We tried the CEO Morning Routine in Grad School

Guest blogger alert! This post is by my friend Mackensie. 

I’ve always enjoyed treating my body like a pseudo guinea pig, and I am obsessed with any hippy, weird, out there, productivity-lifehack type of thing. I rarely stick with these habits, but I never lose hope despite all evidence to the contrary. In the tradition of treating my existence like one long experiment, I asked Rebecca if I could write about trying a CEO morning routine for a week. She obliged and I got to work researching.

Here’s what I managed to track down about what Fortune 500 people do every morning: 

5 am: Wake up. Apparently to be a CEO and/or boss, successful people wake up early. When I reported this in our grad school group chat, a friend aptly replied, “Eff being successful if I have to wake up that early.” A few CEO’s wake up earlier than 5, but this is the best I could do.

5:10-5:30 am: Meditate with a face mask. A few CEOs (and Mindy Kaling!) said doing a facemask in the morning leaves your skin looking dewy and fresh. I’m not sure I have that much faith in a mask, but I have been trying to take better care of my skin. I also love meditating, but I am terrible at doing it in the morning because I usually fall asleep.

5:30-6:15 am: Workout. I love working out, arguably too much. I have a rigorous workout routine though (ok not strict, but I’m one of ~~those people~~ who do CrossFit), so I’m thinking these morning slots will be suitable for yoga and running instead. Most of the CEO routines I read about focused on stretching or cardio in the morning.

6:15-7 am: Spending time with your kids. I don’t have these. But I do have a dog, and a step-dog, so I will be taking them for walks during this time and spending time because they are the goodest boys.

7-7:30 am: Eat breakfast while reading the news. CEOs all said they skim headlines, which I think is ridiculous because you are skimming a summary of the news. I will use this time to read the New York Times, and I might actually click on a few articles just to one up these leaders.

7:30-8 am: Shower. I can do this one. I’m great at showering.

8-8:30 am: Reflect, write a to-do list, and set an intention for the day. I have no idea what setting an intention for the day it is. Is this some New Age to-do list? What do I intend to do? Feel?

8:30-9 am: Answer emails. I am the world’s worst email responder, so this will be good for me.

9-10 am: Write. Boy, do I need this. I have so much writing and whatnot I need to do.

So, research complete, I challenged myself to follow this schedule for one week. Here is my log (insert Law and Order gavel sound).

Day 1: 

Wednesday was not terrible. My partner goes to work at 6 am, so I only had to wake up about 23 minutes before her. I now understand how awful it is for someone to be asleep, in bed, covered with dogs, while the other person wakes up. It was nice, though, as I was stretching and moving, saying goodbye to her. Also, another surprise perk of being up at the butt crack of dawn was a beautiful post-thunderstorm sunrise, and the dogs were quite happy to walk, and then crash immediately.

Day 2: 

Remember how easy yesterday was? Complete fail. It turns out that Tuesday night, I only slept 4 hours because I’m a terrible sleeper. I overslept like crazy (read: 9 am). I still managed to walk the dogs, set intentions, and skim the news, but I did feel ashamed.

Day 3: 

More failure. My stomach, for some reason (the reasons being anxiety and stress), decided to keep me up until 1 AM, so I again, did not wake up on time. When do CEOs go to bed? What magical sleep aids are they using that make 5 AM bearable? I hobbled together bits and pieces of the routine but still felt woefully inept.

Days 4-6: 

After the third day of failure, I realized I had to adjust. Maybe CEO’s/very successful people have something I don’t: intrinsic motivation. More likely, however, is that they have lots of money, neat products, access to doctors, and all kinds of other solutions that make 5 AM wakeup bearable. Solutions I haven’t even thought of because I am not on their level. 

I never do anything unless forced to, which is why I always have to schedule meetings before significant deadlines. Understanding this, I tapped into my friend network and started scheduling gym workouts early in the morning so I would have some accountability. I worked out at 5 AM with a friend, had some good dog time, and even started working a little better.  

I did notice at this point that I was more on top of my emails so that was nice. And I was writing every day. But it was still hard to write. It was at this point I realized that having a CEO morning routine doesn’t actually make doing the CEO morning stuff any easier. Was I writing more? Yes. Was I still experiencing all the usual mental blocks that come with writing? Also yes.

What I Learned:

1.    Your nighttime routine is way more important than your morning routine. It didn’t matter how ambitious I was in the morning, or how hard I tried, or how many skincare products I slapped on my face. If I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t feel well. This is a critical reminder as school is starting. It’s easy to look at “small picture” fixes, like masks and meditation, but the basics need to be met first; eat well, move, and rest.

2.    What works for others won’t work for you. A lot of these things fell short for me. I’d rather listen to NPR while eating then skim the news, morning meditation did not work for me, and I did not like putting on a mask in the morning. I’m happy that those things for others, but sometimes all the things that “should” work for you don’t.

3.    To the same extent, the things that are “good” for you don’t always feel great. I will never be a “morning” person-meaning I will never wake up early and feel like barfing up rainbows and sunshine and glitter unicorn. I will always be grumpy and slow. But it was 100% worth my time to wake up earlier than I wanted. I wrote more, felt better, hit my step goal more consistently, and felt way less anxious. It wasn’t fun, just like going to the dentist or engaging in preventative care or paying taxes, but it was good for me.

Overall: Worthwhile? Yes. Will I stick to a CEO routine? Some of the things definitely, but others not so much.

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