Here's my morning routine: Snooze the alarm twice. Think about my dreams. Funnel two mugs of black coffee down my gullet. Check the time. Freak out. Skip shower in favor of a full body wash with makeup remover wipes. Wear clothes left on the chair from the night before. Leave house forgetting wallet. And repeat.
Clearly, I am not the most productive person in the mornings, which may contribute to why I'm also not as successful as say, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, or Jerry Seinfeld, all of whom have devised clever morning routines they credit with their superhuman productivity. And they are not alone. From the scientifically proven to the celebrity-approved, these five morning routines may just be the key to your future success. I might even wake up early tomorrow and give one a try—snooze button be damned.
Take Control of Your Morning Time
There are a lot of theories on the optimal time to rise and shine. One recent study found that 11am is the most productive hour of the day, which means you want to be well on top of your game—mentally and physically—at the witching hour. For Virgin's Richard Branson that means waking up at 5am, and for Apple's Tim Cook, the alarm is set for 3:45am. Cook and Branson use the time to catch up on email and other correspondence, so that they're ahead of the game by the time the day is in full swing. But earlier isn't better for everyone—Amazon's Jeff Bezos takes his time, eating breakfast with his family and "puttering" until about 10am, according to Inc.com.
The key is time management. If it's sleep you need to be productive, doze as long as you need to. If you feel behind the minute you wake up, experiment with waking up a little earlier. The goal is to feel in control of your time, starting from the moment you wake up, rather than running around frantically at all hours of the morning. With that in mind, skip the snooze button, which throws off your body's circadian rhythms and hormonal process, according to experts. It also throws off your sense of time which ultimately creates anxiety when you do wake up. "The lesson here isn't that everyone should get up at some particular time," writes Inc's Jessica Stillman. "The best time to set your alarm is the time that works with your particular body and work rhythms."Put Your Body to Work
Multiple studies have found that exercising in the morning boosts productivity throughout the day. "Researchers at the University of Bristol found that people who exercise during the workday have more energy and a more positive outlook, which are both critical to getting things done," Forbes' Travis Bradberry writes. "Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses." That may mean taking your dog for a hearty walk, or hopping on the treadmill while you catch up on last night's Real Housewives. Either way, your body and mind will thank you later.
Set Your Intention
One of the most prevalent rituals of high successful people is also one of the most surprising. Instead of tackling all the small stuff, they start the day by examining the bigger picture. "I have a series of spiritual exercises that I do every day," Oprah Winfrey tells Harper's Bazaar. "After reading Gathered Truths, I check out 'Bowl of Saki' on my phone; it's delivered to my in-box every morning. It contains the teachings of the Sufis, a Middle Eastern sect that believes all paths lead to God and that all religions are one, pointing to the same north star. Then I meditate."
According to the American Psychological Association, practicing meditation has multiple benefits, including stress reduction, improved memory and sharpened focus—all of which heighten productivity. For those who want to start a mindful meditation practice, there are plenty of apps like Headspace to get you started. You could also take a page from Steve Jobs' famous ritual and focus on answering the same question each morning: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"
Answering this question, whether writing down your thoughts for 10 minutes in a journal or just considering the meaning behind it over coffee, is a way to set intention for the day ahead, and ultimately, keep yourself on track for hitting your long-term goals.
Rethink the To-Do List
To-do lists are stressful, particularly if you're looking at one first thing in the morning. But there are ways to trick yourself into tackling those cloying, little obligations before you head out to work. And ultimately, clearing your plate of those to-dos will make you far more productive the rest of the day. One way to force yourself to cover your bases, is by employing Jerry Seinfeld's method of creating habits and sticking to them. "The idea is that if there's a certain task you want to do every day, you can keep yourself accountable by putting a red "X" over every day you complete this task on a large wall calendar," writes the New York Times' Benjamin Spall of Seinfeld's productivity method. "Soon you'll have created a chain. Your only job then is not to break it." Another idea comes from The Art of Productivity's Damon Zahariades who suggests making your to-do list the night before. "Never wake up uncertain of what you should be doing," he advises. "If you wake up without a focused to-do list, you'll waste all that great morning energy trying to figure out what to do, rather than actually doing it! Taking just 10 minutes the evening before at the end of my workday can easily save me an hour or two the following day."
Tackle the Hardest To-Do First
Research has shown that we really only have a good four hours of peak productivity each day. That may explain why the tasks we continue to put off until the end of the day never actually get done. "Do your work task first thing in the morning," suggests Fast Company's Gina Trapani. "The first thing you do at work sets the tone for the rest of the day." The "worst" task is anything you're dreading, which makes it both the most important and most daunting item on your list. The idea is to do it "before you have time to think about it too much," Trapani explains in FC's Work Smart video series. "By knocking off the big thing on your to-do list first thing in the morning you get both momentum and a sense of accomplishment."