This past fall, I discovered that I love walks.
Like, really love them. I consider walking a hobby of mine now—a fact that I realize makes me sound like the most boring person in the world. (I do listen to podcasts while I walk, if that helps.)
The increased focus, mental clarity, and general improvements in my mood that I gained from a few daily walks was like unlocking a cheat code to life. It became my secret weapon—a key part of a productive, enjoyable day.
Finding “success secrets” in our everyday lives
Ultimately, this ties into another thing I love doing: digging into the “success secrets” of people that I admire.
Realistically, I know that adopting my favorite blogger’s planning routine or eating their preferred breakfast will not imbue me with their success overnight; after all, different things work for different people. However, I love discovering the little “hacks” that help make people’s lives easier and more productive.
With that in mind, I set out to learn how successful entrepreneurs spend their mornings, and how their routines help set the right tone for the day ahead.
Here are some of my favorites. If you choose to integrate some of these strategies into your day, be sure to let me know on Twitter @BrianaMorgaine—or share your own morning routine with me!
How do successful entrepreneurs start the day?
1. With mindfulness and meditation
Calming the “monkey mind”
The “monkey mind” is a Buddhist concept that describes the way our minds can jump, chattering, from thought to thought. Through meditation, we can seek to calm this frantic mental noise—and this is how Kristie Garduño of Giving Soaps chooses to start her morning.
“Every morning I’m up at 5am and start off with a 16-oz glass of lemon water,” she says. “I don’t workout until 9 to 10am, but I put on comfortable workout clothes and spend 10 to 15 minutes meditating. I have horrible ‘monkey mind,’ so starting early (before any of my distractions are awake) and focusing my brain is crucial.”
Focusing through longer meditation sessions
Some entrepreneurs prefer to engage in a longer meditation habit to focus their energy before the day begins.
“Most of my day begins with at least a 20 to 30 minute meditation, which affords me the opportunity to garner energy and focus before I put one foot on the floor,” says Leah Gore of Heavenly Garden Spa.
Starting out with a longer meditation session makes it possible for Gore to take on the workday. “I’ve found it to be an increasingly important and necessary activity to assist my effectively wearing the many hats I find myself wearing these days,” she says.
Gore also adds that regular meditation helps her maintain a positive mindset. “Since we opened our brick-and-mortar location, I’ve learned it’s imperative that my day starts off on the right foot—and that’s everyday!”
Waking up with intention
Don’t feel that you have time for a lengthy meditation session? Don’t sweat it—plenty of entrepreneurs feel that even a five minute session is beneficial.
“My morning starts the minute I wake up: instead of grabbing my iPhone to check my email, I use it to play a five minute ‘wake up’ meditation from the Buddhify app,” says Kelly Mazur of North Palm Digital. “These few minutes of calm and clarity allow me to focus on my number one task or priority of the day—which seriously helps prevent distractions throughout the rest of the day!”
She also adds how important it is to find a routine that works and stick with it. “I’ve noticed a direct correlation between how I start my day, and how productive I am—so sticking to a morning routine is very important to me,” she says.
Taking time for gratitude
Starting your morning mindfully doesn’t have to mean meditation. In addition to her other morning activities like running, answering emails, and engaging with clients on social media, Emily Barden of Twill likes to start her day by keeping a gratitude journal.
“Each morning, I wake up early and write down in my journal one thing I am thankful for,” she says. “On days when the stress is high and my sleep is low, I can look in my journal and realize there are hundreds of different things I am thankful for.”
2. By planning for success
Creating an environment that fosters productivity
If you haven’t optimized your environment for productivity, it can be hard to make the most of your day. “The first thing I do when I wake up is make my bed,” says Callie Brzeziński of Look Media Management. “This way, it eliminates the temptation for me to crawl back in!”
She also makes a habit of preparing tomorrow’s outfit and packing her bag the night before, so that she’s ready to go in the morning.
Focusing on what “success” looks like for the day
Without a clearly defined plan of what “success” looks like to you, it will be hard to measure whether or not your day has been successful. That’s why Bethany Mooradian of Queen of the Random Job takes time to organize her thoughts.
“I organize my plans and define what a ‘successful’ day looks like. Tools, products, and technology don’t matter to me as much as my mindset does,” says Mooradian.
Establishing this as part of her morning routine allows Mooradian to focus on what she ultimately wants to get out of the day. “I have found that being self-employed and working from home can lend itself to being pulled in many different directions with never-ending lists,” she says. “When I create a plan of things to do that will make me feel like I had a successful day, I rarely feel like I’m falling behind.”
3. With a great workout
Channeling competitive drive into exercise
As an entrepreneur, you’re likely somewhat competitive by nature; after all, you created a product or service because you felt that you could do it faster, smarter, cheaper, or somehow better than the competition.
Competitive drive is so essential to entrepreneurship that it often spills over into other aspects of entrepreneurs’ lives. “Since I’m pretty competitive at my startup, I’ve taken that ferocity to my morning workouts too—what began as training for my first 5K just a year and a half ago is now serious training for a half marathon,” says Dana Marlowe of Accessibility Partners.
Focusing her competitive energy into a workout also helps Marlowe mentally prepare for the day ahead, before work actually begins. “I plug in my headphones to an indie music playlist, learn some new songs, and get myself into the groove before I hit my inbox,” she says.
