6 Things the Most Successful Business Owners Do First Thing in the Morning

Allie Johnson

As a small business owner, you want to be productive, but you just have so much to do it’s hard to plan for when to do what. Front loading your day with the most important activities on your to-do list can have a huge impact on your small business and your effectiveness as a leader.  Here are six activities you can do at the start of your day to improve your life as a small business owner:

1. Scan your email quickly–but don’t get sucked in. 

Some productivity experts urge you to avoid checking your email first thing in the morning.

But, for many small business owners, that advice isn’t realistic. So, how do you avoid getting sucked into your inbox for the best two or three hours of your day?

Julian Barkat, principal and co-founder of Egg to Apples, a marketing and e-commerce agency near Philadelphia, recommends using filters and folders so lower priority emails don’t go to your main inbox. Each morning, take two minutes to scan your inbox for important emails that require immediate attention, then schedule a block of time later in the day to respond to less urgent messages.

For example, Barkat responds immediately to client emails, then waits to answer sales inquiries from vendors. “There’s a lot of stuff I want to give attention to, but it’s not going to impact our business mission,” he says.

If you skip checking your email until later in the day, you might be less able to focus because you’re wondering what’s in your inbox, writes management consultant Dorie Clark, who contends that when business people ignore emails, “it often gnaws at their consciousness.”

If you’re ready to invest a little more time into boosting your personal productivity, get our free eBook: 21 Days to Be a More Productive Business Owner Without Losing Sleep or Sanity today. 

2. Get your blood pumping.

If you exercise in the morning, you’re more likely to fit physical activity into your day. In fact, one study found that the tasks you do during the workday can zap your willpower, making you less motivated to get to the gym later in the day.

But the good news is that you don’t need to squeeze in a long, strenuous exercise session before work. Just 20 minutes of jogging on a treadmill or a 45-minute brisk walk can reduce your anxiety and boost your “executive functions” like decision-making, problem-solving and planning, according to Josh Davis, director of research and lead professor for the NeuroLeadership Institute.

Even better news: these exercise benefits kick in pretty much instantly.

A short burst of exercise in the morning is key for Barkat, who rides his bike just a little over a mile to work each day. During the five- or six-minute ride, he pedals hard to up his heart rate, he says. The ride gives him time to decompress and also increases his energy levels. “Biking to work has had a big impact on how I tackle the day,” he says.

3. Fuel up your body.

Your mom always told you not to skip breakfast, and she was right. It turns out what you eat actually affects your productivity.

That’s because food gives your brain the energy you need to stay on task. Stick with foods that allow for a slow, steady stream of glucose to enter your body.

In the morning, Barkat drinks kombucha and water and eats a big bowl of berries with coconut milk on top for healthy fat, he says. Eating whole, unprocessed foods helps keep him focused at work. “My energy levels stay steady all day long,” he says.

4. Follow Mark Twain’s advice.

Every small business owner should heed Mark Twain’s famous advice to eat a live frog first thing in the morning.

Checking a dreaded item off your to-do list gives you a lift and a feeling of accomplishment that carries you through the rest of the day. And, it prevents a dreaded to-do from taking up mental space, stressing you out all day and even keeping you up at night later.

The eat-a-frog technique helped Michael McDevitt, founder and CEO of Tandem Legal Group, become much more productive in running his business and law advisory firm. Before he discovered the technique, some onerous task always kept getting moved “from one day’s to-do-list to the next.”

To make sure you actually accomplish the distasteful task each day, he recommends using the IRS (Identify-Rank-Schedule) method.

To do this, simply read your to-do list aloud, rank the item that makes you feel worst as No. 1, then block off time in your daily schedule to focus only on that task. McDevitt’s advice: “You have to eat the frog or the frog will eat your whole life.”

5. Take some morning “me” time.

Many successful small business owners swear by morning rituals. For example, Christie Summervill, owner of BalancedComp, a consulting firm with nine employees that serves credit unions and banks, says she listens to a spiritual audio book during her morning commute.

“I need to fill my cup each morning, because I know as soon as I get into the office, I’m going to start giving to others,” she explains.

Her listening material helps to calm her, put life in perspective and give her confidence to face the challenges of the day, she says. “I know as soon as I get into office I’m going to get hit with product development decisions, marketing decisions and meetings.”

“I’m much more in the saddle if I make sure I get my personal needs met first.”

And Barkat also counts on a quick morning ritual to set the tone for his day. When Barkat gets to the office, he puts some peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree oils into an aromatherapy diffuser. That “creates a Zen-like atmosphere” in his office, he says. And Tim Ferris, author of “The 4-Hour Work Week,” starts the day by making the bed, drinking tea and journaling.

His theory: a morning ritual helps you “win the day.”

6. If you must meet, don’t sit.

Meetings can be a drag and a big time suck, but you need to touch base with your employees. So, consider quick stand-up meetings or walking meetings.

Walking is not only a healthy way to take a break from sitting, but it can make you and your employees more creative. In fact, walking can increase your creative output by 60 percent, according to research from Stanford University.

When Summervill gets to the office each morning, she makes the rounds, quickly stopping at each employee’s desk. “I check in with everyone, and not because I’m a social butterfly,” she says. In each two- or three-minute meeting, she asks the employee if they are facing any obstacles, need advice on anything or if are waiting for information needed to make progress on a task. These mini meetings help get her employees off to a good start, and they prevent interruptions from employees knocking on her office door with questions. “I can sit down and move on with my day quickly,” she says.

