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How The Most Successful People Start And End Their Workdays

What you do before your workday kicks off and after it winds down can have a big impact on how productive you are during the hours in between.

How The Most Successful People Start And End Their Workdays
[Photo: Unsplash via Pixabay]

If you’ve ever tried adopting one, you know that no productivity hack, habit, or routine is universal. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. But that means it’s usually worthwhile to hear a lot of different ways other people organize their workdays, since it means more options for you to try on for size. And since the way you kick off your day and the way you wind it down can have a huge impact on how productive you are during the hours in between, Fast Company asked some top business leaders and execs to share their morning and nighttime routines. Here are our favorites.

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Related: I’m The Guy Who Created Bulletproof Coffee—This Is My Morning Routine


Wake Up And Walk (Or Spin) It Out

“Most days, I try to walk to work,” says Andy Katz-Mayfield,  cofounder and CEO of shaving company Harry’s. During his 20-minute morning strolls, Katz-Mayfield says he steers clear of checking emails and tries not to use his phone altogether. “It’s one of the few uninterrupted, quiet moments I have all day, and I find it usually gets me in a clear, relaxed head space.”

Leila Janah,  founder and CEO of Samasource, an organization that helps people in the U.S. and abroad find digital work, also walks to work every day. Her morning soundtrack switches from Cuban salsa music to NPR’s Fresh Air as soon as she steps out the door. While she’s getting ready in the morning, Janah says “the salsa is an antidepressant.” Then, once she’s on her way, “Terry Gross’s guests are an inspiration. Both help me stay positive throughout the day.”

Unsurprisingly, SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan takes it a step further, stopping off for a spinning class en route to the office. “Working out in the morning is the best thing you can do to start your day,” she says. “It may be tough to wake up and get out of bed, but once you’re up and in class, you’ll feel so accomplished. The rest of your day becomes super productive because you got your workout in.”

Kids First, Email Second

Many people start firing off emails on their phones before they’ve even gotten out of bed. Daniella Yacobovsky, cofounder and CMO of the jewelry startup BaubleBar, isn’t one of them, but she does give her inbox a quick peek to see what’s awaiting her. “I’ve never been the kind of person who can just shoot out of bed in the morning and hit the ground running, so I like to ease into my day by browsing emails and the news in bed.”

Whelan does the same but keeps her browsing time to just 15 minutes. “By skimming through everything first thing, I can truly be present for my kids’ morning routine and drop-off—not trying to do two things at once,” she says, adding that she always tries to drop her kids off at school if she’s in town. “Presence is such an underrated wellness habit.”

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Related: The First Four Things You Should Do Every Workday


Many of the leaders and execs I spoke to said they spend more of their mornings interacting with their kids than they do tackling email—both out of necessity and and by design. Katz-Mayfield checks Twitter first thing in the morning, but not for long because his daughter typically “tries to eat my phone,” he says.

For Christina Agapakis, creative director at the biotech startup Ginkgo Bioworks, mornings are now dedicated to her son, who’s nearly two years old. It’s “hard to catch up on email first thing when my son is my alarm clock,” she points out, noting that he’s just started sleeping through the night. “As far as my morning routine, that’s mostly spent trying to get the aforementioned toddler to eat breakfast and put on pants.”

Parenting has forced Agapakis to keep her home and work life more separate, she’s found. “There’s a lot that can be said about the politics of ‘productivity’ in the office and in the home, but having to take care of someone else 24 hours a day has made me realize that it’s more useful to think about efficiency, about recognizing and aggressively setting priorities, and about caring—caring for people and about what you do, at home and at work,” she explains. “I now spend less time working but get more done during those hours at work.”

Powering Down Before Hitting The Hay

Evening rituals can matter at least as much as morning ones, with some of the most productive people claiming that the secret to a smooth-running workday lies in what you do the night before—including what you do (and don’t do) with your smartphone. Google “phone before bed,” and you’ll be directed to countless articles claiming that you shouldn’t go to bed with your smartphone in hand (the first result: “Reading On A Screen Before Bed Might Be Killing You”) because our devices’ screens emit a blue light that some research suggests can disrupt sleep cycles. Some, like Bryan Johnson, take this to heart—as befits the founder and CEO of Kernel, a startup working to enhance human cognition.

“I turn off devices by 9 p.m. so that I can decompress for bed and sleep between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., more or less,” Johnson says. “I also take three milligrams of melatonin on work nights and try not to eat any carbohydrates after 6 p.m.”

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Ben Lamm, the CEO and cofounder of Conversable, which helps companies communicate with customers via chatbots, winds down with an elaborate routine that goes beyond just unplugging. “Every night, after I put down my computers and other screens, I take a steam shower at 120 degrees to raise my body temperature,” he says. “After, I’ll do various yoga stretching, and spend some time reading to get my mind off of the day.” Lamm also says that “the setting of my room is important—dim lighting, blackout shades, and a sound machine with waves.” He isn’t alone. Dave Asprey, who’s best known for creating Bulletproof Coffee, has crafted a “sleeping cave” of his own, also replete with blackout curtains and other tweaks for uninterrupted shut-eye.

Whelan uses ginger tea and a sprayable mist packed with essential oils to help put her to sleep each night, right after spending some time with a good book. “I read before bed every evening,” she says. “It’s the only way to put some space between the workday and a productive night’s sleep.” She says she alternates between fiction and nonfiction; on her nightstand right now is Kristin Hannah’s 2015 novel The Nightingale (“I can’t put it down!”).

If heavy curtains and a cup of tea don’t cut it for you, you’re not alone. Katz-Mayfield closes out his evening with “a glass or two of wine to take the edge off,” and then reads the New York Times—on his iPhone. “I know everyone tells you not to bring your phone to bed,” he says. “But let’s be honest, everyone brings their phone to bed.”

The research notwithstanding, he adds, “I usually fall asleep pretty quickly—which is not a commentary on the New York Times.”

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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