A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings and Life
Life gets busy. Has What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam been sitting on your reading list? Instead, learn the key insights now.
Laura Vanderkam’s Perspective
Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time-management and productivity books, including Juliet’s School of Possibilities, Off the Clock, and I Know How She Does It. Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune. She hosts the time-management podcast Before Breakfast and co-hosts the podcast Best of Both Worlds with Sarah Hart-Unger, which looks at building the perfect balance between family and career. Her blog, LauraVanderkam.com, is a combination of the two, focusing on her own experiences. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and five children.
How do you spend your morning? Did you know your morning routine can improve your productivity throughout the day? What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast looks at how you can follow in the footsteps of successful people to maximize your day.
StoryShot #1: Start Your Day With the Things That Matter Most to You
“You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible.”— Laura Vanderkam
Mornings can be one of the most hectic times of the day. But, if you plan your mornings effectively, you can make sure you are using this time to focus on the things that matter most to you. Instead of postponing essential tasks, schedule them for the start of your day. You might feel another time would be better for this task, but daily pressures will often get in the way, and the task will be left undone. So, instead of postponing these critical tasks, you should fit them into the start of your day.
We all have things we care about but struggle to fit into our day. For example, you might rank exercise, reading, or a particular long-term project as your most crucial task. It is easy to let daily chores distract you from this.
James Citrin leads a headhunting agency. James interviews several high-flying executives to learn about their daily morning routines. Eighteen out of the twenty executives interviewed shared one common factor: they all got up before 6 a.m. every day. Early starts are a common feature for successful individuals.
Steve Reinemund is the former CEO and chairman of PepsiCo and the current dean of the School of Business at Wake Fort University. Steve gets up at 5 a.m. for a four-mile run. Then, he has quality time for himself, either reading or praying. Then, Steve has a healthy breakfast with his children. He will keep this routine wherever he goes. For example, if Steve is traveling, he will only stay in hotels with a treadmill. He makes this decision so that he can maintain his four-mile run routine.
Waking up early is easier said than done. Yet, the key to waking up this early is willpower and making it a habit. Both of these can be developed.
StoryShot #2: Spend Your Morning Nurturing Your Career
Nurturing your work life is not about responding to emails as they land in your inbox. Instead, it is about attending activities that you rarely have enough time to do on your average day.
Debbie Moysychyn is an organizational healthcare executive helping Brand University build its healthcare education department. She wanted to foster a collaborative, open-door culture in her office, so her colleagues could pop in for a chat whenever they wanted. This was effective in improving her colleagues’ efficiency. But, these short meetings reduced the time she had for her daily tasks. Outstanding tasks built up until she did not have enough time for the most critical projects. Debbie’s solution was to free up her mornings to get these tasks done. This allowed her to focus on the task at hand without the worry of continual interruption. She spent the rest of the day helping her colleagues and working on more significant projects.
StoryShot #3: Spend Your Morning Nurturing Your Relationships with Others and Yourself
Relationships with Others
Careers are undoubtedly important. Yet, your relationships with others and yourself are more significant. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by your daily work. You might arrive home feeling too tired to spend quality time with your friends and family. The morning is the perfect time to engage with your family or to have some time to self-nurture. There are many ways that you can make the most of your morning, spanning various relationships:
- Have sex at dawn with your partner.
- Make sure your whole family has breakfast around the table together.
- Cook exciting lunches with your family that you will all eat later.
- Go on a morning walk in your local park with your partner or family.
Kathryn Beaumont Murphy exemplifies how mornings can support your relationship with others. Kathryn is a busy tax lawyer with a stacked schedule involving many late nights. These late nights prevented her from spending enough quality time with her daughter, as the law firm rewarded late hours rather than early starts. So, the mornings were generally quiet. Kathryn decided to start going to bed earlier to add a couple of hours to her day in the morning. She would replace these hours at night with a few hours in the morning. This allowed her to spend quality time with her family. This decision has rubbed off on her family. They now all rise early and try to ensure breakfast is a special time for them.
Relationship with Yourself
“Before the rest of the world is eating breakfast, the most successful people have already scored daily victories that are advancing them toward the lives they want.”— Laura Vanderkam.
Self-care is the third pillar for a more balanced life. It is arguably the first thing we sacrifice when life gets too busy. Again, the morning offers a fantastic opportunity to free up time for self-nurture. There are multiple ways that you can nurture yourself:
- Train for a marathon
- Read more
- Write poetry
- Go on a bike ride
StoryShot #4: Track Your Time and Imagine Your Ideal Morning
It is also essential to ask yourself how you can start implementing a morning routine. There are two steps to follow to make this easier.
