HR & Management

What you can learn from the morning routines of ten of the world's most successful people

6 min read

12 October 2015

While there’s probably not an ideal morning routine that fits everyone, we can learn a lot from the way successful people manage their day.

We all have a routine, from getting up late or early, to needing coffee as soon as you wake up and doing exercise. But what if you’re not doing mornings right? This was a question posed by Sleepy People, which strived to find out the secret to how the successful jumpstarted their mornings.

Here’s the best of what we found – intended to boost productivity and creativity.

Mark Twain’s advice of getting big work done early stems from his famous quote: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

According to author Gina Trapani, Twain believed that every given day, you’ve got one major thing to do that’s of the highest priority. She explained that one should choose a frog, and write it down on a piece of paper that you’ll see when you arrive back at your desk in the morning. She advised: “If you can, gather together the material you’ll need to get it done and have that out, too.”

The strategy relies on the creation of lists, which seems to be growing in popularity. Philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco suggested in an interview that lists help us to make sense of the world around us. It’s a simple habit of increasing our day to day productivity. 

Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express, does just that. The last thing Chenault does before leaving his office at night is to write down the top three things he wants to accomplish the next day. Then he’ll use that list to start his morning.

Benjamin Franklin is another great example of someone known for using lists to encourage his own self-improvement. 

He famously even detailed a thirteen-week plan! Most of all, he sets himself a strict schedule. Every morning he also asked himself, “What good shall I do today?”

This tactic has been used by one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs. In a commencement address he gave at Stanford back in 2005, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that he started each day by asking a similar question.

He said: “When I was 17, I read a quote that claimed, ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, 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?'” 

Whenever the answer was “no” for too many days in a row, he knew he needed to change something.

Tumble founder David Karp, on the other hand, tried to save all his emails and dedicated his first hour in the office to sifting through and responding to them after a 15-minute walk from home. “If something urgently needs my attention,” he said, “someone will call or text me.” 

First he’ll check his inbox, which contains only emails from Tumblr staff, before tackling an “unsorted” folder of other emails – all the while making a list of the things he needs to get done.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg employs a similar tactic. She turns off her phone at night so that she “won’t get woken up.”

“I check my email the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night,” Sandberg said.

When it comes to making morning’s easier to deal with, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows a thing or two. He is famous for dressing the same way each day as he once claimed it gives him “one less decision to make”. 

He starts the day on very little sleep, often staying up chatting with programmers until 06:00.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is an advocate for good health and its no secret that he starts off each day with an hour on the treadmill, watching courses from the Teaching Company whilst doing so.

Similarly, US president Barack Obama is known to keep strictly to his workout routine of weights and cardio each morning at 06:45 before eating breakfast with his family and helping to pack his daughters off to school.

And prime minister David Cameron once revealed that he and his family have a no TV rule in the mornings as he believes his children should be doing something. When out on the road, Cameron spends time reading newspapers and catching up on daily news, but when he is at home he spends the morning with his family.