mark Golf morning routine... Wake up at 4:45 am, spend 30 minutes in God's Word, workout for 30 minutes, check email at noon, work until 3 pm, check email again at 3pm, achieve to do list, phone a loved one and let them know how much I care and appreciate them, eat a healthy dinner, make my to do list for the next day and in bed by 9 pm.

  • Founder of Tri Mark Golf morning routine... Wake up at 4:45 am, spend 30 minutes in God's Word, workout for 30 minutes, check email at noon, work until 3 pm, check email again at 3pm, achieve to do list, phone a loved one and let them know how much I care and appreciate them, eat a healthy dinner, male my to do list for the next day and in bed by 9 pm.

  • iamsantho

    Great article! I am not a morning at all. I face difficulties on waking early in the morning and sleeping early at night. I've tried my best to sleep early at night, but it just doesn't workout for me. I wake up at 7:30 am while my room mates are still sleeping and take a shower. Then pray for a minute and leave to office at 8:30. I 'd love to take more time in the morning, but it hasn't happened. Come back home by 6:45 pm and talk to my room mate and walk with him , then call my mom . By then it is 8:30 pm. Then go for dinner and watch TV and browse the internet for a while and get to sleep. But it takes at least 80 minutes for me to sleep once I am on the bed.

  • Nick Barghini

    Never wake up before Noon Never get out of bed without an hour of reading/ movie watching/ email Never forget to stretch/ exercise Always eat breakfast

  • Sary Abu Nijem

    Great article. My morning routine is to wake up at 5:30 AM have something light to eat, prepare my gym's bag and cloth. Hit the gym by 6:15 AM and working out 'till 7:45 AM then take a shower on the gym and dress up and head to work. Then working from 8:30 AM 'till my break 12:30 PM - where I head home for my lunch & 45 minutes/1 hour nap - then around 2:30 PM/2:45 PM get myself back to work. At 6:30 PM, I'm done with work and finish anything before heading home again. By 9:30 PM/10 PM I'm asleep :)

    I really love this routine. Specially when working out first thing in the morning, it gives me a good boost to start the day right ;)

  • Hari Mathur Varrier

    I wake up by 5.30 am, off to my morning walk, come back, prepare the first coffee for the day, an SMS to my wife, with an interesting quote from an influencer, pick up Robin Sharma's book and read for the next half an hour, with my strong cup of coffee. Later prepare my break fast, an apple, oats with almonds and walnuts, and off to shower. Within the next hour i am on my way to work. Where i first begin with the To Do list

  • Here is my current morning routine: 4.30 AM Wake up, brush teeth, and drink water 4.40 AM Shower and warm-up exercise 4.50 AM Get dressed 4.55 AM Brew morning beverage 5.00 AM Work on my most important task of the day 7.00 AM Eat breakfast 7.30 AM Get on with the rest of my day

  • Külli Koort

    Once again, great article Kevan. Tried implementing different morning rituals: from jogging to starting early with my writing. Will definitely continue with the second one.

  • Stephen M. Putonti

    A good friend and business coach Honoree Corder turned me on to Hal Elrod's "The Miracle Morning" and I've - been a disciple ever since. One of the best moves I've ever made. The simple glass of water, 5-10 minutes of meditation time, 4-mile run and writing\journaling has helped me focus before the emails and phones start shaking up the day.

  • pashokkov

    I wake up at 6:30 am, put relaxing music while taking a shower and making breakfast. Good breakfast is crucial for me. It's always very energetic and healthy breakfast such as fresh made smoothie with lots of carbs, protein and a little fats on the side. Starting to work at 8. Working out everyday before dinner.

  • Nicholas Powley

    Hi Kevan, I liked your article.

    I work in New Product Discovery at 3M in Saint Paul MN.

    One thing I've started doing at work comes to mind: printing out my weekly calendar every Monday morning.

    Here's the interesting part: As I'm working, all week long, I write in what I'm doing and with whom.

    After about 8 months of doing this some very interesting things have occurred.

    Would you like to chat sometime?

    It world be great to examine the results with someone talented at and interested in examining behaviors.

    You can reach me at 781 864 3584.

  • Nate Wagner

    Hal Elrod's The Miracle Morning has changed my life. Getting up early (for me it's 4am) has helped me become more productive and live a happier life. Check it out at www.HalElrod.com

  • David Campau

    If you are looking for a way to live the best life you can then I encourage you to check out this important information. This can transform your life in a very short time! Check out other testimonies of people just like me that are living our Miracle Mornings @www.facebook.com/groups/MyTMMCommunity www.MiracleMorning.com.

  • My morning Routine has changed my life. I was already implementing a morning routine and then was handed the book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. It clarified and focused my routine even more. It's lead me to starting my own company and changing the way I think about myself. Morning routines are one of the most powerful things you can do. - bradley thomas - theartofchangingyourlife.com

  • Ann-Marie Galipeau

    I am going to repeat other comments- I get up early and practice "The Morning Miracles" by Hal Elrod- I do my S.A.V.E.R.S and my days start out much better. I have lost 12 pounds in a month, quit smoking and am working on some goals that I have been too afraid till now to tackle. If you feel stuck in a rut- this is the plan for you.

  • Heath Armstrong

    Great article- thanks. In a nutshell, I have used Hal Elrod's 'The Miracle Morning' to revolutionize my life and those who I have shared it with. I went from dreading my day job and sleeping 10 hours a day to waking up at 4 am, running over 140 miles in 2 months, starting 2 side companies, traveling all over the place and starting a podcast show that is featured in the new and noteworthy of iTunes. I had the chance to interview Hal in episode 16, and to put it bluntly- he is an extraordinary dude. You can listen here- he gets super pumped up: http://www.artsynow.com/16

  • Catharine Bonner Boynton

    Good article..great book to support it is : the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

  • Read THE MIRACLE MORNING by Hal Elrod to define your best morning routine and {as a side benefit} change your life -- all for the better!

  • Charity Sapphire

    Sa-weeeet! I have the same morning routine as Tumblr founder! I always knew I'd do good in social tech...