The CEO Morning Routine: Starting Your Day Off Right

July 11, 2023 - Mark MacLeod

The CEO Morning Routine: Starting Your Day Off Right

I am a morning person. Always have been. Well, maybe not when I was a teenager…

Most people are sharpest in the mornings. If you are a night owl, this post is not for you. Otherwise, read on.

Recognizing that I am the sharpest in the morning, it is clear to me that the success of my day is really about the success of my morning. What happens before noon determines how my day goes. So, for me at least, getting a CEO morning routine right is the key to ‘win the morning’!

A CEO morning routine starts the night before

Sleep matters.

Winning the morning actually begins the night before. The amount and quality of sleep is a key determinant of how the next morning and next day will go.

Many of us overlook this. But sleep is probably the single most important factor of health. And the primary determinant of your performance. This is not a post on sleep. If you’re curious about sleep, I strongly recommend reading the book why we sleep. Assuming I have slept well, then I am ready to win the morning.

Take control and win the morning

I fully admit that there have been periods of my life where I was not really in full control of how my mornings went. This was particularly true when my kids were very young. We all go through these chapters or phases. It is important to be kind to ourselves, and acknowledge that this too shall pass.

This notion of not being in full control of our time is something far more pervasive than just applying to the period when we have young kids. It feels pretty universal these days. Many people are slaves to their inboxes and DMs. Stuck in meetings they don’t want to be in.  Taking control back and customizing your schedule around you is where to start when it comes to winning the morning.

Even when I ran my investment bank, I recognized how sacred the mornings were for me. As a banker, I was running multiple deals at a time. Imagine fundraising for four companies at a time instead of just your own company. That was my day-to-day reality.

It would have been so easy, and so tempting to let all of the craziness of those deals take control. To become a victim to the whims of those deals. To constantly be responding to the needs of those deals. Just living by whatever came into my inbox.

However, I took a very disciplined approach, and it served me well. I actually had no meetings in the mornings. The mornings were my sacred time. I worked out 4 to 5 times per week, even when I was on the road, which was often. Working out may seem like a luxury, and the times it did. But, like sleep, it is key to performance.

I found that on the days that I did not work out, my brain was less sharp. I was more prone to stress. I had less energy. In contrast, on the days I worked out, I felt great, my mind was clear, I was focused, more confident, and had more energy. For me, at least, working out, was part of my performance. More on this here.

The importance of morning focus blocks

I would roll into the office around 9:30 AM and isolate myself until lunchtime. That morning was my strategic time. I would review deal materials, think about deal strategy, and think about how to reach potential buyers and investors. It was a time for deep reflection and deep thinking. It was a large, focused, singular block of time for creative work.

The afternoon was, admittedly, a shit show. Call after call after call. Sometimes double booked. Nonstop. But this was fine and by design because I had already accomplished the most strategic things on my plate. The quadrant two things if you are a fan of the seven habits.

I take a similar approach now that I am a coach. Admittedly, I have much more time than I had in my prior rules. But it is even more important as a coach that I be open, present, inspired, and ready to serve my clients. So it is vital that I work on, and optimize myself, always.

These days, I am even more focused on sleep. When I wake up, I do a little personal yoga practice, reading, writing, reflecting, and connecting the dots. These are key activities for me. I do these in the morning, first thing. I still work out regularly. I try and schedule that after my creative work.

In the same way that as a banker, my afternoons were focused on calls, I try and schedule my client calls after I have done my creative and reflective work and after I have exercised, so that I am in the best possible place to meet them.

Key takeaways for CEO morning routines

These are just the morning routines that work for me. They will likely not be optimized for you. But the takeaways for successful CEO morning routines are universal:

Get at least 7 hours of quality sleep.

Move your body regularly and vigorously

Prioritize. Know what your ‘big rocks’ are.

Be intentional. Be selfish. Set your morning up for success so that you get the most important items done before lunch.

Win the morning win the day

Do that and you will have won the morning! And by extension, likely won your day. You will carry that momentum with you through the whole day.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

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