I Tried Five Morning Routines So You Don't Have To. Here's What Works.

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Caroline Forsey
Caroline Forsey



I’m not a morning person.

man doing yoga during morning routine

My morning consists of waking up as late as possible and feeling personally victimized by my alarm clock. And no matter how many times I wake up to my alarm, my first thought is always, “Why are you doing this to me?!”

It has caused a love-hate relationship between my phone and myself.

Disgruntled, I then scroll through my Instagram feed. Did I say, “As late as possible”? I should mention I give myself ten minutes to get out of bed.Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your  productivity at work.

Here are (a few) things I do NOT do in the morning:

  • Work out
  • Make a to-do list
  • Meditate
  • Visit my personal trainer
  • Hang out in my home gym
  • Address critical emails
  • Read all the tech industry headlines
  • Call family members
  • Say goodbye to my kids

Maybe that's why I am not a widely famous life coach, rich entrepreneur, CEO or founder of any major corporations, creator of any mega-popular social media channels, or author of any best-sellers.

And that's also why, for five days, I decided to try the morning routines of five highly successful people: Elon Musk, Gary Vaynerchuk, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey, and Tony Robbins.

At the end of it, did I actually become more productive? You’ll just have to read to find out. 

1. Elon Musk

The famous figure behind Tesla and SpaceX gets six hours of sleep, typically waking up at 7:00 a.m. From there, his routine looks roughly like this:

  • Addresses critical emails for 30 minutes
  • Drinks coffee -- but is too busy for breakfast
  • Sends kids off to school
  • Showers and goes to work

To prepare for my Elon Musk morning, I stayed awake until midnight to ensure accuracy. He doesn’t get more than 6 hours of sleep, so neither could I.

That meant my “address critical emails” time was partially cut short -- in my half-asleep state, I flung my cell phone behind my bed and needed to take some time to move the bed to retrieve it. How Musk runs two multi-billion dollar companies on six hours of sleep is beyond me.

I soon realized I had another problem with the address critical email activity. As you might imagine, being a marketing blogger doesn’t require quite as many critical back-and-forth emails as being founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. So, I refreshed my email and replied to the six emails in my inbox, which took about seven minutes -- leaving me with 23 minutes to spare.

I’ll admit that I didn’t love starting my morning with emails. I wasn’t fully awake, so I can only hope my responses resembled something coherent. Plus, by the time I got to work, I had to re-read the emails because I forgot what they said.

But I understand why Musk does it. Emailing can put you in a task-oriented mindset: “Okay, here are the things I need to tackle first when I get to the office.”

Showering is something I also do every morning -- and likely the only thing Musk and I have in common. I didn't have any kids to say goodbye to. And while I respect that he only drinks coffee in the mornings (with only six hours of sleep, I needed it, too), by the time I got to work at 8:45, I was starving.

So, although Musk skips breakfast, I allowed myself a banana. After all that hard work responding to critical emails -- not to mention, moving my bed frame -- I figured I deserved it.

2. Gary Vaynerchuk

This entrepreneur, author, and speaker wakes up at 6 a.m., and begins his morning with these tasks:

  • Reads Techmeme headlines, Business Insider, and ESPN, among others
  • Checks out Twitter and Instagram
  • Works out with his personal trainer, "Muscle Mike," for 45 minutes to an hour
  • Calls a family member

How Vaynerchuk -- better known to some as "Gary Vee" -- devours this much information and actually retains it at 6 a.m. is nothing short of miraculous.

But I made a list of these links in my Notes app the night before, and at 6:01, I opened Techmeme and read the headlines. I then made my way through Business Insider, ESPN -- which I barely skimmed, since I don’t understand sports at any time of day -- Twitter, and Instagram.

It felt like a ton of information to devour before getting out of bed.

While reading these articles in their entirety wasn't entirely feasible due to time restrictions, checking out “what’s going on” in one's industry in the morning seems like a good idea. The article headlines inspired me to jot down some new ideas before I even reached the office.

I don’t have a personal trainer, but I do have Shaun from the T25 “high-intensity” workout DVDs. I figured that was close enough. And I’ll admit: It felt really good to get the workout over with. I was energized and refreshed by 7 a.m. and didn’t have to worry about fitting in a workout after work.

That said, it’s also really hard to do a high-intensity workout without any breakfast. So buyer beware: You might feel like passing out.

After that, Gary calls a family member on his way to work. I called my brother and spoke to him for exactly 47 seconds, mostly about why I was calling him that early and thought it was okay to wake him up.

