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How Successful People Start Their Day: The Best Morning Routines for Feeling Great and Getting Work Done

Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, we all start our day at some point. And we all seem to start it differently.

Some of us hop online to check social media, others dive in to email, still others eat breakfast, exercise, or pack lunches for the kids. There’re a million different ways a morning could go.

Which morning routine might be best?

While there’s probably not an ideal morning routine that fits everyone, we can learn a lot from the morning routines of successful people as well as from the research and inspiration behind starting a morning on the right foot.

I collected a wide range of opinions on how best to start a day, from the scientific to the successful. Here’s the best of what I found—maybe it’ll help you get a little more productivity, creativity, and enjoyment out of your morning.

Science says: Willpower is highest in the morning, so start strong

You’ve maybe heard the advice that your first work of the day should be something meaningful and significant, a task that might take a lot of focus, will, and determination to accomplish. The reason: We’re limited with our self-control.

That’s the idea purported by the strength model. Self-control draws from a common resource that gets depleted over time. You can think of self-control as a muscle—fatigue sets in after exertion.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the National Institute of Education in Singapore reviewed 83 studies on self-control to come to the following conclusion:

Results revealed a significant effect of ego depletion on self-control task performance. Significant effect sizes were found for ego depletion on effort, perceived difficulty, negative affect, subjective fatigue, and blood glucose levels.

For those scoring at home, that’s both a psychological and physiological effect on your ability to get work done.

The longer the day goes on, the more fatigue your self-control experiences, the more important it is to make those early morning hours count.

The easiest way to hack your morning: Tomorrow List

From research and meta-analyses to Mark Twain, the advice is the same: Get big work done early.

Twain’s advice stems from this famous quote of his:

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

We’ve co-opted Twain’s saying to mean, “Do your biggest tasks first.” When you start with a big item (a project/frog), the rest of your day looks pretty great by comparison.

The saying even inspired the title of a best-selling time-management book, Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. Fast Company highlighted Tracy’s work in an article about morning rituals and asked Lifehacker founder Gina Trapani to explain how exactly one implements the frog strategy into a daily system.

Step one:

Choose your frog.

Once the frog is chosen, Trapani continues, write it down on a piece of paper that you’ll see when you first come into your office the next day. Then when your alarm goes off in the morning or when you arrive at work, bon appétit!

There are many examples of this specific method of frog-eating, a couple examples of which you’ll see below. The concept is something I like to call a Tomorrow List.

  1. At the end of your day, write down the tasks you need to complete tomorrow.
  2. Look at the list when you start the next day.
  3. End your day by creating another list for tomorrow.

And keep repeating.

Steve Jobs’ morning routine: One simple question

In a commencement address he gave at Stanford back in 2005, Steve Jobs revealed the motivational tactic that he used to start each and every day.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

quote about today

Pretty powerful stuff. Would asking that question help keep your morning to-dos in perspective?

10 morning rituals of successful people

OK, we’ve talked about the science behind morning rituals, the frogs to eat first thing, and the inspiring questions to ask to get you started. Now it’s time for some specifics.

Here’s how some famous names in history, some entrepreneurs, founders, and executives do first thing in the morning.

Ron Friedman, founder and author

An inspiring morning reminder is one shared by founder and author Ron Friedman. It goes like this:

Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?

For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start a day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage. They are the equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.

achievement quote robert friedman

Kenneth Chenault, American Express CEO

The last thing Chenault does before leaving his office at night is to write down the top three things he wants to accomplish tomorrow. Then he’ll use that list to start his next day.

Anna Wintour, Vogue editor-in-chief

One of the more enthusiastic morning routines I found was Wintour’s daily ritual of playing tennis. Starts each day at 5:45 a.m. with an hour-long tennis match.

Margaret Thatcher, former UK prime minister

Thatcher was believed to be a short sleeper (a person who can get by on less sleep than usual), so her late-night political meetings never kept her from waking up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to listen to “Farming Today,” a popular program on BBC Radio about food, farming, and the countryside.

Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States

Franklin’s much-lauded to-do list (seen below) included some specific rules for how he started each morning. His three-hour block of morning routine stretched from 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. and included addressing “Powerful Goodness” and setting a plan for the rest of his day.

Every morning Franklin asked himself, “What good shall I do today?” 

Benjamin Franklin to-do list

P.G. Wodehouse, author and humorist

When Wodehouse woke at 7:30 a.m., he’d head right to the back porch for his “daily dozen” calisthenics. Then he’d come inside and make breakfast (always toast, coffee cake, and tea) and read a “breakfast book,” some sort of entertaining mystery or adventure novel.

(Wodehouse’s writing routine was also quite neat. He’d start by sitting in an armchair, writing a few paragraphs in pencil before moving to the typewriter to write out the rest.)

