Let’s be real – we’ve all had those mornings. Those mornings when our alarm goes off, we hit the snooze button five or six times, then run around like a crazy person trying to get dressed and get out the door to make it to work on time.
But it turns out the way you start the day is actually pretty important. The way you spend your mornings sets the tone for the rest of the day; if you start it off with routine and structure, you’ll have a productive day. If you start it off by oversleeping, scrambling to get read, and trying desperately to pour coffee down your throat as you rush out the door… well, you get the picture.
We talked to some of the most productive people in the worlds of tech, business, and entrepreneurship and all of them agreed that their morning routines were a driving force behind their superhero-like productivity.
But what, exactly, do those routines look like?
Here are the six morning habits that productivity giants swear by to jumpstart their productivity and set themselves up to be rockstars all day long:
Start the day with your most important work
“When I’m writing a book, before I even brush my teeth, I throw everything that I have on the page.” – Jon Levy, Behavioral Scientist
“I try to get all my ‘deep attention’ work done in the first 3 – 4 hours, which is my prime time for tackling challenging projects. This usually breaks into two 90-minute sprints, with a break in between.” – Jocelyn Glei, Writer and Host of the Hurry Slowly Podcast
“I can wake up, get a quick workout in, shower, walk 20 feet to my home office and do my best work of the day while my brain is fresh.” – Zack Onisko, CEO of Dribbble
“I tend to do my biggest task first, which is always deep work, not just shooting emails off. By the time I have breakfast and show up at the office I’ve effectively done a day’s worth of work before I even walk through the door.” – Derek Flanzreich, Founder of Greatist
The prime opportunity to get things done and be productive is those few precious hours in the morning right after you wake up. The first three hours of the day are when you’re most focused, creative, and mentally clear – so don’t waste them scrolling through Facebook or mindlessly responding to emails.
The most productive people in the world – including the productivity giants we spoke to – use the first few hours of their day to tackle their most important work, whether that’s tackling a challenging project, thinking through a complex problem, or working on a creative pursuit like writing. Tackling important projects at the start of the day, when your brain is most active, ensures that your best thinking goes towards what really matters – and you don’t waste your peak productivity hours doing mindless work you could just as easily tackle later.
Plan for the day
“I review today’s critical objectives. I outline 3 things I must get done during the day.” – Jon Levy, Behavioral Scientist
“[One of the first things] I do is make a priority list. I write a list of the three main things that I have to accomplish today that’s going to push my goodness forward.” – Natalie Jill, Fitness Entrepreneur
“I sit down at my desk with a notepad and my coffee. This is the most important part of my morning, when I spend 30 minutes planning my day. I call it the 30 before 7:30. During these 30 minutes, I focus on getting my day organized and planning either when I will accomplish my top priorities–or actually making 30 minutes of progress on one of them.” – Mel Robbins, Speaker, Author, and CNN Contributor
Like the old saying goes, “failure to plan is planning to fail.” If you want to make the most of your day, you need to plan for it.
Before you dive into your work, take a few minutes to look at your priorities and plan what you’re going to work on for the day. That way, you have a direction for the day – which will make it easier to avoid distractions while you power through your to-do list.
“After I brush my teeth, I do 20 minutes of transcendental meditation.” – Jon Levy, Behavioral Scientist
“Brush my teeth, take a cold shower, meditate for 10 to 20 minutes.” – Noah Kagan, Founder of AppSumo
“The first 90 minutes of my day always includes waking up early [and] meditating for 10 minutes.” – Derek Flanzreich, Founder of Greatist
“I meditate for at least 10 minutes, review my game plan for the day and visualize what it looks like and feels like to accomplish all goals and tasks.” – Sheena Brady, CEO of Tease Tea
People who regularly practice meditation enjoy benefits like decreased stress and anxiety, improved memory, an increase in focus and concentration, an easier time multitasking, and an influx of creative thinking. Meditation can even change your brain structure for the better.
It’s no wonder so many of the productivity giants we spoke to (along with gurus like Oprah and Tim Ferriss) make meditation a part of their morning routines.
