What do you do for the first 60 to 90 minutes of your day? Think about it for a second.
If you read business or lifestyle articles, then you know this question is frequently discussed. “To transform your workday, start by transforming your morning,” writes Thomas Oppong. 1 Mark Struczewski says thinking about the first 60 to 90 minutes of your day is “… really important because that sets the tone for the entire day.” 2 Leadership expert and bestselling author Robin Sharma writes “The way you start your day powerfully shapes how productively you live it.” 3 There is a consensus among high achievers in all fields and industries that how you start your day directly influences how successful you are that day.
Tim Ferriss has recorded nearly 500 podcast episodes with some of the world’s top performers in filmmaking, sports, chess, investing, entrepreneurship, and many others. Ferriss writes “Over the past decade, I’ve been able to ask hundreds of top performers about their morning habits and routines on my podcast and in private conversations. Personally, I’ve tried various routines throughout the years.” 4 Every person is different and many morning routines are different. You should test out what works for you in order to establish your personal power morning.
A few practices stand out in common throughout all of the articles and podcasts. Choncé Maddox summarizes the most popular aspects of a successful morning routines.
Start With Mindfulness
Mindfulness or gratitude practice in the form of meditation, journaling, or self reflection is one of the top routines of high performers. “Instead of waking up and thinking about what hurts, what you have to do, or what you didn’t do yesterday, begin your day with an attitude of gratitude,” says Maddox. 5
Stretch or Do a Light (or Heavy) Workout
Getting active early in the form of stretching, yoga, HIIT workouts, cycling, or weight lifting to get the blood flowing. “Sweating releases BDNF, a brain chemical that actually grows neural connections. Working out also releases dopamine (the neurotransmitter of motivation) and serotonin, which makes you feel happy,” writes Robin Sharma. 3
Delay Checking Email
“One of the worst habits people have is checking their phone or email when they first wake up,” says Maddox. “You either get stressed out or overwhelmed thinking about all you have to do but can’t do from your bed. Or, you go down a social media rabbit hole and waste precious time browsing aimlessly on Facebook. Both are a major waste of time and against everything successful people say they do during the first hour of waking up.” 5
“Make your bed, tidy up, and freshen up for the day by putting on a presentable outfit. This task may seem small and insignificant, but it can help give you a major confidence and energy boost,” writes Maddox. 5 Reduce stress and decision fatigue by having regular outfits to wear. Starting your day by cleaning up gives you the first win of the day. No matter what happens, at least you return home to a clean house.
Eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast. This shouldn’t be something you have to agonize over or waste decision making brainpower. Have a couple of regular breakfasts on the menu and rotate through them. My favorites are simple eggs and toast, oatmeal with some healthy fixings, or a smoothie.
Tackle Your One Big Thing
Take care of or schedule your number one task for the day. This is the one thing that you HAVE to do that day. “As your day goes on, it is easy to get lost checking messages, replying to email, checking the news. The first hour of your day is precious and should be treated accordingly,” writes Alex Assoune. 6 No matter what unexpected things pop up, at least you will have completed your most important task.
Your First Hour at Work
Now, what are the first 60 to 90 minutes of your work day? If you are like me, you have a day job. The list above, and most of the morning routines, get you from bed to the office. A powerful morning routine will get you to work with your best foot forward. But the first 60 to 90 minutes once you arrive at work is critical for establishing the culture, routines, and goals for yourself and your team. I work for a company which prides itself on Lean practices. Improvement, learning, organization, and building people are the fundamental principals for our day. That is why the first 60 to 90 minutes of our day is not spent “working.” Our Lean morning sets the tone for the day and constructs the culture we want.
The First 30 Minutes
The first thing each employee in my company completes is a morning responsibility. When they enter the warehouse, there is a huge TV screen with our responsibility chart. Each employee’s name and picture is next to the responsibility they have that morning. This chart is run through Google Sheets and updates automatically every day; no one needs to touch anything, it is just on the TV. If someone is off that day, we just check a box and it marks them off on the chart. If the person off is doing a critical job, the line will turn yellow rather than black and someone doing a non-critical job will take their task. For example, the bathrooms are cleaned every day, but if one day is missed it isn’t the end of the world. However, the warehouse cardboard bins need to be emptied every day so that when people start working they don’t have to stop to empty the bins. It is also important to note that the outcome of the responsibility, such as a clean bathroom, is just a bonus. The real purpose of each responsibility is to put people into processes and places so that they can look for and find improvements. You are not just sweeping the warehouse, you are looking for improvements and the warehouse just happens to be swept along the way.
