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What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast - critical summary review

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast Critical summary review
Productivity & Time Management and Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings – and Life

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-1591845768

Publisher: Portfolio

Also available in audiobook, download now:


Critical summary review

What does your morning look like? If it is anything like most people’s, you probably hit the snooze button several times before finally getting out of bed, and then you spend the next hour or so trying to get ready for the day that lies ahead. But you could use your mornings for something else entirely - maybe it is the perfect time of day to finally write that novel you’ve always meant to write, or read the book you haven’t had the time for before. Get ready to learn how to make the most of your mornings!

Stop wasting time

For most people, mornings are the busiest time of the day. Especially when you have children, you probably spend a substantial amount of time dashing about the house, trying to get breakfast ready, dressing your children and dropping them off to school. When you finally get to work, you have likely been awake for two hours at least, but the time passed in a blur. So, it can be tempting to use the first few hours at work to have a coffee and relax.

Author Laura Vanderkam says it’s normal for most people to spend two hours in the morning getting ready for the day. The National Sleep Foundations’ “Sleep in America” poll in 2011 found that the average waking time of people between the ages of 30 and 45 was 5:59 a.m, even though many of them did not start work until 8 or 9 a.m.

And that is why a lot of people, subconsciously at least, pencil in the first few hours at work as “me-time” – a time to check social media, read the news or chat to colleagues, rather than actually getting work done.

Unsurprisingly though, successful people tend to use their mornings differently. They have established a morning routine to start the day that ultimately makes them healthier, wealthier, and happier. So while the rest of the world is having breakfast, they have already accomplished goals that take them one step closer to where they want to be.

Vanderkam says most successful people get up at 6 a.m. at the latest. Take Steve Reinemund, the former CEO of Pepsi, as an example: he gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to go for a four-mile run. Then he has some quiet time to pray or read, and finally he eats breakfast with his children. Because running is such an essential part of his daily morning routine, he never stays in hotels without treadmills.

The good news is that you can get there too. You have 168 hours in a week, and you can make the most of each hour. For that, you need willpower.

A matter of willpower

Maybe you have noticed this as well - when you do manage to get work done in the morning, you are usually much more productive than you are at other parts of the day. Vanderkam says that mornings are the ideal time to get the important things in your life done. 

If it has to happen, it should happen first in your day. But why is it that mornings tend to be more productive than the rest of the day? It is not merely logistics - mornings are usually quieter than the rest of the day, meaning you are less likely to be distracted. It also has to do with willpower.

As research has shown, self-discipline is like a muscle. You have a limited amount of willpower and once it is fatigued, you will struggle a lot more to focus on your tasks. Self-discipline is not only needed to focus on your work or a particular task, you also use it to concentrate, control thought processes and emotions, and manage all acts of self-control. So the home/work division is arbitrary since your ability to be self-disciplined defines both.

The fact that our willpower muscle gets fatigued also accounts for the fact that major self-control failures, such as committing a crime or breaking your diet, occur later in the day. On the other hand, an analysis of Twitter feeds from around the world revealed that people tend to be more optimistic in the morning - using words such as “super” and “awesome” more often between the hours of 6:00 and 9:00 a.m.

The good thing about the willpower muscle is that like all muscles, it can be trained. So once you get into a routine and make a habit, your willpower muscle will not be affected by these tasks. Take brushing your teeth, for example. Chances are that it does not take you a great deal of convincing yourself to brush your teeth every morning. In all likelihood, it has become such an automated process that you don’t even think about it anymore.

So getting into a morning routine may take a while, but eventually it will become a habit and take no effort whatsoever.

Focus on the important things

How do you best spend your mornings? Focus on the things that are important to you - the ones that demand internal motivation, but do not have to happen at a specific hour. Doing the laundry or watching TV are examples of bad morning rituals as these are activities you can do when you have worked all day and your energy levels are down.

Instead, focus on activities that provide you with a long-term benefit, rather than with an immediate payoff. You should use the morning hours to nurture your career, your relationships, or yourself.

Let’s start with nurturing your career. The early hours are the perfect time for uninterrupted work or even professional networking. Take Charlotte Walker-Said as an example. She is a history student at the University of Chicago, and she has made it her habit to use the early morning hours to write a book on the history of religious politics in West Africa. 

