How I became a morning person - 6 ways to hack your mornings

I’m Al and I'm a morning person. I never thought I’d say that.

I’ve run my own business for eight years, which means I could work whatever hours I wanted. That meant 9am or 10am, sometimes even later. I worked late, woke up groggy and entered an office where others had been sitting at their desks for an hour. Looking back this was causing major problems with my productivity. Working in to the night isn’t a bad thing, but missing the most important part of the day because of it is.

Then I started a new business. My co-founder wakes up at 5:30am, so he gets in to work at 7am. We’re competitive, so I wanted to beat him in – I just didn’t like the idea of him working harder than I did – so I needed to change the way I approached mornings.

Here’s some of the things I’ve changed in my life, and some great advice from leaders that I've met.

1. A good morning starts the night before.

Former NBA-star John Amaechi told me he could fall asleep in three breaths – the trick is not the breathing but the preparation. It’s the same with having a good morning.

Get all the things you need ready the night before – it’s a double time saving as some morning-tasks take longer as your brain is still waking up. I get my laptop and gym-bag by the front-door ready to go and get my clothes in a pile ready to put on.

Mentally prepare for the next day by scanning your calendar. Knowing what’s on and where you need to be removes any lingering questions from your head.

Clear your mind for sleep. Phil Jones, MD of Brother UK and president of Forever Manchester, told me he has an iPad by his bed to note down anything on his mind so he can wipe it from his conscious and have a good night’s sleep. He can then pick up his thoughts again in the morning.

Work out what helps you sleep. Getting to sleep is a challenge for almost all and so much has been written on how to get a great night’s sleep – what worked for me was simply reading, and occasionally herbal sleeping pills. Gary Chaplin, a corporate head-hunter and someone who’s up at the crack of dawn every day, suggests taking magnesium an hour before lights out.

Buy blackout curtains. If you struggle to sleep in a light room then invest in curtains with a blackout lining. Mine were £70 ($112), they shut out all light and are more noise absorbent. I’ve had a good two years of use from mine which equates to a cost of 9p (15 cents) per night.

2. Improve the transition from fast asleep to wide awake.

Are you one of the few who likes to be woken by a piercing alarm sound? If so then you can skip this part – if not then why not change the way you’re woken up?

Use a Fitbit as an alarm. It’s a wrist-based fitness tracker that’s comfortable enough to be worn in bed, and it includes a silent vibrating alarm. It’s a far more gentle way to wake up, with the added benefit of waking just you up, and not your partner. You can pick up the Fitbit Flex for £70/$90.

Don’t hit the snooze button. A study in 1999 that involved Harvard Medical School found that the going back in to sleep mode disrupted your ability to concentrate. Gary echoes this: “I get up the second I wake up - literally as soon as my eyes open I get up”

Get a Wake Up light. These devices simulate sunrise, filling a bedroom with a glow around thirty minutes before wake-up. Philips claims that their products (£43/$68 and upwards) are the only ones scientifically proven to work, with 92% of users saying they found it easier to wake up with the device but there are others on the market.

3. Wake up earlier and make it count.

Reclaim the morning and get up earlier – there’s no feeling like being in the office at 7am and having a full two hours before everyone else comes online. Don’t aim too early at first; stagger yourself back slowly in twenty minute increments. I love to setup meetings for 8am (no one has yet agreed to a 7am meeting with me) because it gives me a hard-start .

Vikas Shah, a highly driven entrepreneur who is MD of the Swiscot group and a visiting professor with MIT Sloan in Lisbon, advised me: “Business is global, and the time you have in the morning before the rest of the country wakes up is really crucial to get yourself up to speed on your day before the wave comes.”

Don’t waste those extra hours in the office. Set yourself micro-goals that will impact on your day, with a 9am deadline. I want to wrap up my replies to urgent emails, set out my to-do list for the day and I like to include a social element. Catching up with a member of the team before 9am is a rewarding way to start the day. Vikas likes to do similar: “I use the early morning to assess my meetings for the day, solidify ideas and strategies, and also make sure I'm on-top of my correspondence.”

4. Reward yourself every morning

Do something you wouldn’t normally do each day, something that makes you happy. It’s a great to hack your morning to increase productivity, but if you can build in something that also makes you happy then you have a double win. It doesn’t have to be complicated; a donut at your desk, a smoothie and a newspaper in a quiet part of the office, or something that has bacon in it. Vikas says: "We need something to look forward to, not just big goals such as a new house or car, but small daily rewards. Set a treat that if you get-up on time, and get some exercise done, that perhaps you'll treat yourself to a mind-break doing something wholly unproductive but fun at some point in the day! Are you a music fan? Your gym-time is a great way to really clear your head and enjoy music too!”

5. Exercise to gain energy in the morning, not lose it.

Do it. Do it. I paraphrased some great words from Gary for the title above, he makes a good point about morning exercise: “Exercise first thing. Exercise in the morning gives energy, rather than taking it. I always hit the gym first thing. Get my body and mind fully awake to hit the rest of the day.”

Get someone else to motivate you. I love training alone, but I never put in as much work at the gym as when I’m with someone else. I have a great PT called Lewis who pushes me beyond where I normally go – I leave the gym feeling mentally ready, and happier.
Exercise gets you out the house earlier. There’s no need for a shower if I’m going to be caked in sweat in twenty minutes, so the only thing standing between me and leaving my house is putting on my gym kit. I can be in the office early, go for a ten minute sprint, shower-off, then be at my desk in the same time as if I didn’t exercise.

6. Save coffee till later. Go water. Go juice. Go vitamins.

Ease the body in with something that isn’t coffee. Vikas says: “Sleep is hard work for the brain, it needs to make sense of all the craziness of your day. When you wake up, don't provoke it with coffee, but feed it with the hydration and nutrients it needs to get up and running. One of my most used items in the kitchen is the juicer!”

There are other coffees. Gary says: “Early morning nutrition is vital. Always start the day with a BulletProof Coffee (Toxin-free coffee with Grass-Fed Butter and MCT oil) - gives all the energy for body and mind. ”

How important is coffee in the morning? Quick straw poll via Twitter: “How does coffee fit in to your morning plans? Yay or Nay?”

64% says YES. 36% said NO.

Here’s some sample responses – we don’t always share our morning routines but you can pick up inspiration from what other people do.

“porridge & tea first thing, then hit the coffee around 10” - @georgedthompson “First one wakes me up, 2nd one gets me going” - @topcomms “Hot water & lemon for me and scrambled egg” - @natalieasprey “It is essential!” - @sambooth1 “first thing I do on wakeup to put brain into gear!” - @pbridgecollyns “keep it pure: H2O all the way.” - @mancier “essential - tough morning calls for multiple coffees”- @paulkalleegrove “not immediately after waking. First thing when I get into work though.” - @hi_randy “Once I get into work, Coffee and check emails to start the day.” - @sdxcreative “always tea, occasionally green. Get enough coffee in meetings” - @burtongaz

Go Berocca. Just launched in the US, Berocca fills you with vitamins and gets you hydrated with water. My un-medically-trained co-founder says it’s the closest thing to an electrolyte-filled IV drip that you can get from a supermarket. I top up with multi-vitamins. Just in case.

Thanks to all quoted above for their wisdom – have an awesome morning tomorrow!