You can start making your morning more productive by tracking the time you spend on specific tasks over the week. A week consists of 168 hours. Although this might seem like a lot, this time can waste away if you do not understand where that time is going. This is where time management becomes so important. The problem with time management is it is rarely about how you spend your mornings. Instead, it is about what you do with the rest of your day.
One act that can have a detrimental effect on your morning is your bedtime. Late nights can prevent you from waking up early. Additionally, they can also leave you feeling unproductive when you do wake up early. A good night’s sleep is integral to the efficiency of your morning routine. It is easy to fall into the trap of staying up late. For example, you could watch TV and lose track of time or remember a task you forgot to do that day. But burning the candle at both ends isn’t a sustainable approach. Staying up late to finish a job you forgot about will only reduce tomorrow’s efficiency.
Tracking your time allows you to identify which tasks keep you up late. Are these tasks essential, or can you fit them in earlier in the day? You can free up an hour or two early in the day once you understand where your time is going. Use a notebook to identify areas where you can save time. Freeing up time will ensure you get a good night’s sleep and have a couple of hours for your ideal morning.
You should aim to visualize your ideal morning. Doing so will help motivate you to get a good night’s sleep and wake up early. Vanderkam’s perfect morning routine is as follows:
- Get up at 6:20 a.m., unless she feels like having early morning sex.
- If she does not desire sex, she will go on her run 10 minutes later. She always runs for 45 minutes.
- Then, Vanderkam has a hearty breakfast with the whole family. She ensures this is a sit-down breakfast around the dining table. Vanderkam and her family use this time to catch up and have meaningful conversations.
- When everybody else has left the house, Laura starts working on her book and writes an entry for her blog.
This morning won’t be your ideal morning. The important thing is that you start picturing what a perfect start to the day looks like for you.
StoryShot #5: Take Your Time Adopting New Habits
Logistics is the third step in integrating an effective morning routine. You need to calculate whether your ideal morning routine is viable. Identify how much time you need to incorporate all your ideal morning activities. Include potential areas where you can accommodate your new plans. You should also note small changes you can make to aid your morning routine. For example, say you have decided to start going on a 30-minute run every morning. You worry you won’t fit this in with your current morning schedule. In this instance, you could reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower. Then use some of this time for your daily morning run.
Mapping out your ideal morning and timings is vital for success. Forewarned is forearmed.
Creating Your New Habits
Creating new habits is not a quick process. It will take time to cement your new habits and integrate them into your daily routine. You should start slowly and be patient with yourself and your new habits. Some habits will be easier to integrate, while others might take you weeks or even months. The end of your first two weeks of integrating a habit will be your crunch time. This is often when individuals decide to give up on a new habit. You have to persevere. Do not take a day off, and do not slack when things take longer than you first thought.
Do not take on too many new habits at once. Doing so should help keep your motivation high enough to get through a rough patch. If you set out to build several habits at once, you will struggle with the challenging moments.
Rewards, or bribes, are also helpful for motivating yourself to persist with habits. The author calls these rewards ’bribes.’ Sticking to your habits is a behavior that deserves a reward, and doing so will reinforce this good behavior. You should treat yourself if you have maintained a habit for a few weeks.
Finally, you must fine-tune your routine to create effective habits. Fine-tuning involves being adaptable and learning to make constant adjustments and readjustments. As an avid runner, Vanderkam changed her routine when pregnant with her first daughter. As her pregnancy progressed, long-distance running became less viable. She did not spend this spare time sleeping or doing something unproductive. Instead, Vanderkam focused on self-nurturing. Instead of going on daily runs, she would meditate or do another self-nourishing activity. She then re-tuned her routine after having her daughter. She is back to her old running routine of 45 minutes before her family breakfast.
StoryShot #6: Pre-Plan Weekend Activities
“You need to hit Monday ready to go… To do that, you need weekends that rejuvenate you, rather than exhaust or disappoint you.”— Laura Vanderkam
Weekends are the perfect time to recharge your mental and physical batteries. But, it is too easy to let the weekend pass you by. For example, it is not uncommon for Monday to catch up with you before you have had a chance to relax. You end up being more tired on Monday than you were after work on Friday. To overcome this issue, you need to plan. Instead of spontaneously deciding what you will do on Saturday morning, you should create a list of 3-5 anchor activities for the day. You should plan these a few days in advance. Planning these activities will keep you on track so you don’t end up wasting your weekend.
The problem with ‘doing nothing’ on weekends is that the digital era doesn’t allow this. If you do not introduce anchor activities, you will likely watch TV, browse the internet, or check your social media. These low-key activities can be draining but are unproductive.
This doesn’t mean you need to fill every minute of your weekend with activities. Instead, having a few anchor activities will help keep you on track, while also allowing for a refresh. These anchor activities should consist of some out-of-the-ordinary activities. These exciting activities will help instill a sense of anticipation during the week. You can use this anticipation as motivational energy. Use it to keep you on track with your ideal morning routines.
