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5 Early Birds Share Everyday Productivity Strategies

We can’t all be morning people, but we can crib from the caffeine-stained playbooks of successful early risers. Here’s how.

5 Early Birds Share Everyday Productivity Strategies

The early bird catching the worm is more than just a tired chestnut, it’s a proven fact. Research by Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany, found that people who started their days earlier were more active and goal-oriented, more active, and felt more in charge–just the right cocktail for business success. 

Though we can’t all be bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 6 a.m. (or 9 a.m.) there are some strategies that most morning people use such as exercising, eating right, and eliminating distractions in order to start their day in the most productive way. Fast Company got five early-rising, successful executives to dish about their a.m. routines and how they make the rest of the day work for them.

Hold the Caffeine

As CEO of MyCorporation.com, Deborah Sweeney is an advocate for protecting personal and business assets for consumers. Though her extensive experience in the field of corporate and intellectual property law adds the juice that’s helped hundreds of thousands of businesses start up, Sweeney credits getting off to an early speedy start each day–sans caffeine–as critical to her success. 

Early Bird Strategy 

“Skip the caffeine and spin! I wake up every morning at 5:45 a.m. naturally, without the help of an alarm clock, and for breakfast have half a granola bar with a cup of decaf tea. I spin for one hour, which truly helps me charge my batteries for the day.”

Making the Day Work for You

“While spinning, I answer emails from last night, check my social networks, and watch the local news. Then I shower and get dressed. Much of my day I’ve prepped the night before because I have two sons in grade school and won’t have time to waste in the morning. That includes packing their backpacks, picking out my outfit, and putting together lunches. My husband makes breakfast at 7 a.m. while I help wake the boys up and get them dressed. I briefly go over our to-do list for the day as a family together and we pack the car up and leave at 7:40 a.m. I tell my kids about the fun after-school adventures awaiting them and after dropping them off at their pick-up spot, drive to the office.

Before I go in though, I like to stop by the local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf across the street for another decaf tea to go. I have my tea, my agenda planned, and my iPhone alerts on–now I know I’m ready to take on the day.”

Wait to Put Out Those Fires

Fahim Siddiqui is the chief product officer at IntraLinks, a provider of cloud-based solutions for the exchange of business information. Currently, its roster of clients includes more than 800 of the Fortune 1000 and more than $19 trillion of transactions have been executed on IntraLinks’ platform. Working as closely with those clients as Siddiqui does requires a serious effort up front to make sure all is running smoothly before he’s off to solidify relationships.

Early Bird Strategy

“I get up at 6:00 a.m. and have a Starbucks grande mocha, no whip.”

Making the Day Work for You

“The first part of my day is my thought time; when I work on any strategic initiatives. I jump “into the fire” of the day starting around 9:00 a.m. and take care of anything that needs to be addressed immediately. I also review operational dashboards, my commitment plan dashboard, a status of all ongoing programs, and if I find any new projects to deal with I’ll either email or call the person to understand the issue. I’ll also get another espresso if necessary. Then I’ll typically go look at news sites for industry intelligence–and to catch up on cricket scores. I find that the afternoon is a good time to collaborate with people and I find myself to be more extroverted. I spend a lot of that time working directly with clients.”

Prepare Your Agenda the Night Before

Dan Lagani, Reader’s Digest Association’s president of North America, hits the ground running early. He has to, in order to maintain the global media and direct marketing company’s connection to more than 145 million consumers around the world. Reader’s Digest is the world’s largest-circulation magazine, operating 82 branded websites and selling nearly 40 million books, music, and videos annually.

Early Bird Strategy

“I am out of bed by 5:30 a.m. and have a good cup of coffee before my morning workout. I usually have breakfast when I get to the office or when I am having a customer meeting. I will have anything from an egg white omelet to a Power Bar.”

Making the Day Work for You

“The first thing I do in the morning is work out for an hour at home while watching the local news.  I’m usually on the train to New York before 7 a.m. I try to get to the office or a breakfast meeting between 7:45 a.m. and 8 a.m. Once I’m at the office, I address administrative work and prepare for the day ahead. 

The rest of the day is focused on achieving my company’s key business activities.  I may be involved in internal meetings or in meetings or on the phone with current and potential customers and business partners.

I’m a strong believer in planning ahead, so I create a rolling 100-day plan that keeps me on track to ensure I’m addressing key items for execution during the week. Before I leave the office (between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.), I list my ‘to do’ items for the next day and make sure it matches up with the execution necessary to achieve my strategic goals.”

Feel the Burn

When Aaron Kwittken, CEO and managing partner, Kwittken + Company Worldwide, lost his father to congestive heart failure, he decided to take workouts to a whole new level. So in addition to running his multi-specialist public relations and marketing agency with offices in London, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, and Hong Kong, he’s been in 40 triathalons and is training for the New York/New Jersey Ironman Championship race this August. So far he’s only rested for three days. 

Early Bird Strategy

“I wake up at 4:25 a.m., drink a shot of room-temperature espresso made the night before and then take the dog out because it is impossible to sneak by her. I do a quick check of email and respond as needed. I already packed a gym bag the night before and I keep my swim gear in my car at all times. I’m in the water at 5:15 a.m. and I am back home by 6:45 a.m. 

I usually make my kids breakfast (pancakes) and myself a smoothie of low-fat chocolate milk, a banana, oats, peanut butter, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and rice protein powder.” 

Making the Day Work for You

“I check email again and may take a quick call with our London office. I put one of our kids on the bus and then I go for an 8-mile, slow, hilly run outside for about an hour and 15 minutes. When I am running or biking indoors, I watch HBO GO (currently Game of Thrones or The Wire)that’s 2,500 calories burned before 9 a.m. Then, I go to work. I am usually in bed before 10 p.m. every night.” 

Don’t Check Email

CheapAir’s CEO Jeff Klee created a company out of his college dorm room in 1989 when it was originally known as 1-800-Cheap-Air. Helping over 3 million people buy plane tickets on a budget takes a lot of dedication and though Klee’s a morning maven, he puts in a fair share of nighttime hours, too.

Early Bird Strategy

“I get up at 6 a.m. and I’m usually at the computer by 6:01. That is my sacred hour–by far my most productive hour of the day. I’ll glance through my inbox to make sure nothing catastrophic has happened, but other than that I try to steer clear of emails or any other distractions. My advice for anyone who wants to be productive in the morning: Don’t check email!

By 7 a.m., my wife, daughter, and dog are awake so the next hour I’ll shower, play with the baby, play with the dog, and make six egg whites for breakfast.”  

Making the Day Work for You

“The rest of my day I’ll spend on emails, calls, meetings, putting out fires. Whenever possible I try to go for a run in the middle of the day. I’ll probably pull it off twice during the week. It’s a great way to break up the day, de-stress, and step back from the minutiae that I often get stuck in. To the extent that I ever have good ideas, they always come while I’m running.

Late at night, once everyone’s asleep, I’ll sneak back to the computer and I’ll again get to do some real work for however long I can stay awake.”


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[Image: Flickr user Nathan Rupert]

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.



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