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The day may have 24 hours of equivalent length but author Laura Vanderkam says not every hour is created equal. Drawing on her own research, surveys of executives, and the latest science on willpower for her forthcoming ebook What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Vanderkam argues that making smart use of the early morning is a practice most highly successful people share.
From former Pepsi CEO Steve Reinemund's 5 a.m. treadmill sessions, to author Gretchen Rubin's 6 a.m. writing hour, examples of highly accomplished folks who wring the most from their pre-breakfast hours abound in the book. What do they know that the average entrepreneur might not have realized yet?
"Seizing your mornings is the equivalent of that sound financial advice to pay yourself before you pay your bills. If you wait until the end of the month to save what you have left, there will be nothing left over. Likewise, if you wait until the end of the day to do meaningful but not urgent things like exercise, pray, read, ponder how to advance your career or grow your organization, or truly give your family your best, it probably won’t happen," Vanderkam writes. "If it has to happen, then it has to happen first," she says.
But what if you're a night owl by inclination and you go pale at the thought of setting the alarm for even five minutes earlier? Vanderkam explained to Inc.com that there is hope for nearly everyone.
"Around 10% to 20% of folks are confirmed night owls. Screwing up your schedule is not wise for these folks--and they may have to choose professions and ways of working and ways of dealing with their families accordingly. Everyone else is in the middle--and my thesis is that there are real advantages to training yourself toward the lark side," she said.
And luckily, you don't have to rely on sheer force of will to make the switch to earlier mornings (though some of that is, no doubt, required). In the book, Vanderkam lays out a five-step process to help you make the change with the minimum of pain:
Track your time: "Part of spending your time better is knowing exactly how you’re spending it now," writes Vanderkam, who recommends you, "write down what you're doing as often as you can and in as much detail as you think will be helpful," offering a downloadable spreadsheet to help.
Picture the perfect morning: "Ask yourself what a great morning would look like for you," suggests Vanderkam, who offers plenty of inspiration. Shawn Achor uses the early hours to write a note of appreciation. Manisha Thakor, a personal finance guru, goes in for transcendental meditation. Randeep Rekhi, who is employed full time at a financial services firm, manages his side business, an online wine store, before heading off to work.
Think through the logistics: "Map out a morning schedule. What would have to happen to make this schedule work? What time would you have to get up and (most important) what time do you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep?"
Build the habit: "This is the most important step," writes Vanderkam before explaining how to gradually shift your schedule, noting and rewarding small wins along the way.
Tune up as necessary: "Life changes. Rituals can change, too."