Secrets of Success

Steal the morning habits of the world's most successful people

Laura Vanderkam has made an entire career out of asking successful people their secrets, so when it comes to getting a good start to the day, we wanted to know: What goes into a winning morning routine?

Vanderkam, the author of "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast," shares what she's learned:

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Trying to improve your morning routine? Think twice about hitting the snooze button.

What have you learned about mornings from interviewing such successful people?

That the thing with mornings is that it's a great time for getting stuff done. If there is something that people want to put in their busy lives and they don't know where to put it, morning is a good place to look. It's time you have for yourself until everyone else's priorities invade. It's also the time when you have the most focus and willpower.

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Why is a morning routine important for success?

Because it helps us start the day right. And what we do in the morning does affect how we view the rest of the day. You can feel like you scored a major win by breakfast, or you can feel like you're constantly playing catch-up. But you set that tone.

Most of us don't really think much about brushing our teeth in the morning — it's just kind of what you do — and the result is that you have good teeth. Wouldn't it be great if other things became just as routine, whether it's giving your spouse a big hug and kiss every morning or maybe spending a few minutes writing down things you're grateful for in your journal?

What are some of the most bizarre morning routines you've heard?

Certainly, some people are very intense in their exercise. For me, what sounds crazy is waking up at 4:30 in the morning to do something! I also once interviewed someone who woke up at 3:30 in the morning to basically have a date with her husband. He started work at 6:00 a.m. and had to leave around 5:00 a.m. so they decided to start getting up early and spending time together. It sounds incredibly bizarre to most of us, but it worked for them. I think that's the key thing — it may be crazy, but if it's important to you, you make it happen.

Courtesy of Yana Shellman
Laura Vanderkam, author of 'What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,' shares her morning routine secrets.

A big morning mistake is...

That people hit snooze. The snooze button is just a disaster. If you think about it, it's a battle with yourself. Given that we have a limited supply of willpower in the day, burning it up over what time you'll get out of bed is a waste.

People tell me they're not morning people and it's probably not true. The problem is they're going to bed too late. But if you look at how most people spend the hour or so before bed, it's not necessarily the world's most meaningful or enjoyable hour of the day. A lot of us are puttering around the house, or watching more TV than we intended to, or surfing the web. You can turn those unproductive evening hours into productive morning hours by getting out of bed earlier.

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What's your morning routine like?

There are different seasons of life, and I have four small children, including an 8-month old baby. So, first thing: He wakes up and I feed him. I try to get the kids down at the breakfast table so we can have a little chit-chat before the day begins. The nanny comes at 8 and that's when I start work. I try to start the day with some quick hit win — something I can quickly crank out, or something I'm excited about doing. So I can start the day on a high note.

Is there anything that can throw off your day if it's not part of your morning routine?

No. For a lot of people, it's exercise. Actually — if I didn't have my coffee, I would have a headache for the whole day.

I think morning routines are great and suggest people try to have them, but you can't necessarily control every day. Routines are fluid. And tomorrow is always another day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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