William Styron, novelist

As evidence that our mornings do not all begin at the same time, look no further than William Styron. He slept until noon, and his “morning” routine involved staying in bed for another hour to think and read.

Eva Chen, editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine

First thing when she wakes up, Chen checks Twitter and her favorite websites. She’ll skip TV because she tends to get sucked in to shows like “reruns of the OC.” After checking the web and putting on makeup, Chen dresses herself from the shoes up.

Once she arrives at the office, her first order of business is a venti green tea.

David Karp, Tumblr founder

Karp saves all of his e-mail until he arrives at work at 9:30 or 10:00 a.m., after a 15-minute walk (or even faster Vespa ride) from home. “If something urgently needs my attention,” he said, “someone will call or text me.” Once at work, email is Karp’s first task. He’ll check his inbox, which contains only emails from Tumblr staff and from his girlfriend. Then he’ll sift through an “unsorted” folder of other emails, all the while making a list in a notebook of the things he needs to get done.

Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder

How does the Craigslist founder start his day? When the question was asked on Quora, Newmark answered: “Customer service.” Few founders have taken the path Newmark has; he considers himself a customer service rep at Craigslist. So while other executives might start their days with meetings or email, Newmark focuses on the customer.

6 tips to form a better morning routine

We’ve talked before on the blog about the daily routines of successful entrepreneurs, including six helpful tips that these successful morning routines had in common.

If you’re interested in starting a great morning routine of your own, here are some ideas.

  1. Eat a good breakfast (it can be fast and easy).
  2. Listen to your body clock. Do creative work when it feels best.
  3. Set an alarm to wake up and an alarm to go to sleep.
  4. Disengage: Zero notifications from apps and phones at night.
  5. Develop a morning routine that works on weekends, too.
  6. Track your habits to better understand yourself.

Over to you: What does your morning ritual look like?

Do you have anything in common with Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, or others? What does your unique morning ritual entail?

Mine has evolved quite a bit over the past several months—and will likely keep evolving. It feels like I’ve settled into a pretty good rhythm with this schedule:

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Consult my Tomorrow List
  • Head to the computer and start writing a blog post
  • Shower/breakfast at 7:00 a.m.
  • Back to writing

I’d love to hear about your routine, too. Feel free to share your morning schedule here in the comments.

Image credits: Jonathan Kos-Read, Theophilos

  • Steve

    Interesting that many of these routines do not have “commute” included. Maybe theres something in that?

    • LeoWid

      Great point, I think there is! I remember another article we wrote showing how “moving closer to work” and cutting out commutes is a key driver to increase happiness:

      • Moving closer certainly saves time, but I have great views of the Hill Country outside of Austin as I drive to and from work so there are some benefits in my commute. If I had to drive I-35 everyday? I’d move or change jobs!

        • trixietimez

          I agree that it’s the quality of the commute that matters. I used to commute 30 minutes from Ventura to Santa Barbara, california. My drive was entirely on the 101 as it hugged the shoreline. I always left extra time in the morning to stop and watch the dolphins at the beach. That was the best commute, ever.

      • I’m definitely going towards this direction: every single day I have to spend 2 hours commuting to the office (and other 2 hours back home in the evening). Even if I try to make this time more “enjoyable” with a book or some good music, this rhythm is very difficult to bear and I end up sleeping a lot during weekends. At the end of the day I don’t have enough energy to accomplish other things besides working and commuting. So I feel like I’m wasting my life :( That’s why I’m looking for a different job that will allow me to improve my life and be happier.

    • A commute is a great way to build in some fantastic growth time. You can literally turn your car into a rolling university with the plethora of podcasts and audiobooks available today. I have a 25 minute commute each way and I try to optimize it each day. Some days I just zone out to the radio too. You need that once in a while.

      • Yep, driving is a great time to listen to podcasts or radio. I am usually writing my next blog post in my head as I am weaving my way through traffic.

      • Thom Walters

        I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I created ZEN commuter on iTunes and Stitcher. I used to hate my commute and decided I need to help myself and others relax and grow during a commute.

  • Well, tomorrow’s to-do list is something that I can’t live without. Except for Sundays (Saturday nights) I make sure I have a list ready at my desk when I wake up the next morning. Thinking about what to do today after the day has already started is quite dumb.

    And yes eating the frog the first thing is highly crucial. Not only does it help me achieve the big stuff in the morning (when my my and body are fresh and active) but I also love that sense of accomplishment by half day :)

    Thanks for the wonderful tips Kevan and also for sharing the schedules of the biggies :)

  • Great article Kevan. I notice you’re using great graphics – especially the ‘quote graphics’ – of late. I tell myself – simply watching your articles informs me the contemporary writing style on the web. Thanks.

  • I’ve actually been tracking my motivation for getting things done and I’ve realized that I tend to want to do the easier stuff in the morning (i.e. email, social media, breakfast, cleaning, shower, work out, etc), which gives me the open space in the late morning / afternoon to do my own thing with full focus.