Everyone in our company, from the Director of Operations, to the newest warehouse associate is responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of our building. Everyone uses the bathroom, therefore everyone has to take turns cleaning it. Our Director of eCommerce, who has been working for the company for 14 years, scrubs the toilet just as often as the newest employee. No one is above cleaning. We believe that when each employee is responsible for cleaning, they will treat the building with more respect.
The first thing people do is sweep, clean, organize, 4-S (sweep, sort, standardize, and sustain) and stock our shipping stations. That way when we start work for the day, everything is clean, all supplies have been stocked, and no one has to stop what they are doing to pick up a mess or get supplies. Responsibilities take different amounts of time; some take 5 – 10 minutes, others take 20 or more minutes. None of them takes more than a half hour and we have a half hour to complete each responsibility. If someone has a responsibility that takes only 5 or 10 minutes, they get to use the extra 20 – 25 minutes to find improvements, work on improvement projects, clean something that doesn’t normally get cleaned (we call this special cleaning).
Lean is all about making consistent improvements. That is why we give people deliberate time first thing in the morning to make improvements. Even if you only have 10 minutes, you can work on an improvement or find something that needs to be improved. Starting the day with our entire warehouse, bathrooms, break-room, and shipping stations being cleaned, stocked with supplies, and organized means that people have to top working a lot less to pick something up or get more materials. When everything starts clean, it is more likely to stay clean. Making improvements is the most important part of our jobs, therefore we make deliberate and intentional time in the morning to look for or work on improvements. You would be amazed what you can make better in less than 30 minutes.
The Morning Meeting
Does your company do a morning meeting? How much of the meeting is about planning the day vs. learning and growing? I have found that most companies who do a morning meeting focus almost 100% on planning the day. The morning meeting at my company is 95% learning and growing, with maybe 5% what we are doing that day. We want continuous learning, improvement, reflection, critical thinking, and problem solving to be a part of every single day.
Our morning meeting is run through Google Slides. The slides are linked directly to a Google Sheets spreadsheet. The first thing I do when I get to work is go through the slideshow, and all I need to do is click Update on each slide and it automatically updates with the information for that day. No thinking, no decisions, just quickly update and move on. We add videos, quotes, and other topics to the Google Sheet as we find them so there is always content ready for the meeting. I love finding content to share with the team and often add things to the sheet as I am reading or watching videos outside of work. But anyone can add content they think the team will learn from. I will go through each slide of our meeting and explain the why behind it. Every slide has a reason for existence; think back to the morning routines of top performers.
A different person leads the meeting every morning, which is linked to the responsibility chart spreadsheet. It doesn’t matter if you have worked for us for 3 days or 10 years, you will have to lead the meeting when it is your turn. The meeting lead says “Good Morning, it is Monday February 8th, 2021. What are you grateful for______.” A different person’s name pops up each morning and that person shares with the group something they are grateful for that day. It could be running water, their dog, hot coffee, warm clothes, life, family, or anything else. We start the day with gratitude and reflection of what is going good in life.
The next slide automatically plays a video which leads us through the stretches pictured on the right. Everyone loosens up their muscles, gets the blood flowing, and wakes up a little bit.
The meeting lead says, we have “x” total orders this morning. We all have a pretty good idea about how that number will affect the flow of the day, but someone might go further if needed. We say receiving, stocking, and returns are light, moderate, heavy, or very heavy. Just a basic “these will be things to focus on” or not. Next we go over calendar notes; person “x” is off or leaving early today, we need to take out the recycling dumpster, happy work anniversary or birthday!
The next three slides are all business metrics involving our on-time shipment of packages, cancellation rates, etc. that affect our sales. I will skip these slides for confidentiality. However, we believe it is important for every employee to be aware of the numbers what define our business. Each month we go over the previous month’s sales and orders, compare it to the year before, and discuss why numbers are changing. The Japanese call this yokoten, or sharing information laterally across an organization. It shows the results of our efforts and reflects the progress we are making.
The quote of the day is read by the meeting leader, and then they discuss what the quote means to them. Other employees can jump in after the leader, and sometimes a few minute discussion can start. This is one way to learn, grow, discuss, and start the day with thinking and reflection.
A different Lean concept of the day is covered. The meeting leader reads the concept and sometimes we talk about it. These concepts cycle through about once a month so that we have repetition. We want everyone to know and understand the Lean concepts that drive our culture.
The work concept of the day can be lean related or business related. We teach everyone about markup %, profit and loss statements, gross and net revenue or profit, and other business or work terms. Employees get a small lesson in business terminology or other work related concepts; in the image above we cover one of the eight wastes.
