If you ever want to feel like a slacker, just Google "CEO wake-up times." You'll find an avalanche of articles about successful leaders all announcing they get up at eye-watering hours. Richard Branson is up kitesurfing at 5 a.m. Tim Cook wakes at the ungodly hour of 3:45, while Disney executive chairman Bob Iger splits the difference, setting his alarm at 4:30.
Read through these pieces and you'll find plenty of commentators and self-styled experts insisting that anyone who wants to get ahead in life should follow suit. What you'll find mentioned less often is that plenty of other business icons prefer leisurely mornings.
You don't need to get up at dawn to change the world
The most recent example comes from an interview with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in tech insider Sriram Krishnan's newsletter, the Observer Effect. The long conversation covers a ton of interesting ground, but perhaps the most shocking revelation for fans of hustle porn is Ek's admission right at the beginning that he starts his day like a normal human.
"This will sound incredibly lazy compared to some leaders. I wake up at around 6:30 in the morning and spend some time with my kids and wife," he starts. The very fact that getting up at 6:30 has come to be seen as laziness is worth remarking on, but let's move on to the rest of Ek's morning:
At 7:30, I go work out. At 8:30, I go for a walk -- even in the winter. I've found this is often where I do my best thinking. At 9:30, I read for 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes I read the news, but you'll also find an ever-rotating stack of books in my office, next to my bed, on tables around the house. Books on history, leadership, biographies. It's a pretty eclectic mix -- much like my taste in music. Finally, my "work" day really starts at 10:30.
Actually seeing his family and tending to his physical health and mental growth until halfway to noon might sound like heresy, but Ek isn't the only big name to keep a similar schedule. Jeff Bezos has described puttering around in the mornings, having breakfast with his kids and waiting for his brain to get up to speed around 10 before doing any serious decision making.
Stop reading about when famous people wake up
Should you conclude from these two counterexamples that the early birds are wrong and the right approach is leisurely mornings? Absolutely not. The right takeaway is instead to call a truce in the morning-routine propaganda war.
Science shows that our circadian rhythms, which govern when we feel sleepy and when we feel alert and creative, are largely hard-wired. While one person might be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dawn, another is a useless zombie. That has nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with the balance of chemicals in your body.
And it's not just biology that makes reading about anybody else's morning routine pointless. Part of why Ek has a slow start to the day, for example, is because while he's based in Europe much of his staff is Stateside. That means with the time difference his most important meetings land in the afternoon. Getting his thinking done in the morning makes sense for him.
Biological and logistical factors combine to make everyone's situation unique. Read up on other people's morning routines if you find it entertaining, but don't think these articles can tell you anything about how you should structure your own day.
The only way to figure that out is reflection and experimentation. If you're looking for ideas to try to figure out your own ideal morning routine, there are tons out there. Checking them out is probably a better use of your time than marveling at yet another CEO's masochistic mornings.