    Another thing I love doing it setting my schedule for the next day the night before. I guess it’s my form of the ‘Tomorrow list’. I write down everything, though, not just the top things – especially when I want to begin new habits like drinking more water, drinking green smoothies, or doing yoga after work. Having everything written out gives me a clear focus for each day and a straight line to follow, with the flexibility for things to change, depending on what’s going on.

  • Kevan, I love the contrasting examples of Craig Newmark vs. Wodehouse. It’s interesting to read about the schedules of startup founders vs. writers vs. executives, to pick and choose the elements that fit your goals and to build your own morning routine.

    My routine involves being woken up by my Fitbit, drinking coffee, reading, introspective meditation (sometimes with art) and then on to my tasks/projects/meetings.

    Being a parent, I find that I set the tone of the day by talking to my kids about what they want to accomplish. It’s important to have those conversations when kids are young so that they can start forming their own morning routine.

    Have you checked out There’s a whole range of routines to be found on that site.

  • This is great insight! I especially love the recommendation to start our morning off with a good breakfast (food is my motivation).

  • Vera ter Beest, veritasteksten

    Kevan, thank you so much for this post. Always good to get some inspiration in the morning. Usually I get up at 6.00 AM and after coffee, yoga and a quick news check I set myself to study a bit of Spanish grammar. All this information from media & books I use for writing my blog posts, travel articles or translations. At around 4 pm my focus is gone, but fortunatedly I write posts on cycle tours as well, so that stimulates me to get on cycling!
    Looking forward to your next post!

  • I’ve had a really elaborate morning routine that took up over 2 hours. It consisted of lemon water, warmup, 20-minute pranayama, meditation, a green smoothie, journaling, drawing. I lasted for about 3 months, but it was a pain to maintain and I dropped off.

    This routine did really amazing things for my health and productivity, but I just stopped enjoying it once the novelty wore off and it became a drag.

    I’m now in between routines, trying to come up with something I could fit in an hour or less that still has all the elements that nourish me on the physical, mental and emotional level.

    I need my routine to be something to look forward to in the morning because I’m a total hedonist (= lazy ass) and I need to bribe myself to get out of bed early.

    • Devin Rhode

      #fuckarounditis ;)

    • Lina Garayeva

      Oh, I totally agree! Being lazy ass is a hedonism!

  • That could be an ideal practice If I SAY…no more better than we can..It won’t be wrong.Superb post..thanks to buffer and Kevan Lee

  • I’m adding- eat protein in the morning. It prevents 2pm dragging

  • My morning routine is walking with my dogs, admire the beauty of the sky and the awakening of the nature. After a good breakfast, i am full of energy and ready for a great day!

  • Great post Kevan! I think the one thing we can all get out of this is that routines & habits are key in achieving success….whatever that routine is. As an entrepreneur, I’ve always started my day with positive affirmations the moment I open my eyes. I’m so passionate about this that I recently developed an iPhone app with just affirmations for entrepreneurs not only to help me practice them and build my routine, but also to help others do the same.

    • Billy Hauser

      Hey Ralph! What’s the name of the app you created? I’d be interested to see what it’s like! Affirmations are probably the biggest part of my morning!

  • Rafia

    Morning Routine

    I’m a big believer in starting your day the right way because the things you do in the morning will reflect how well your whole day goes. When it comes to eating healthy and increasing the amount of exercise you do, morning is the best time to get started. If you just fix your morning routine, I guarantee you’ll start feeling better and will continue to make better choices during the day as well!…

  • Debra Stevenson

    Start your day with ‘an hour of power’ — whatever you determine that to be. Morning is a great time to focus your thoughts in the direction you want them to go all day, so pray, read your Bible or other inspirational books or improvement books or books to add to your storehouse of information about your job, to set the tone for your day; after reading, take 45 seconds to write down three things you are grateful for – then head off to school, work, family care or whatever. As you go through the work day, jot down a few notes about tasks you did so you can see the progress of your day. I have a page a day calender that I use to record what I did that day, rather than what is scheduled for that day. Before you go to sleep, review your day and jot down three good things from the day — they don’t have to be earth shattering — just positive even if all you can say is “I had a great sandwich for lunch” or “no traffic jams tonight”. It teaches your brain to focus on the positive.

    I found Steve Jobs quote very idealistic. ” If this were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?” Most likely not — but that doesn’t mean that whatever I have to do today can be left undone because I don’t fancy it. Just do what you have to do, make a good job of it, and you will feel a lot more satisfied than if you spend time pondering about how much you like it — or not. In this world you cannot always follow your passion, but you can always be passionate about doing your job well – and that is certainly worth something.