She says working early in the morning makes her feel like she has a career, rather than just a job. And research has shown that young professors who write a little bit every day have a higher chance of making tenure than those who just write in short energy bursts.

The early mornings are also the perfect time to nurture your relationships - how about spending some quality time with your family, your partner, or your close friends? After all, we have more energy in the morning, so you can give your most loved ones the best of you, not what is left over in the evening.

Take Kathryn Beaumont Murphy as an example. After working long hours late into the day, she found she could not spend much time with her daughter. So, she changed her schedule around and started the mornings with breakfast together, cuddling, or reading a story to her daughter. 

Finally, the morning can also be the perfect time to find that “me” time for yourself. Whether it is exercising, doing yoga, or spiritual activities such as reading or praying, taking some time for yourself can even lead to increased productivity during the day!

Creating a morning ritual

So, how do you go about creating your perfect morning routine? There are five steps towards making the most of your mornings. Firstly, you will have to track your time.

To be able to make the most of your time, you must first understand how you are currently spending it. Vanderkam suggests tracking all 168 hours in your week, not just the morning hours. This is because the problems in our schedules often come from staying up too late. To effectively track your time, write down your activities as often and as detailed as possible.

While tracking your time, also look at exactly how you are spending your mornings. Do they align with your values and what is truly important to you in life? For example, you might feel obligated to pack your children’s lunch boxes, because that is what a good mum does - but giving them lunch money instead sometimes might free up some time to talk to them in the morning. 

Once you are aware of exactly how you are spending your time, sit down and have a think of what your perfect morning would look like. Maybe you enjoy reading and a hearty breakfast, or maybe it’s exercise. Use the morning to make space for neglected hobbies such as photography or scrapbooking, or try and use the time to get closer to your goals by training for a marathon or writing a book.

Once you have pictured your perfect morning, you can move on to step three: working through the logistics. How can you achieve your perfect morning? How much time do you need for the activities you want to pursue? 

Create a morning schedule, and remember to make space for what is important to you. This might mean crowding out activities that are more time-consuming than they should be. You might find that you do not actually need as much time to get dressed as you always assumed you would, for example.

Finally, think about what you need to do to make your dream morning possible. Maybe you need to go to bed earlier in the evening, or maybe you need a babysitter to look after your children while you work out.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on your vision. Even if you are a single parent with little money, there are always ways in which you can free up some time for your morning rituals. Maybe a friend or relative could come by in the mornings and look after the children while you go for your run, for example. 

Keeping your morning ritual

Once you have figured out the logistics, it is time to make your morning ritual a habit. This is the most important step, as it needs the most willpower. Don’t give up! Monitor your morning routine for at least 30 days to see the progress you are making.

Start slowly and build up your routine step-by-step. You can introduce one new aspect to your morning routine at a time, and allow yourself to get used to the earlier wakeup time by going to bed and getting up 15 minutes earlier every day. Feel free to use bribery to get yourself started - reward yourself with concert tickets for getting your early morning workout done, for example. And don’t forget to make your morning routine something to look forward to! That way, it will be easier for you to get out of bed.

You will know you have built the habit when you skip a day and it feels like you have forgotten something, like forgetting to brush your teeth.

Finally, keep in mind that your morning rituals should not be fixed. Life changes and you may need to adjust your routine over time as well. The author, for example, used to go for a run every morning until her pregnancy prevented her from doing so. So, she adapted her routine and scheduled her run for the afternoon instead, since her newborn daughter’s morning feeding schedule was irregular.  

Final Notes

Mornings can be the most productive part of your day if you know how to make the most of them. Creating a morning routine is easy: simply picture what your perfect morning looks like, and start planning. Whether you want to spend more time with your children, prepare yourself for a marathon or write a book, success in the morning encourages optimism and hope in your life!

12min Tip

Download the spreadsheet from Vanderkam’s webpage to track your time and get one step closer to a successful morning routine!

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Who wrote the book?

Laura Vanderkam is a supermom who writes books about time management and productivity. She often appears in publications like The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, The New York Times, and Fortune. Her blog posts at LauraVanderkam.com... (Read more)