Rise And Shine: How Top CEOs Kick Off Super-Productive Days

They receive 500 emails a day and think life is “too exciting” to sleep in. Execs from Vodafone, AOL, and other companies on how they keep all the balls in the air. (Hint: start very, very early.)

Rise And Shine: How Top CEOs Kick Off Super-Productive Days

Looking at executives who have realized their ambitions, we get the idea that if we can ape their habits, we’ll realize ours, too. As the Guardian notes, the pastime’s a little ridiculous–like “looking to a novelist’s desk placement for the key to good writing”–but also, we must say, useful.


To wit: when Stephen King tells you to put your desk in the corner, you listen. So maybe there is something to our most productive obsession.

So a handful of these successful execs, from telecom to finance, shared a few anyone-can-do-it tips for managing the unmanageable schedule:

You have to great up crazy-person early.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong gets up a 5 or 5:15 a.m. to work out, read, and use his companies’ products before he starts hitting “send” at 7 a.m. He says that life is “too exciting” to sleep more–which is a good thing to tell yourself the next time you want to mash that ever-tempting snooze button. Also, rising early lets you hit work before the house gets up. Newton Investment CEO Helena Morrissey gets up at 5 a.m. or earlier, which helps allow for some family time later.

When the cat’s away, no more play.

When Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia is in her hometown, she makes it home by 7 p.m. But when she’s on the road, she’ll toil until about 10 p.m. as a way of “not letting things encroach on normal life too much.”

Set a dinner time.

Morrissey, the investment executive, says that her whole family–with nine kids–eats dinner together at about 7:30 p.m. She leaves the office around 6 p.m., allowing her to get home in time for supper. There’s the family meal, then she throws in another two hours of work in the evening, either sending email or prepping for the next day.

Do your own email (really).

The Guardian observes that “dealing with your own email seems to be some kind of touchstone of accessibility.” But a few of the execs they interviewed said they received 500-some emails a day–and that makes for an awful lot of triage.


So how do they handle the inundation? You’ve-got-mail Armstrong batches his messaging by email in the morning, on the commute, and late at night, while Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao continuously sends emails throughout the day, since, he says, “people need to progress with decisions and logistics.” It’s like what Learnvest CEO Alexa Von Tobel told me last year–though it didn’t make it into the piece: As a leader, you can’t be a bottleneck.

What Time Do Top CEOs Wake Up?

[Image: Flickr user CIA DE FOTO]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.