3. Jack Dorsey

The founder/CEO of both Twitter and Square wakes up at 5:30 a.m., followed by meditation and a six-mile run.

After checking emails during my Elon Musk morning and devouring news outlets during my Gary Vee experience, I was enthusiastic to meditate during Jack Dorsey’s morning. Granted, I was less thrilled to run six miles -- but we'll get to that later.

I’m a meditation rookie, so I downloaded a meditation app called Simple Habit. I didn’t think I could do real meditation if I tried to do it on my own -- in fact, I’d probably just fall asleep.

The Simple Habit app starts you off slowly. My first lesson was only seven minutes long, mainly focused on my breathing. Admittedly, at 5:30 a.m., staying awake was the biggest obstacle -- which I actually managed to accomplish.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed meditating that early. It was easier for me to focus first thing, before my thoughts had the chance to ramp up. Plus, the research behind meditation has indicated numerous benefits to the well-being of employees -- things like creativity, focus, decision-making, stress-reduction, and more.

Of course, then I had to get up off my meditation floor and run. Keep in mind that I’ve taken about five months off of running outdoors, because Boston winters are, in a word, brutal. Dorsey lives in San Francisco, so I believed it would be unrealistic to re-enact this part of his morning. Oh, shucks.

screenshot of weather app

But then, I did some research and found that Dorsey’s average morning weather in San Francisco is about 40 degrees -- which, on this particular morning, was actually colder than Boston's. So, I got out the running gear. It wasn’t easy, and about three miles in, I took a full-mile walking break upon the impression that my frozen lungs had collapsed.

But I did it. It took me about an hour -- so I’m not sure I can make it a standard part of my morning routine.

Six miles seems like a lot, but I see the appeal. Meditation and running can encourage you to start your day in a healthy mindset. Meditation reminded me to stay present and focused throughout the day, and running got my endorphins and energy going. And, once again, I got my workout out of the way -- which meant I could spend my evening relaxing.

4. Sheryl Sandberg

The author and Facebook COO wakes up early, in order to get to the office by 7 a.m. Before then, she manages to:

  • Spend an hour responding to emails
  • Work out in home gym
  • Drop her kids off at school

Once again, I ran into the same predicament I had with Musk’s morning. I have about four emails first thing in the morning, and Sandberg has an hour’s worth.

So I took my time responding to those four emails, then scrolled Facebook for a bit, and -- in a nod to my Gary-Vaynerchuk-day -- read some headlines, and checked Instagram and Twitter.

I missed my Dorsey-meditation-morning.

Unfornately, I don’t own a home gym -- but I do own a yoga mat, the aforementioned T25 DVDs, and my very own state-of-the-art staircase. My home-gym exercise consisted of me completing one of those DVD workouts, followed by 10 laps up and down my stairs, topped off with a dash of yoga. And when I think about it, Sandberg’s home workout might not be so different.

Silicon Valley executives: They're just like us.

I don’t have any kids to drop off at school, but after the investment in creating my make-shift home gym, that might be a good thing  -- I wouldn’t have had the time anyway.

5. Tony Robbins

This motivational speaker gets three-to-five hours of sleep, waking up between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. After that, he:

  • Performs a breathing exercise
  • Expresses gratitude
  • Experiences connection
  • Visualizes success

I left this morning routine for Friday because it sounded -- well, the easiest, if you will. But admittedly, I didn't follow the three-to-five hours of sleep part. If I had, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now, and would probably be sleeping in HubSpot's nap room instead.

Robbins curated his own personalized morning routine, which he calls "priming," and is supposed to bring you into a positive and energetic mindset at the beginning of each day.

First, there’s a breathing exercise, more accurately known as Kapalbhati Pranayama. Robbins sits up straight, closes his eyes, and inhales through his nose as he simultaneously lifts his arms -- think of the way you'd do that during a shoulder press.

Then, as he exhales through his nose, he brings his arms back to his body, palms up. He does three sets of thirty, with short breaks in-between.

Truth time: I felt ridiculous doing this on my bedroom floor first thing in the morning.

The breathing was nice, but without my meditation guru -- a.k.a., my Simple Habit app -- my mind kept wandering. What should I eat for breakfast? How many reps is this? What time is it?

Next, Robbins spends three minutes thinking about what he’s grateful for -- roughly three items per minute. Three minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you only have three objects per minute, it kind of is.

My first minute went something like this: Okay, I’m grateful for my family … and, my health … and, hmm, I am grateful for clean drinking water.

