Book Summaries

Book Summary: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam.

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In What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and Life, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, describes through real-life anecdotes and scientific research why the early hours of the day are so important and how successful people use mornings to help them accomplish things that are often impossible to take care of later in the day.


  • According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America poll, the average 30–45-year-old claims to get out of bed at 5:59 a.m. on a typical weekday morning, with 46– 64-year-olds rousting themselves at 5:57. Yet many people don’t start work until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. And by “start work” I mean “show up at the workplace.
  • Dual-income couples could find only 12 minutes a day to talk with each other.

The madness of mornings is a key reason most of us believe we have no time. We have time, but it’s consumed by sound and fury that culminates in few accomplishments beyond getting out the door.

The Power of Morning

Times for habits that help one grow into a better person. Indeed, learning to use mornings well is, in our distracted world, what separates achievement from madness. Before the rest of the world is eating breakfast, the most successful people have already scored daily victories that are advancing them toward the lives they want.

Early Morning Routine

Whatever the ritual, though, there is a reason for these early morning routines. Successful people have priorities they want to tackle, or things they like to do with their lives, and early mornings are the time when they have the most control of their schedules.

In a world of constant connectivity, of managing global organizations, the day can quickly get away from you as other people’s priorities invade—sometimes even those of the people you love dearly and share a home with.

Pay yourself first

Seizing your mornings is the equivalent of that sound financial advice to pay yourself before you pay your bills. If you wait until the end of the month to save what you have left, there will be nothing left over.

 Likewise, if you wait until the end of the day to do meaningful but not urgent things like exercise, pray, read, ponder how to advance your career or grow your organization, or truly give your family your best, it probably won’t happen. If it has to happen, then it has to happen first.

Morning Willpower

In the morning, though, after a decent night’s sleep, the supply of willpower is fresh. We’re more inclined to be optimistic; one analysis of Twitter feeds from around the world found that people are more likely to use words like “awesome” and “super” between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m. than at other times of the day. In these early hours, we have enough willpower and energy to tackle things that require internal motivation, things the outside world does not immediately demand or reward.

People who work out in the mornings are more likely to stick with it, probably for the same willpower and logistical reasons that we talked about earlier.

The most successful people use their mornings for these things:

1. Nurturing their careers—strategizing and focused work
2. Nurturing their relationships—giving their families and friends their best
3. Nurturing themselves—exercise and spiritual and creative practices


1. Track Your Time

Part of spending your time better is knowing exactly how you’re spending it now. Write down what you’re doing as often as you can and in as much detail as you think will be helpful. While you may be thinking specifically about your mornings, try tracking a whole week (168 hours). The reason to do this is that the solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day.

 Track them carefully and question your assumptions. What absolutely has to happen, and what does not?

2. Picture the Perfect Morning

After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself what a great morning would look like for you.

Here are some other ideas for potential morning habits: painting, sketching, photography (if it’s light out), scrapbooking, crafts, writing poetry, practicing a musical instrument (if you live by yourself), reading through a religious text verse by verse, yoga, Zumba class, walking, training for a half marathon, biking, swimming, working out with a trainer, weight lifting, prayer, reading through a book of devotions, looking through your photo albums or contact list and praying for people by name, meditation, making a gratitude list, writing your own blog, writing “Morning Pages” (per Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), writing one thousand words in a novel, writing in a journal, writing thank-you letters, reading articles in professional journals, attending a regular networking breakfast, having family breakfast, making pancakes, baking, etc., with your kids, reading together for a family book club, reading kids’ stories, reading through all the plays of Shakespeare, reading through the best novels of the twentieth century, listening to challenging music like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, playing with your kids, doing art projects with your kids, gardening, exercising with your spouse, trying a new recipe every morning, strategic career thinking, planning long-term employee career development, brainstorming new business lines or sales prospects, coming up with new projects or initiatives, studying, taking a self-paced online class.

3. Think Through the Logistics

How could this vision mesh with the life you have? How long will your ritual take? Don’t assume you have to add it on top of the hours you already spend getting ready or that you’ll have to get in to work earlier. The good thing about filling the morning hours with important activities is that you’ll crowd out things that are more time intensive than they need to be.

Map out a morning schedule. What would have to happen to make this schedule work? What time would you have to get up and (most important) what time do you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep? Can you get to bed by that time?

  • Monitor your energy. Building a new habit takes effort, so you want to take care of yourself while you’re trying. Eat right and eat enough, take breaks during your workday, and surround yourself with supportive people who want to see you succeed.
  • Choose one new habit at a time to introduce. If you want to run, pray, and write in a journal each morning, choose one of these and put all your energy into making that activity a habit before you try something else
  • Chart your progress. Habits take several weeks to establish, so keep track of how you’re doing for at least thirty days. In his writings, Ben Franklin described how he scored himself for practicing various virtues (temperance, modesty, and the like).

5. Tune Up as Necessary Life changes.

Rituals can change, too. The most successful people know that the hopeful hours before most people eat breakfast are far too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities. You can do a lot with those hours.

A habit has the force of the water drop that hollows the stone. A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules. – Anthony Trollope

All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile |

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