Write a List of Actionable Dreams and Embrace Spontaneity
The weekend should include activities you wouldn’t do on the other five days of the week. One way to identify some of these activities is to produce a list of your top one hundred dreams. The length of this list is essential. Your top 5-10 dreams are likely to be extravagant ones that you might only experience once in a lifetime. These dreams are important, but it is not viable to travel to Australia every weekend. Writing an extensive list of dreams will ensure you include things you can do on the weekend. For example, you might dream of having a picnic on your local hill while the sun is setting. This dream is something you could easily plan for a Saturday evening.
You should also encourage your partner or family members to write down their dreams. Some of your dreams will likely overlap. These overlaps can help you coordinate incredible weekends for many family members. As stated before, you should not create plans to fill every second. Instead, make open and straightforward plans and let spontaneity take over.
Weekends Are for Rejuvenation
As well as being a time when you can pursue dreams, weekends are also a time for rejuvenation. If you feel like you need some rest, then you should plan this into your weekend. It might be challenging to plan relaxation in a busy household. You have to explain to your children that your rest is essential for you. Planning your rest can help you fit it in. It also allows you to warn other family members that you will be spending this time resting. One way to ensure you get your restful activity is to plan for the other family members. For example, you could schedule your children’s weekend screen time for when you are taking a nap.
StoryShot #7: Keep Track of How You Spend Your Time at Work
People tend to overestimate the time they spend doing things they don’t like. In comparison, they underestimate the time they spend doing things they do like. Hence, people often claim they have worked a 60-hour week when they have only worked 40 hours. You should keep a log of all the time you have spent working, tidying, and completing other tasks. Creating a spreadsheet or using one of the many relevant apps can help. Tracking your working time can help you identify areas where you can be more efficient. You can then reduce your time spent doing things you do not enjoy. Plus, tracking your time can help you plan your next working week.
Michael Soenen is the mind behind EmergencyLink. EmergencyLink is a website that stores personal information, such as your medical history. This website is a tool for emergency first responders. Michael spends his Sunday afternoons identifying the company’s priorities for the coming weeks. Every one of his employees knows what they need to do on their Monday morning. Subsequently, they can use their time far more effectively. You should pencil some planning time into your weekly calendar. Planning work into your week will improve your efficiency and reduce the likelihood of working late.
StoryShot #8: Plan for Success
Laying the groundwork for success relies on carefully choosing your priorities for the day ahead. You should aim to do this every day. You should set up an accountability system that won’t let you down.
Setting yourself challenging goals can be useful, but setting the bar too high will generally mean you fall short. Additionally, you can’t achieve these lofty goals daily. Instead, you should aim to hit targets every day. Adopting this approach allows you to reach your goals.
American fitness entrepreneur, Chalene Johnson, is someone who had high goals but planned attainable daily targets. For example, Chalene aimed to arrange a teleconference with her CEO to talk about marketing one day. The next day, she set up a meeting with a project partner to discuss strategy. She did not cram several important goals into one day. She then sold two of her businesses to the fitness company Beachbody and became one of their consultants.
To obtain your goals, it is vital to develop accountability. You should find someone who shares your goals and can check in to let you know whether you have met your targets. This is your ‘accountability partner.’
Finally, cut out tasks that feel like work but don’t achieve anything. Cutting out these tasks will remove distractions from your most significant tasks.
Success in the Workplace Relies on Specific Practices
“Successful people know that small things done repeatedly have great power.”— Laura Vanderkam
Five common truths are essential for success:
- Deliberate practice makes perfect.
- Seek constructive criticism.
- Keep a deposit of career capital for future opportunities. Career capital is everything you have earned during your work life. This includes experience, networks, skills, and professional personality. You can use this capital to ask for things like promotions.
- Nurture your relationships and establish trust.
- Happiness leads to professional breakthroughs. Be more attentive to signs of success so that you can be happier.
Final Summary and Review of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast
Having it all feels like an impossible goal for most, but this book aims to prove that it can be done. Working parents, in particular, can establish a happy work-life balance that ensures they are successful and fulfilled in all areas of their lives, simply by waking up a little earlier.
The idea is that the extra time you set aside in the morning can be used for those things that you never seem to get done. You can use it to achieve a personal goal or set up for the morning so that you can enjoy a relaxed breakfast with your family before the chaos of the day. Perhaps you’d like to use the time to answer emails so that your workday can be more productive without a backlog of communication.
The key is to set up a solid morning routine during the week, while maximizing your time on the weekend so that it is not wasted. The advice in this book is great for anyone who wants to bring balance to their day or feels as though they run out of time for all their important tasks each day.
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We rate this book 4.2/5.