When you look at some of the world's most creative individuals, their morning routines follow a strikingly similar thread, hitting a lot of the same activities. If you feel like you're getting less out of the day than you should, or if you feel like your mornings are nothing but a mushy, meaningless blur, maybe it's time to incorporate some (or all) of their habits into your own get-going sequence.
1. Get up early.
Rising before the sun makes logistical sense for your creativity in that you have more awake time available to get tasks done and try new things. But it leaves more time for you to practice physical and mental self-care, too, removing the stress that crops up from having to rush. Philosopher Immanuel Kant, writer John Grisham, and scientist/politician Benjamin Franklin all claimed a 5:00 a.m. wake-up time. Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi is up at 4:00. From a scientific standpoint, if you're going to try to keep pace with them, be aware of how light affects your circadian rhythm.
2. Take time for mindfulness.
Meditation and mindfulness--specifically, open-monitoring meditations, in which you just stay open to anything that runs through your head--have been shown to contribute to higher creativity. John Lee Dumas (Entrepreneur on Fire), Taylor Pearson (TaylorPearson.me), Jason Cohen (WP Engine), and Brad Lande (Birchbox Man) all use meditation to get their juices flowing.
For many creative leaders, meditation includes thinking about what they're grateful for. For example, John Paul DeJoria (Patron tequila and Paul Mitchell hair products) says he takes his first five minutes of the day to lie in bed and make a mental thankfulness list. Andrew Yang (Venture for America) goes a step further by recording three things he's grateful for on his phone. That way, if he's in a slump later, he can look back at his list and keep perspective.
For some individuals, mindfulness is also about making sure that what they're about to do has value and will be fulfilling. The late Steve Jobs of Apple, for instance, remarked, "For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
3. Go for a walk.
Walking is a wonderfully gentle form of exercise that can get your body going. But for many creative geniuses, it's precious alone time they use to think and work out ideas. Kara Goldin (Hint Water) takes hikes every morning. "Without my hike, I feel unbalanced," she told Business Insider. "'I need this time to clear my head, connect with what I love, and center myself so that I can handle any challenge that might come up in the day ahead." Similarly, author Cal Newport says of his morning walks, "For me, interesting thoughts have a tendency to emerge when the rest of the world is quiet."
4. Exercise (and eat).
Exercising in the morning can support creativity by boosting blood and oxygen flow to the brain, and by releasing endorphins that support good mood and health. One of the most famous morning exercisers? Michelle Obama, who gets up at 4:30 to hit a routine. Don't feel like you need to do an hour of hard-core lifting or cardio, though. Actresses Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance, do yoga. Even 10 minutes of dancing helps, especially if you use upbeat music that gets your brain revved to go. After your workout, refuel--no excuses. A balanced breakfast of protein, carbohydrates, and good fats (e.g., avocado with eggs on toast) is essential for post-workout recovery, as well as giving your brain the energy it needs to function and innovate.
5. Make to-do lists and get big work done early.
Successful individuals routinely make lists in the morning (or even the night before) of what they want to accomplish through the day, setting goals. Having even that basic plan of attack is a great stress buster. Additionally, Mark Twain once said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." In other words, do the hardest stuff on your list right away when you're fresh. Entrepreneur James Clear claims that by "front-loading" your pain this way, you'll make your day inevitably go from bad to good, leaving you happier once you can relax.
6. Take in information.
Creative individuals often avoid diving into activities like checking email right away, opting instead to focus on other things they consider more vital. But that doesn't mean they don't get data. Gary Vaynerchuk (VaynerMedia), for example, says he catches up on news, while Shark Tank investor Kevin O'Leary checks bond markets and business TV. "By reading a diverse selection of papers," says Fran Tarkenton (GoSmallBiz, Tarkenton Companies), "I get different viewpoints and different perspectives on all the things that affect me, my life, and my business."
7. Connect with people you care about.
Connecting with others early in the day helps creative individuals feel like there's meaning behind what they do. Vaynerchuk says, "I catch up with [family]. Talk to them. Just learn what they're up to. I really value those small moments." And Kat Cole (FOCUS Brands) remarks, "Talking, learning, and thinking with other humans create a purposeful start to any day."
Keep in mind that everyone is an individual. There's nothing wrong with tweaking these habits to meet your own needs. But it's all about setting the right tone. These habits all focus on remembering what matters, taking care of yourself, beating isolation, and learning. As long as your habits fit between those goalposts, you're probably set to win the game.