If you’re intimidated by the thought of meditation, don’t be. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes and bring attention to your breath. If your mind starts to wander (which it will), acknowledge it and bring your focus back to the breath.
That’s it. Simple, right?
If the thought of sitting in silence doesn’t sound appealing to you, check out Headspace, which has a great collection of guided meditations to kickstart your new morning habit.
Do something creative to kickstart your brain
“I walk to my local coffee shop, and do about 45 minutes of brain-stimulating reading while I stand at this huge picture window or sit outside under a Japanese maple.” – Jocelyn Glei, Writer and Host of the Hurry Slowly Podcast
“I take a Chinese lesson on Skype to warm up my brain.” – Jordan Harbinger, Host of The Art of Charm Podcast
“I try to keep my calendar free in the mornings. I typically have an open block from 8am to noon, which I use for writing, strategic thinking, and other creative work.” – James Clear, Author & Entrepreneur
Because your brain is at its most active in the morning, it’s also at its most creative. Doing something creative to stimulate your brain can help get those creative juices flowing, which will help you infuse more creativity into your work throughout the day.
Read a book. Play an instrument. Paint. Write in a journal. Color. Whatever it is, kickstart your morning with a creative activity, and you’ll carry that creative spirit with you throughout the day – which can deliver a serious boost to your productivity.
Get a handle on your inbox
“[I] look over my inbox to see how quickly I can be at inbox zero. In the process, I assign tasks to my team and dive into work.” – Jon Levy, Behavioral Scientist
“I check email over coffee. I triage what needs to be Priority 1 and then queue everything else to its particular day.” – Nilofer Merchant, Author & Speaker
“I’ll generally get to work, brew a huge thermos of tea and sit down in front of my email. I do my best to relegate email to only 3 times a day – morning, lunch and evening – so that I’m not continually distracted. In the morning, I will only reply if taking action on a message will take 2 minutes or less. The rest I snooze for appropriate times or leave unanswered.” – Camille Ricketts, Head of Content at First Round Capital
“Maybe a few minutes before I make breakfast, I’ll do a quick check of my email. I don’t usually respond to any emails in the morning, but I sort them. SaneBox already sorts my emails for me automatically, but for the ones that live in my Important folder, I’ll just label them based on when I need to respond. Then, I don’t check on those emails again until much later in the day.” – Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked
Now, starting your day by spending two hours going through and responding to every email is a major productivity no-no. But taking a few minutes to get your inbox in order, get rid of unnecessary messages, and organize your emails so you have a plan of attack when you get to the office is a definite must.
When you go through your emails and make a plan for how you want to tackle your inbox, you’re taking a proactive stance (vs. reacting to your inbox by desperately trying to respond to every message). By deciding how and when you’re going to answer your emails, you put yourself in control and set yourself up for success later in the day, which will cut back on the time you spend dealing with your inbox – time you can spend being productive and working on more important things.
“I’m pretty obsessive about most aspects of my day – the morning in particular. I wake up every morning at 5:30am, but it took a long time to get there. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work out soon after waking up.” – Derek Flanzraich, Founder of Greatist
“I typically walk my dog, then head to the gym and spend about an hour or so doing high-intensity workouts and some strength training.” – Nelson Dellis, USA Memory Champion
Working out and productivity go hand in hand. When you work out in the morning, you get a rush of endorphins that will make you feel energized, focused, and ready to tackle the tasks for the day. Exercise also helps you better manage stress, increases immune function to keep you from getting sick, and makes you feel happier and more centered – all of which directly contribute to your productivity.
Set your alarm an hour earlier and get your sweat on before you start your day – your to-do list will thank you.
The things you do when you wake up have a direct effect on how productive you’ll be during the day. And now that you know the secret morning routines of the world’s most productive people, you have everything you need to start the day on your best (and most productive) foot.
Want to learn more actionable strategies to amp up your productivity from some of the world’s most productive minds? Then check out our Productivity Giants series, where we interview top leaders in tech, business and beyond for insights into their best strategies for hacking your business – and your life – for the better.