The morning routines of successful people

A healthy routine might be the key to success; here’s how Marie Kondo, Oprah, and Barack Obama do mornings

Photograph by Katelyn Perry

How you spend the first few hours of your morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. Routines inevitably lead to efficiency, since they remove the decision-making step, saving you time and energy. Some of the world’s most admired, creative, and successful people rely on their own morning routines to ensure their days are as productive and fruitful as can be. If you resist your morning wake-up call and hit snooze, you might take a tip or two from the routines below to create a better habit.

Seven morning routines to set your day up for success

1. Commit to a ritual

Light a candle, hug your partner, wash your face—whatever you do in the morning, make it a ritual that marks the start of a new day and a fresh start. American dancer Twyla Tharp is a big believer in rituals for both creativity and accountability. In her book The Creative Habit, she writes about her morning routine, which consists of waking up at 5:30 a.m., dressing for her workout, and then hailing a cab to go to the gym.

“The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual,” Tharp writes. “It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it—makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.”

Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, also has her own ritual. “When I get up, I open all the windows to let fresh air in and then burn incense,” she writes on her blog. “I strive to keep my home comfortable and filled with clear energy throughout the day, so starting my morning with these rituals keeps me on track.”

2. Clear your head

There are plenty of reasons to incorporate meditation into your morning: The practice can help control anxiety and stress, and it can also boost self-awareness and the ability to concentrate. It’s no wonder so many leaders have incorporated the art of mindfulness into their days. Jen Rubio, cofounder of Away, starts her day with meditation before she does a workout. Arianna Huffington, whose Thrive Global office is located in a headquarters by WeWork space in New York City, practices 20 to 30 minutes of mindfulness in the morning, and she does it deliberately before checking email or touching technology. And before his six-mile run, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey takes 30 minutes to meditate. 

3. Sweat

Vogue’s editor in chief Anna Wintour starts her morning with an hour-long tennis match, and it’s a very smart move. A study from the University of Bristol found that daily exercisers were more likely to have more energy and a more positive outlook compared to those who didn’t participate in a sweat session. Building exercise into your morning can earn you mental clarity that lasts throughout the day. “Exercise leads to the secretion of neurotransmitters that promote mental clarity and an improved attention span,” says exercise psychologist Jasmin Theard. “You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as well as rejuvenated and recharged.”

Former president Barack Obama made exercise part of his presidential schedule when he was in the White House, lifting weights and doing cardio before he made his way to the Oval Office. 

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, incorporates all kinds of movement into her mornings. Her exercise may include running, weight lifting, swimming, or cycling, which is always followed by a bath. “My bath time is essential personal time,” she tells CNBC. “I take a bath every morning, and use the time to decompress and relax. When I’m running outside on cold days in Chicago, I run faster on the return leg, thinking about my bath.”

4. Practice gratitude

This may come as a surprise, but after she burns incense in her home, Marie Kondo doesn’t get into a meticulous folding session. Instead, she practices gratitude. “I say a prayer of thanksgiving for my family and team members’ health, and I renew my resolve to do as much as I can that day,” she writes. Writing out her daily to-do’s only comes after this practice. 

Oprah’s morning routine also involves appreciation. After brushing her teeth and walking her dogs, she reads five cards from her 365 Gathered Truths box, according to Harper’s Bazaar. An item on her 2014 “Favorite Things” list, this box shares pieces of wisdom meant to inspire. “It’s a beautiful way to start the day,” Oprah told Bazaar. An example of a message you might pluck from the box? “Wealth is not measured by dollars and cents, but by the love we make, the laughter we enjoy, the meals we share, the dreams we experience, and the hopes we create.”

5. Rise with the sun (or even before it)

A 2008 study published in The Journal of General Psychology found that early risers tend to procrastinate less than night owls with a later alarm clock. It makes sense then that many successful people throughout history have identified as early birds: Apple CEO Tim Cook, for example, emerges from underneath the covers at 3:45 a.m. to go through email before his five o’clock appointment with the gym. Virgin Group founder and chairperson Richard Branson rises at a bit less of an ungodly hour—around 5 a.m.—to exercise and spend some time with his family. 

“I have always been an early riser,” he writes on a Virgin blog. “Over my 50 years in business, I have learned that if I rise early, I can achieve so much more in a day, and therefore in life.” Branson adds, “I find the period of quiet, before most of the world logs on, to be a great time to catch up on news and reply to emails. These early hours give me the opportunity to start each day with a fresh and organized slate.”

6. Read a book

Many people know that reading before bed can help calm the mind and prepare the body for sleep. What you hear less about are the benefits of adding reading to your morning routine. Rather than scrolling through social media in the morning, consider reading a book or an article instead. You get all the benefits of reading first thing in the morning. One study from the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of reading can reduce stress by up to 68 percent. There’s also a wealth of evidence that reading can boost cognitive activity in the brain, which is a great way to prime yourself for the challenges of the day. It’s no surprise that people like Bill Gates and Barack Obama start their days by reading.

7. Journal

The act of writing has surprising power. A study conducted in New Zealand found that people who dedicated 20 minutes daily to expressive writing three days in a row after a medically necessary biopsy healed faster than a control group. Why not start your day with journaling? Other studies have shown that the practice helps reduce stress and anxiety, improve job performance, and helps people process troubling experiences. It’s easy to see why people such as Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, and Arianna Huffington swear by this practice. 

This article was originally published on April 8, 2020, and has been updated throughout by the editors.

Kate Bratskeir is a writer focusing on sustainability and workplace psychology. Previously, she was a senior editor at Mic and HuffPost. Her work has appeared in New York, Health, Travel & Leisure, Women’s Health, and more.

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