Coupling an intense workout with focused visualization
Stephen Twomey of MasterMind Digital Branding Services likes to combine introspection with his exercise routine, and starts the day with self-affirmation, visualization, and scripture reading while he “waits for the pre-workout to kick in.”
“This time of quiet followed by an intense workout keeps me grounded and focused,” he says. “The blood starts flowing and the endorphins kick in, and I get the benefits from a great morning workout all day long.”
Combining exercise and continued learning
“I like to jumpstart my day with an hour of exercise—usually riding my bike or walking on the trail,” says Vladimir Gendelman of Company Folders. “While I workout, I listen to business books to stay up-to-date on industry trends and management techniques.”
Gendelman enjoys incorporating exercise and continued education into his early mornings, and finds that by knocking this part of his routine out early, he can find time to relax while eating breakfast and preparing for the day. “This gives me time to relax and think about my goals for the day ahead,” he says. “By the time I get to work, I’m fit, focused, and full of energy.”
4. With their perfect meal
Having a sit down breakfast
In addition to starting her morning with a 15 minute yoga session, Kerri Gois of Broadband Search makes sure she has time for a sit-down breakfast. “Unless I have an early meeting, I always think it is best to take time to sit and eat your breakfast,” she says. “I really am against eating on the go because I think it adds unnecessary stress to your day.”
She also adds that with two children under seven, having a daily schedule helps keep everyone on track. “We try to stay on the same schedule so they know what to expect,” says Gois. “Every morning, we try and enjoy time as family during breakfast before we all start our day.”
Eating breakfast while starting the workday
However, some entrepreneurs use their breakfast as a way to ease into the workday and optimize their productivity.
“I tend to grab breakfast on the way into work and eat it when I get there; I’ve always found the routine of sitting down at my desk with something to eat is a great way to start your morning right,” says James Nuttall of It Works Agency. “Having something to snack on while you catch up on your emails and plan out the rest of your day is a brilliant method of killing two birds with one stone.”
Or, avoiding breakfast all together
Finally, some successful entrepreneurs forgo breakfast in the traditional sense altogether. Max Page of Coupon Hippo is a big fan of starting his day with bulletproof coffee, as opposed to a standard breakfast.
“The oil and butter in the coffee help me start my morning with a bang,” he says. “I don’t find myself checking sports or news sites; I am immediately focused on what I need to do right away. I drink this instead of having a breakfast, which I found slowed me down because it took more time to prepare and was heavier in my stomach.”
5. Through mental stimulation
Cultivating mental creativity
Before diving into the workday, Gene Caballero of Green Pal makes time for a creative hobby.
“What I do first thing in the morning is play piano,” he says. “It’s fun, something I look forward to, and playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices.”
He adds that taking time to practice in the morning helps set the tone for the rest of the day. “It gets my mental capacity going,” says Caballero. “It’s like a mental full body workout. It has replaced my coffee in the morning, and helps me mentally jump-start my day and be more productive.”
Exercising both the body and mind
It can be tough to fit in physical exercise in the mornings, let alone mental exercise as well. However, Luke Knowles of Kinoli has implemented a morning routine that allows him to both engage his body and mind quickly.
“I rise early in the morning to eat breakfast with my kids and then drive them to school. After that, I come home and do a 30-minute workout in my basement. I follow that up with a 10-minute game of chess on my phone before heading into the office,” he says. “This routine allows me to spend some quality time with my kids, exercise my body, and exercise my brain.”
6. By making the most of their best productivity windows
Optimizing the morning commute
Most people dread their morning commute, and entrepreneurs are no exception. However, if you have the option of taking public transportation, it doesn’t have to be wasted time.
After getting her two young children ready for daycare, Karla Jobling of BeecherMadden uses the commute to take care of smaller administrative tasks before the workday officially begins. “My commute [is] where I can make up time and prepare myself for the day,” she says. “The commute is the best time to do those activities that don’t necessarily generate revenue but start to get me ready for being in work mode, rather than mom mode. Social media, PR requests, extra learning are all easy to do on my journey.”
Speaking of extra learning—can’t take public transportation for your commute? Consider listening to podcasts or other informative content while you drive. You might not be able to dive into the workday just yet, but you can still engage in your industry through additional learning, as well as participate in some mental stimulation—so it’s a win-win.
Finding the time of day that works for you
“So many life coaches and business gurus recommend meditation, jogging, or not reading emails until some hard work has been done; I have tried this and it doesn’t work for me at all,” says Jason Lavis of Out of the Box Innovations. “I am naturally a night person, so don’t really feel alert and fully awake until 11am at the earliest. How can I do my best creative work when half asleep? I can’t.”
How does Lavis deal with this? By finding the time of day where he is most productive, and structuring his morning routine around it.
“I go straight to my emails with a cup of coffee,” he says. “Emails need to be attended to; urgent matters might nest within them. After reading emails I will round off the morning smaller and less important tasks. After an early lunch, my main power session begins: 1 to 5 pm is when I do my best creative work.”
Finding your best routine
The varied nature of the responses I received proves an important point:
There is no one optimal morning routine for everyone.
Ultimately, it’s a process of trial and error, and determining what aspects of your morning routine set you up for success, and which detract from your productive output.
How do you know when you’ve hit on a routine that works for you? What do you do every morning to make sure your workday is productive and enjoyable?
Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @BrianaMorgaine.