What the Most Successful People do before Breakfast by
IN THIS slim but practical ebook, time management author and
trainer Laura Vanderkam has put together some gems on how to get the most out
of mornings and, as a consequence, the rest of your day.
Mornings hold the key to taking control of our schedules, full
stop. Drawing on anecdotes from some well-known American executives and solid
scientific research, Venderkam provides a compelling case for altering the way
we start our day.
Studies show that most Americans, across age groups, get up
at about 6am. The time between waking and starting work is spent herding
children towards the door for school, tidying up, personal grooming, commuting
and so on.
From a study of the time logs and profiles of high-achieving
people Vanderkam reports that former CEO of Pepsico Steve Reinemund is up at
5am, goes for a four-mile run, prays and eats breakfast with his family before
going to run a Fortune 500 Company.
James Citrin, head of Spencer Stuart, is also exercising at
6am and then spends quiet time to consider the day ahead.
Citrin did a survey of the morning rituals of executives he
admired to find that the latest any of them was up regularly was 6am.
Successful people have clear priorities and early mornings are the time when
they have most control over their schedules.
But that is probably true for all of us.
We can divide the world up into "night people" and
"morning people". Both groups have only 168 hours each week, but not
all hours are equally suited to all things. The common reason for not rising
early cited by "night people" is that they do their best work in the
There is little scientific evidence that this is true.
Professor Roy Baumeister has spent his career studying
self-discipline (I reviewed his book earlier this year,) and has found a direct
correlation between fatigue and self-discipline.
"Diets are broken in the evening, not the morning. The
majority of impulsive crimes are committed after 11pm. Lapses in drug use,
alcohol abuse, sexual misbehaviour... tend to come about late in the day."
In the early hours of the day we have enough will-power and
energy to tackle things that require internal motivation and are rarely
rewarded immediately. Baumeister also proved that once something is a routine
or habit, it requires very little self-discipline to continue.
Applied to the argument of this book, people who turn high
value tasks into morning rituals conserve their energy for later battles.
What are the best morning habits? Vanderkam's research
showed that successful people use their mornings for nurturing their careers,
nurturing their relationships, and nurturing themselves.
Nurturing your career can take the form of doing focused
work, reading in your field, and thinking strategically about your projects or
company, or planning the day. One executive is quoted as saying: Every day I
have a job; in the morning I think I have a career.
To "nurture relationships" Vandekam advised one
single mother to get to bed early so she can use her early mornings for
Mommy-and-me time with her daughter before beginning her commute to work.
What a beautiful way to start a day, giving your child your
best, not what is left over of you at the end of the day.
Much is made of the value of families having dinner together
for the stability and moral growth of children.
This surely is also true of pleasant breakfasts.
Statistics indicate that dual income couples can find only
12 minutes a day to talk to each other. Early mornings might go some way to
address this relationship issue.
And then there is "nurturing yourself". Most of
the executives the author quotes use part of their early starts to exercise or
do yoga – examples are Xerox's Ursula Burns, Coors' van Paasschen, and Rodale's
Steve Murphy, among others.
These are incredibly busy people and they choose the
mornings for their exercise routines possibly without knowing how beneficial exercise
at this time of day really is.
Stress hormones released on waking are counteracted by
exercise, as are the blood glucose effects of high-fat diets and so much more.
People exercising in the morning are also more likely to stick to the routine
with the heightened ability to apply self-discipline at this time.
Spiritual practices – praying, studying scripture or
meditating - were also found to be popular.
The inability to get to bed early enough to allow for an
early rise because of the many chores that have to be done before going to bed
doesn't hold up, according to Vanderkam. In the same way that dieticians tell
dieters to keep a food log, Vanderkam suggests that the best way to know how
you spend your time is by actually tracking it.
This involves jotting down what you are doing as you are
doing it, so you can reflect on exactly how you spend your time. It will become
evident that much of the night time activity is unnecessary and of a far lower
priority than what can be gained by the early start.
This is a practical guide that addresses many of the
logistic and other complications that prevent one seizing the golden hours of
It will inspire you to rethink your morning routine and you
will be so much better off for doing so.
Readability: Light +---- Serious
* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on
leadership and strategy.