  • Joanna

    Really important topic. I noticed my deliberate morning routines change dramatically depending on where I live or with whom. On the seasons as well. When alone I used to start with soft ambient music or classical, dance, and coffee. With others it usually involved meditation Usually there is also meditation, green smoothie, or on occasions staying in bed longer with book that or writing. Setting intentions, checking tomorrows list. yes.
    Absolutely NO alarm clock.

  • craig chapman

    If self control be-gets fatigue, is this not stress from forcing oneself. What about further self discovery, where eventually there is no forcing of control, just a learning of how to be being, regardless of what we are already doing. In “being” there is no stress and fatigue. Rather the opposite, boundless energy to do whatever.


    Always sleep in as late as possible. Take advantage of days when you can start the business late. Your body needs lots of rest. (don’t feel guilty about sleeping in) Once I awake, arise and say your morning prayers. Then immediately prepare and drink two large cups of coffee or tea depending on your needs. Read your favorite internet news while relaxing and drinking your hot beverage. After news and coffee then prepare a light and healthy breakfast. After you eat take a nice hot shower during the winter and cool shower during the summer. Listen to your favorite music while you get dressed and while in the car. Avoid making phone calls while driving. Listen to your favorite music. Be good to yourself.

  • ettjnpcx

    Steve Jobs, is a bad example:
    He stole a lot of other peoples work and opensource projects. He used his army of Lawyers to fight these developers, because these developers were independent or passed the software of in the open-source environment, they did not have the money to fight his army of lawyers in a court battle.
    He was a thief who stole other peoples hard work, then re-labelled it as his own.

  • Fede

    Hi!!!!! I like this article because your rutine is excelent. I get up at 8.00 a.m and I have a breakfast with a cup of caffe and orange juice. This way I’m very happy all day. I discovered this article: “47 Ways To Avoid A Bad Day” and I recommend because is very interesting. Bye.

  • Interesting morning routines to say the least. Goes to show everybody is different and unique in their own ways. Certain routines suit certain people!

  • Jessica Guzik

    I’m curious, @nelchee:disqus, did you find a routine that was both time-efficient and nourishing? A fellow hedonist wants to know.

    @justineespersen:disqus, we share food as a motivation. Carrots on the ends of sticks don’t do it for me, but coffee cake….

  • Melanie Munir

    Thanks for the great article! I’ve recently become obsessed with the idea of a morning routine, and actually just wrote a blog post of my own about how it took me ten years of thinking about it and just three weeks to actually do it. It’s a different, and I believe complimentary, post to yours here. Feel free to check it out:

  • Naaz Charania

    Great post and ideas. I can do my best in the morning. I do all my chores in the morning.

  • FSerpent

    You guys have the morning routine thing all wrong. Here’s the lessons I learned from top performers.

    Begin each day reminding yourself of how shitty your life is. Really focus in on the negative side of things, intensely. Once you anchor that feeling in, take three deep breaths and scream. This is the beginning of liberation.

    Top performers usually start their days with a couple of quick beers. If you can’t get the time to savor them, the shotgun method works well. With the beers down, go to your computer, or perhaps yell at your significant other. Following this you will want to probably troll the facebook feed aimlessly for 30 minutes to an hour. This will allow the guilt to build about being off to a bad start. Once this has built up, it’s time for your first argument.

    Go outside and take note of the first thing that pisses you off. Whoever is around nearby, start complaining. Try to connect it to a personal attack on them if at all possible. Anything they say, take it personally and infer that it means they don’t like you.

    Over a stretch of days, you can really leverage these days to validate your feelings of unworthiness and self hate. Over a lifetime, any possibility of happiness and fulfillment in life will truly evaporate and you will then be ready for your next levels of personal mastery.

    Start with these tips, or add your own! Build it up over time.

  • qman177

    PENIS. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    But yeah great post

  • Pray every morning

  • Ramona Flowers

    great read!

  • Vellichor

    My basic morning routine that I have come to develop:

    I blogged on it thinking it might help some other. I was looking for something easy. All say yoga, but, its not easy to start with just that advice. In 2 weeks, it helped overcome binge eating, reduce insecurities and visibly evident toning to the body. This is totally doable no matter how busy !

  • Heather White

    It’s so important to get in a big healthy breakfast and set your intentions for the day. Great post!

  • Spot on – it’s all about being able to adapt and change as per your circumstances.

    It’s frustrating to see people who think they have to follow others’ advice – make it yours and you will stick to it!

    Here’s my diary of doing 5 days of my morning routine before work, for another take on it:

  • Dr. Eze’s Top 7

    This is a great list. I especially like the part about prioritizig your most creative tasks first. Check out more tips at

  • Stella Smith

    Great routine! as I have read in the Consumer Health Digest, everything is just mind over matter, thanks for this, I think i can overcome my anxiety, I cant even start to begin how to start my morning.

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