Following these tips should get your day off to a bright start. To get more innovative tips and business advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for the Small Biz Ahead weekly newsletter.

32 Responses to "6 Things the Most Successful Business Owners Do First Thing in the Morning"

    • Web host | November 29, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      Most hot to be successful articles really stink. I actually really liked this one because it’s short consise and each thing was specific. I mean the whole see it and it will happen, or read books and you’ll be rich type stuff is done. On with real world actions! I’ll share the hell out of this 😉 btw loved the Mark Twain reference, spot on.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 14, 2016 at 9:55 pm

        Mark Twain is the man.

    • Eric Roth | December 8, 2016 at 6:16 pm

      Thank you for sharing these simple, sane suggestions! As somebody who often forgets to eat breakfast, sits down too much, and loses too much time on email, I appreciated the gentle rebukes and reminders that even entrepreneurs have bodies that need fuel and self-care matters.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 14, 2016 at 9:55 pm

        I like the tip about checking email but not getting sucked in. That’s a tough one.

    • Kerri | December 9, 2016 at 2:08 am

      Loved this. Quick. To the point and really helpful!

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm

        Glad you liked it, Kerri.

    • Becky | December 13, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      I agree. This was quite helpful!

    • Becky | December 13, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      This was very helpful! Thank you!

    • Melissa | December 13, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      I think I was sucked in by this e-mail… 🙂

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 14, 2016 at 9:52 pm

        🙂

    • Ann | December 20, 2016 at 7:10 am

      Excellent, to the point, and very helpful.

    • Alfred Kittrell | March 28, 2017 at 2:14 am

      Exercise is one of the best ways to get your day started, once you’re finished, eat a good breakfast and that will help get you through the day.

    • randy heller | March 28, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Love this. Thank you!

    • John | March 28, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      I have been in this business for 24 years and about 22 years ago I went to a company meeting that they taught this same theory, “Eat the Biggest Frog First”. Basically take care of the task you dread the most first thing and the rest of your day will be better, good message.

    • Hoda Berbari | March 28, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      Very practical and concise which makes it easy for any person from all levels to apply and benefit.

    • Bridget | March 28, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Loooooved it! Every tip was a good one!

    • Warren Kraemer | March 29, 2017 at 2:31 am

      Amazing tips– especially about the live frog. Can’t say I don’t do this already though

    • Wendy | May 25, 2017 at 8:49 am

      Loved this doing some of these things and believe this will help me tremendously
      Thank you

    • Jenny Moloney | December 29, 2017 at 7:24 am

      this was really fabulous! thank you!

    • Gigi rosenberger | August 28, 2018 at 9:54 pm

      Going to take action tomorrow

    • Sandra Bird Aldridge | August 29, 2018 at 6:49 am

      Your concise and easy to implement tips are still just as spot-on as when you originally wrote this article 2 years ago, and I really needed the reminder this week. I did get sucked in by the email that linked me to it as soon as I woke up this morning 😎, but I’m glad I did!

    • Yvonne | August 29, 2018 at 8:42 am

      Ironically, this was a link in my inbox, I have now spent about 20 minutes reading and responding (got sucked in, lol) but, at the end of the day it was an investment in my future mornings! Thank you for very solid advice!

    • JOEL Howard | August 29, 2018 at 9:14 am

      I like the spiritual , alone time on my deck before work , listening to the world and creating a positive vibe in my own life before I confront others . Yes , work is part of life, but without creating peace and appreciation for another day first or just waking up to all these task. Thinking about the sick, family , children , and how to help others is so important to a positive day. Laugh often , make a new friend , and ask a co worker about their life first . As Barbara Bush said , “there is always a bigger co tract , sale , new deal to close , Family is the biggest deal of all

    • Taryn Rabin | August 29, 2018 at 9:15 am

      I don’t know how it took this long for the email to travel to me, but I’m grateful for its arrival! The IRS tool is being implemented as we speak! Er, write! 🙂

    • Mylinda Weeks | August 29, 2018 at 9:37 am

      I did get “sucked in” by this email while scanning my inbox first thing. But … before reading the article I did accomplish several tasks including an “Eat the Frog” one. Reading the article was a great affirmation that my day was off to a great start. Thanks Emily!

    • Larry Wenger | August 29, 2018 at 12:03 pm

      It’s not meetings themselves that are the problem. Could be that when we are with others we are at our most creative and productive selves. Time spent alone at our desk could be the most wasteful. The problem is that most of our meetings are not sufficiently structured to get anything done. Walking/standing is a good start. LarryW

    • Pam | August 29, 2018 at 2:51 pm

      Being small business owner, this will be a life saver. Glad I checked in. Looking forward to your mail every day. Thanks!!

      • Small Biz Ahead | August 30, 2018 at 11:16 am

        Thanks for the feedback! Happy you found this article valuable.

    • Lyons Steamin & Cleanin | August 30, 2018 at 8:41 am

      thanks good solid advice needed that for sure!!

    • Mary Martin | August 31, 2018 at 5:02 pm

      Have heard some of these tips before, but it was a great refresher; others were new. Van’t wait to get started.

      • Hannah Sullivan | September 4, 2018 at 8:04 am

        Hi Mary, thanks for your feedback. We’re happy you found these helpful!

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