Have you ever thought that your day could go better if you only knew how to start it? Beginning the day on the right foot usually means the difference between a day full of wasted opportunities and a day brimming with possibilities. Laura Vanderkam, an expert in time management and the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, stresses that prioritizing your most important tasks for the beginning of the day is critical in finding professional success.

So, how do you do start the day off right? One crucial step is to take advantage of the science behind these successful habits. Vanderkam cites the findings of a Florida State University psychology professor, Roy Baumeister, who discovered that willpower, like muscles, becomes fatigued from overuse. Baumeister points out that diets fall apart in the evenings, and that other problems with poor self-control such as lapses in decision-making also come later in the day. On the other hand, early mornings are usually when you have the willpower, optimism, and energy required to tackle the most challenging tasks.

If you truly want to follow in the footsteps of the most successful people, you need to realize that time is a precious commodity. Take advantage of every moment of your day. You should examine what you normally do before breakfast, and see how well it aligns with these 10 things the most successful people do before breakfast.

1. They wake up early

Time has the strange tendency of running away from you, and successful people often watch their days become consumed by phone calls, meetings, and emergencies from the moment they walk into the office. Early mornings, on the other hand, are much easier to control. This is why some of the most successful people in the world wake up before the sun rises, squeezing as much time out of their day as they can.

Vanderkam polled 20 executives, and found that 90 percent of them wake up before 6 a.m. on weekdays. For example, Disney CEO Bob Iger gets up before 4:30 a.m. every day to read, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is up even earlier, at 4 a.m.

2. They express gratitude

When you wake up and open your eyes, do you think about how grateful you are, or do you moan about having to get started with another day? Some of the most successful people begin their day by reflecting on how good they have it, not on how stressful and terrible the day ahead will be. Positive reflection helps you correctly set your attitude before your feet even hit the floor, paving the way for an optimistic and enthusiastic day at work. According to a pharmaceutical executive Vanderkam interviewed, this intentional show of gratitude gives her a clear vision of not only her own day, but of her staff’s as well.

Sebastian Juarez, CEO and cofounder of eTips, agrees with this. He says that when he wakes up, he tries “to think on simple things that I am truly grateful for, like having such a great family, living in a beautiful place, anything I can be thankful for. That helps me a lot on having a positive attitude during the day.”

3. They find a purpose for the day

If you want to lead a fulfilling day, it has to have purpose. This should be something that goes beyond your normal to-do list as an executive, and be that “thing” that gets you really jazzed up and excited for the day. At the end of the day when you’re reflecting on what you’ve done, it should be something that makes you feel that you’ve accomplished a lot in just a little time.

Gary Rawding, chairman and CEO of myServiceForce, tries to do this every day. “It is the thing that gets me excited,” he says, “and at the end of the day makes me feel satisfied. I like to have that ‘thing’ even before I get out of bed. That makes the day a blast.”

4. They make their beds

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says that making your bed every morning is correlated with increased productivity. This is a “keystone habit,” he writes, that will set off a chain reaction of other good habits. In other words, making your bed doesn’t magically make you get more work done, but it does set the day up for increased productivity and motivation. It only takes a moment or two, but it can yield hours of increased productivity throughout the day.

As even more evidence of the power of bed-making, Psychology Today’s Judy Dutton says that people who make their beds are “more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested, whereas non-bed-makers hate their jobs, rent apartments, avoid the gym, and wake up tired.”

5. They list what they want to accomplish for the day

You can’t properly face the day unless you’re armed with the knowledge of what’s in store and what you need to get done. By outlining what needs accomplished, you can set yourself up for a day of success and productivity, instead of playing catch-up with all of the things you’ve forgotten about. Planning your day early in the morning helps stay you on track once your hectic work hours have set in.

You can create your checklist on a simple piece of paper, or you can use Evernote or some other GTD app. The most important thing here is consistency in making sure you do it every day. As you complete tasks, check them off so you know what you’ve accomplished and what’s left to do.

Kacie Gonzalez, Vice President of Business Development for Shoto, says this list should include not just work-related things, “but also personal tasks like trying that new class at the gym or cooking dinner.” She points out that before beginning a new list for the day, you should look over the previous day’s list to see what didn’t get finished. That way, you won’t forget about it, because it will still be on your radar.

6. They read a newspaper

Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, starts every day with a cardio workout, and then reads the newspaper and watches CNBC. Virgin America CEO David Cush listens to sports radio and reads the newspaper while he’s on the stationary bicycle at the gym.

It doesn’t matter if you read the newspaper or check Twitter from your phone, or get the news from a diner booth or your living room sofa, if you have a pre-breakfast routine that includes scanning the latest headlines, you’re standing in good company with most successful people.

7. They do a first check of their email

Some time management gurus say you should procrastinate on your email as long as possible, but a recent survey found that the first thing most executives do in the morning is an email check. It might just be a quick browse of your inbox for messages that need your immediate attention, or maybe it’s a good opportunity to compose a few important emails. Either way, tackling it early means you can better focus on your inbox and what needs your attention while your mind is fresh.

Think seriously about this. Can you properly organize your day if you don’t know what needs to be done? By zeroing out your inbox early, you can better plan what stills needs to be accomplished. The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin points out that getting her inbox cleared from the start makes it easier to focus on more challenging projects later on in the day.

8. They spend time connecting with their spouses

Mornings are usually the best time to connect with your spouse. By the time evening rolls around you’re already exhausted from the day’s activities, and you might even be more tired after taking care of dinner. Then, of course, you’ll want to unwind a bit before going to bed. That’s why many successful people make sure they spend time connecting with their partners as part of their morning ritual.

Vanderkam points out that while this early morning connection could certainly take a frisky turn, it doesn’t have to. One executive she spoke with commutes into New York City from the suburbs every morning, using the hour-long trip to talk about their lives, plans for the week, household to-do lists, finances, and other important topics.

9. They clear their minds with meditation exercises

This one may sound a bit “New Agey”, but the theories behind it are definitely sound. Successful people typically have ‘Type A’ personalities, and demand as much from others as they do from themselves. This can make it difficult for them to break ties with their mental to-do lists, so they need some way to reduce the mental clutter. Many successful people, for this very reason, center themselves for the rush of the day with a morning meditation or prayer.

Manisha Thakor, a former corporate executive and current financial advisor, finds that meditation to clear her mind works wonders for her productivity. In fact, she has found the routine to be “one of the most life-enhancing practices” she’s ever adopted.

10. They meet up with people for coffee

If you want to make it home for dinner but still need to network with people, having coffee or breakfast before heading into the office is a great choice. A networking breakfast is less disruptive to your day than lunch, and Vandermkam points out they’re also more likely to stay work-oriented than cocktail parties.

Christopher Colvin, an entrepreneur and lawyer from New York, attends a networking breakfast every Wednesday. He thinks this is the ideal time for networking, because “I feel I’m fresher and more creative in the mornings. By the end of the day my mind is more cluttered.”

Featured photo credit: Flicker via flic.kr

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