In many homes, mornings are chaotic. There is hustle and bustle as members of the household arise, gather their tools and equipment, and steel their minds for the day ahead.
Many entrepreneurs behave like other adults in the hours before their day officially begins: They rise, get dressed, read the paper or scan social media, glance at their emails, check their schedule, eat some breakfast or enjoy a cup of coffee, and then they head out to start their day.
And these entrepreneurs often enjoy great success. But, when you look at the most successful entrepreneurs, their morning routines are somewhat different.
They don’t just rush out the door each morning. Before starting work, they invest time in activities likely to help them be more productive, happier, and more energized, says Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Many entrepreneurs find they have the most control over their schedule in the morning, so setting aside time for these activities early in the day makes it easier to make them into habits that will last.
However, we respect that not every entrepreneur is a morning person. Patterns of behavior that lead to genuine success can be implemented at any hour of the day or night—depending on when you work and focus best.
And also, it is perhaps highly unlikely that any single successful entrepreneur necessarily does all five of these things literally “before breakfast.”
With those two acknowledgements securely in place, here are five things the most successful entrepreneurs regularly do:
1. They exercise.
There is one activity that seems especially well suited to the morning hours. “It’s so important for people who have busy lives to take care of themselves,” says Vanderkam, and “the people who exercise in the morning are more consistent,” and there can be additional health benefits as well.
Joe Howard, head buff at WP Buffs, bikes to and from the office every day to fit in his exercise, he says. “It’s about a 30-minute ride through traffic, so it definitely gets my blood pumping. Riding helps me clear my mind and tackle any anxiety I’m feeling so that when I get to work, I’m ready to dig in.”
“Physical activity is a well-known energy booster,” says Vanderkam. “If you have more energy, you’re better able to focus on tough business issues, and to get your work done without feeling exhausted.” The better your level of fitness, the greater your stamina, and the higher your daily productivity, she concludes.
It’s also efficient, as engaging in exercise in the morning means that you only have to shower once, Vanderkam points out.
2. They spend time with family.
It’s hard to control exactly when you leave work, grants Vanderkam, so reconvening at the end of every day for dinner can often be difficult. What can you control? When you start work. A family breakfast is one way some entrepreneurs enjoy starting their day.
Breakfast doesn’t have to be the focus, however. Toshi Yamamoto, founder and CEO of ChatWork, and his wife take their kids to school together “to maximize the quality time we do have.”
Tony and Allison Liddle together own Prosper Wealth Management and, while they work in the same office, they don’t necessarily spend much time together during the work day, says Tony Liddle. “So every morning before the kids wake up and before we do anything else, is ‘us’ time. Just talking, drinking coffee, and enjoying each other’s presence,” he says.
“Starting a business can be stressful on a relationship,” says Vanderkam, which is why spending time with your spouse and/or children helps you stay connected and close.
3. They invest time networking.
Entrepreneurs often get so caught up in crises during the day that they can’t make time to connect with employees, colleagues, clients, or mentors. And if you can’t control what time you leave the office at the end of the day, it’s going to be tough to make it to networking happy hours or dinners, says Vanderkam.
But breakfast is often a powerful alternative. “Few people are booked for breakfast meetings,” she says, so it’s an easier time to connect with those people with whom you’d like to build a relationship.
4. They spend time on creative work.
According to Vanderkam, creativity isn’t a trait. “People aren’t ‘creative’ or ‘not creative.'” Creativity is a skill you can build that helps you generate more innovative and effective solutions in your business. “Exercise that part of your brain in a morning routine, and you may find yourself having better and more creative business ideas, too. ” Creative exercises could include painting, journaling, playing an instrument, or working on a pet project.
Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal, says that he plays the piano first thing in the morning. “Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices, so it gets my mental capacity going. It’s like a mental full-body workout,” he says. Music instruction and participation has a positive impact on language, IQ and test scores, and spatial intelligence, which helps develop problem-solving skills.
Lindsey Handley, Ph.D., chief operating officer of ThoughtSTEM, uses her mornings for fun work. “Every morning after I wake up, I head to Starbucks with my laptop to work on fun side projects that help me grow as an entrepreneur,” says Handley.
One such project is an in-browser video game inspired by games she played in her childhood. Although such projects are for pleasure, says Handley, they also serve a purpose. She explains, “I do not have a formal computer science degree and have been learning coding over the past several years through morning projects like this one.”
5. They ponder the big picture.
The quiet of the morning can be a great time to engage in big picture thinking. That includes considering, “Where do you want to be and how will you get there,” says Vanderkam.
Lisa Chu, owner of Black N Bianco Kids Apparel, uses her mornings to brainstorm and plan. “Without any interruptions and [by] disconnecting from technology, I can focus on using my creativity to enhance my business. I come up with the most beneficial business strategies during the morning hours, when my brain is fresh and full of creative ideas,” says Chu.
Lorna Johnson, MSN, NM, NP, founding partner of Advanced Family Care Medical Group, has found that mentally stimulating activities like Bikram yoga or a walk can help her big picture think. “Some days, big picture thinking leads to action and trumps exercise,” in terms of benefiting her well-being, she says.
Whatever time of day you choose, try for yourself one—or more—of these five things that very successful entrepreneurs do to start their day. Vanderkam suggests that you’ll find these activities take less time than you might expect. “You can get a lot of fitness and mental health benefits in 30 minutes or less,” she says.
“Starting [and running] a business is stressful, and one of the ways to make it sustainable is to take care of yourself,” says Vanderkam. This includes engaging in activities early in the workday that will both energize and focus you, making you better able to move your business forward instead of being in a reactive mode all day.