I processed these thoughts for what seemed like an adequate amount of time, only to open my eyes and realize it had only been 20 seconds.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve thought of things to be grateful for, but it was the first time I’ve tried visualizing the list. And even though some items are tricky to visualize, it did make the exercise more genuine. At first, for example, I imagined the word “family”. But when I realized I needed to spend more time on it, I started visualizing specific relatives, and what it is about each one that I’m truly grateful for.

After finishing his gratitude exercise, Robbins moves onto an “experiencing connection” activity, in which he imagines a light flowing through his head, energizing him, and then imagines the light flowing back up through his head and outward to his loved ones and strangers.

This step is supposed to last three whole minutes. My light entered and exited my body in about 20 seconds, so I had to close my eyes and do it again. And while I appreciated the gesture, I’m not sure if this particular exercise is going to become a enduring part of my morning routine.

For the last three minutes, Robbins spends each minute on one goal and imagines how it will feel to accomplish that goal. For me, that one was easy.

Visualizing success is similar to prioritizing your day, which I noticed seems to be a theme throughout the morning routines of many famous, successful figures. After visualizing three big goals, I was able to organize my day better, by choosing tasks that immediately supported that goal.

In a way, it actually made my day less busy. I visualized high-level goals, then narrowed down my to-do list to ensure these goals were met first.

Long-Term Takeaways

What I'll Do Next

At the end of my five-day morning routine experiment, I considered going back to my ordinary routine. But there were some morning activities I actually enjoyed -- and therefore, some that I’m going to adopt.

First, I agree that working out, even a little bit, is a great way to start the day. But I also enjoy attending late-evening workout classes, so I’ve created a moderation schedule. On Monday and Friday mornings, I now do a T25 DVD or go for a run, inside on a treadmill, weather permitting. On the remaining weekdays, I plan lunchtime or after-work workouts, because let’s be real -- I have more time to do Barre classes than Gary Vee does.

I’ve fully adopted tiny increments of morning meditation. And although I haven’t gone full enlightenment, I found it’s easy to switch out my morning Spotify playlist for a seven-minute breathing exercise, which I can do on the train -- so I have no excuses.

I don’t like waking up and starting my day with emails or industry headlines, mostly because -- as previously stated -- I'm only half-conscious in the morning. I do think it’s a good idea to tackle these things early, but since I’m not Sheryl Sandberg, it can usually wait until I’m in the office.

And finally, I'm not going to continue visualizing any lights going through my head and into my soul -- sorry, Tony. But instead of a full ten minutes of Instagram in the morning, I’ve switched to seven minutes on Instagram and three minutes dedicated to gratitude.

I've done that primarily for two reasons. Not only do I have more time to visualize things I’m grateful for in my own life, but it also leaves less time to feel envious of other people’s "Insta-perfect" lives.

What Else I Learned

While they didn't get their own full sections in this article, I came across two other interesting takeaways in the course of my research. First, I learned that Mark Zuckerberg once said he dresses the same way each day, as it gives him “one less decision to make.”

Mark Zuckerberg has proven himself successful. No matter what he wears -- or what else people might say about him -- he can come into work and no one is going to think, “Wow, what a lazy slacker.”

On the first day I planned on wearing my Mark-inspired uniform -- a grey t-shirt and jeans -- I looked into the mirror and realized I looked like someone who had either overslept, or didn’t really care about her appearance. And I’m not the founder of any companies. So I changed, because this early in my career, appearance is still an indicator of effort.

But I like the premise behind Zuckerberg’s routine. Why am I wasting fifteen minutes deciding what to wear each morning? While I don't want to wear the same thing every day, I can choose my outfits the night before. 

The second thing I discovered is there are both good and bad times to drink coffee in the morning.

As it turns out, your body’s cortisol generally peaks between 8 and 9 a.m., which is when your body is naturally “caffeinating” itself. If you drink coffee during that window, you’re probably not getting the full effects of your cortisol -- or your coffee. Plus, your body builds up a higher tolerance to coffee during this time, because it’s thinking, “We don’t need any more of this.”

Now, I try not to drink coffee until 9:30 a.m., when my cortisol levels are dipping. So far, so good.

Give It a Try

And with that, it’s your turn. Try these morning routines for yourself, and see how successful you can become.

If you need a “cheat sheet” to get started, here are seven commonalities of successful people’s morning routines:

  1. Wake up early.
  2. Decide and review what to do for the day, and set goals.
  3. Work out.
  4. Have a healthy breakfast, or at least a smoothie. Whatever you do, don’t start with coffee.
  5. Maintain a journal or visualize how you’re grateful.
  6. Meditate.
  7. Tackle the day -- early on -- with emails and/or industry headlines.

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