One of the most popular business-related listicles is to ask CEOs and top business leaders how they spend their mornings, as if there is some mythical blueprint they follow to ensure commercial success.
While it is true that many business leaders do wake up between four and five in the morning, there is no one formula. For example, while Disney CEO Bob Iger is out of bed at 4.30am, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti doesn’t even wake up until 8.30am.
That said, there are definitely patterns and identifiers that link many business leaders. I rise each day between 4.30am and 5.00am, even on weekends (I am a dreadful sleeper) and make sure I spend my first hour awake working on my ‘lists’.
These ‘lists’ are semi-meditation and semi-goal orientated, and the ritual allows me to focus and reflect on my week and what I will ensure happens that day. I also ignore any advice to not check emails the moment you wake up; I check them all, including anything that comes in from my US-based operations, as well as the news so that I can prepare for my day.
I also don’t eat breakfast, and only consume coffee until about 1pm. While the no-breakfast element isn’t a great part of my routine, I have found that by setting and adhering to disciplined morning rituals, I have a stronger start to my day, the outcomes I facilitate and, importantly, the way I deal with the media and my staff.
While it is interesting to me how the Elon Musks of the world spend their mornings, I am more interested in the habits of those who tangibly interact with me or my company, and who lead their own successful businesses. I watch each day how they build, how they overcome challenges, and how they ensure their companies are evolving in what are often complex and challenging markets. Fashion icon Carla Zampatti once told me that she swims every day, and following that insight, I spoke to a few other business leaders in my world to find out their rituals.
Gary Cohen, CEO, Invigor Group
“These days, I go for a one-hour walk with my two dogs. Some mornings I do play golf (once a week) and I try to make sure I do stretching exercises. I generally use my walk to listen to either a podcast or a book, and that helps clear my mind. If I have a major issue going on, I use the walk to think about it. It allows me to think about different ways and combinations to deal with the issue, and to analyse it without interruption.”
Andrew Everingham, CEO, CAPITAL-e
“What I love about my mornings is that each one is different. Actually what I love most about waking up is that it happens at all, because the alternative is not so flash. My mornings are completely dictated by the calling of each day, so that can vary from an irregular gym workout or a 5am creative session in the office, to a relaxed breakfast with the family and a leisurely meander to work. When on the road for events, mornings often come way too soon, at the end of a fitful sleep. My regime is really no regime at all, but that keeps it fun, which is really what it needs to be about.”
Mike Zeederberg, CEO, Zuni
“I am not really a morning person, and I often wake up 15 minutes before having to leave the house. However, a ritual I follow is that I often go to a coffee shop and I don’t speak to anyone for about two hours. I spend that time away from the office, working on things that are important but not urgent, so I can be smart about it. The reason I often spend my morning in a coffee shop and not in my office is so I have a space with no interruptions, and can truly focus and plan my day ahead.”
Philip Barclay, Director, Northquest
“I train three mornings a week with a personal trainer, and one day a week doing Pilates. I also make sure I spend time doing meditation each morning. I have found this puts me in the right mindset to start my day, negotiate the right details and strategise effectively. I have found that by keeping to my ritual of exercising each day and focusing on meditation I have a better clarity of mind. I feel a huge difference in my energy levels when I don’t spend my mornings that way, and can feel it when it comes to scheduling, negotiations and even presenting.”
Chris Petersen, CEO, Asset.Guru
“The main thing I do every morning is clear the email from overnight. I live near the beach and my favourite thing to do is go for a run along the sand. In the summer I might swim, but I always use that time to clear my mind. I also make sure I always have a good breakfast. I have actually found that spending my mornings swimming, running and generally being in nature turns out to be the best way to find business!”
Philippa Lewis, CEO, Elementum Australia
“I start the morning usually doing some exercise or meditation, sometimes guided sometimes not. This helps me take time out before the day starts to contemplate the priorities, think through the things I may be worried about and also do some planning. It helps me be a little bit creative too, as I don’t have the restrictions of people and the four walls of the office. As a rule I always like to check all my communications. I think if you are a leader you have to accept the fact that there is a broad platform of communication that you either need to be aware of or you actually are directly engaged to; it can be anything from social media to the news. I like to do that early as it actually calibrates my morning and how I spend the rest of my day. By the time I hit the office I always walk around to say hello to everyone, and will target people for a ‘real’ chat about their weekend, work or worries. I also sit with my team and run through anything that needs my input or is a priority, so the people around me have authority and confidence to pursue their daily grind. I do that so they know what I am working on that day, too. That circle of two-way communication is really crucial to facing day-to-day challenges as a company."