Our own concept of the day slide covers key terms or topics that form the language we use internally, which other companies may or may not use the same way. Employees learn what we mean when we are talking about certain things. Life is a combination of different terms and “languages,” we want all of our employees to understand our internal language.
This day in history is a chance to reflect on important events or interesting things that have happened. I think that learning about history provides context for the modern world and reminds people that there is a lot more going on in the world than what is going on in their world. We share three to five events from history and reflect on how the world we live in has been shaped by the past.
For February we are sharing a Black History Month video every day to learn or re-learn about prominent African-American figures from history. To improve the future we must remember the struggles of the past. Civil rights, slavery, and fighting against adversity are highlighted for us. To learn about the lives of others is to reflect on your own life.
Every day we watch a three to six minute video about literally anything. Videos range from Ted Talks, educational lessons, history, and beyond. We cover topics such as: how to be a better communicator, how to have more confidence, various productivity techniques, biographical videos of important figures, mindfulness, health, and scientific explanations of the human body or nature. Each Friday I try to have a video that is fun and interesting, such as the video in the image above about SpaceX rocket fuel. After the video, the meeting leader clicks the “click here” box and a random employee’s name pops up. That person then talks about how the video relates to work or life, and sometimes it turns into a group discussion. We enjoy learning something new every day. Once you watch hundreds of videos, common themes start to come up and we apply lessons learned in our personal and professional lives.
We watch a video every day showing people from other companies practicing lean and making improvements. We learn so much by watching other lean practitioners and get a lot of inspiration. It doesn’t matter what industry the video comes from, we try and discuss the principals and lessons learned in the video and how to apply them to our daily improvements or work culture. Once again, a random employee’s name pops up and they discuss how the video relates to work or life.
Next we have a digital whiteboard where anyone can add topics that should be discussed with the group. Sometimes we talk about a specific thing that needs to happen that day, an improvement that was made which everyone needs to be aware of, or anything else the whole group should know.
The meeting leader asks the group to share any Lean or Special Cleaning projects people have been working on. Most people should have something to share because we get time every morning to work on some kind of improvement. The “Check Sort” area is a place located in our meeting area where people put things they found around the building that seemed out of place or that need to be discussed. When people 4-S they will place things they find that do not belong into the sort area and we discuss what to do with the item(s).
We go over the eight wastes each morning. The list starts completely blank and the meeting lead clicks the mouse for a person’s name to pop up. That person names one of the eight wastes, and then another name pops up. It is completely random. One employee’s name may pop up multiple times and it could be all different names. This helps us all memorize the eight wastes and go over them every day.
We encourage people to give praise or kudos to others throughout the day in real time. This slide gives employees the opportunity to praise a coworker for something they did well. Not only is it nice to share praise for others, but the slide triggers people to be thinking about positive things other people have done for them or the team.
The final slide of the meeting gives the leader a chance to give a specific example of one of the eight wastes they encountered in work or life recently. The waste example is one or more of the eight wastes the employee observed or created at home, in life (such as ordering food or going to the grocery store), or at work. People often talk about improvements they are trying to make at home, such as organizing lawn maintenance equipment or reducing excess motion or transportation in the kitchen. This is a great way to continue learning to actually see waste in the world and figure out ways to remove it. Finally, the meeting leader ends with something they are grateful for that day. Our meeting starts and ends with something employees are grateful for so that we start the day thinking about the good things in life rather than what is wrong or missing. Gratitude = happiness!
Our meeting typically lasts 30 minutes, but sometimes goes longer than that. I have given tours of our warehouse, and people have been amazed that we spend the first hour of the day “not working.” I explain that we spend the first hour of the day taking care of the more important parts of our culture: cleaning, organizing, improving, learning, expressing gratitude, and becoming better people. The first hour is not a waste because we gain that investment in time back a hundred times over in the time saved by having a clean organized workplace and making improvements. Also, by focusing on gratitude, continuous personal and professional development of our employees, and studying Lean we are growing our people and creating a culture that values problem solving, critical thinking, positivity, and improvement. The growth of our team as a whole and individually comes first.
The first 60 to 90 minutes of your day is critical to success. Think about your first 60 to 90 minutes from the moment you wake up. Next, think about the first 60 to 90 minutes of your work day. Learn the routines of high performers and use trial and error to develop a system that works for you. ” ‘Lose an hour in the morning, chase it all day.’ –a Yiddish saying, author unknown, taught to me by Jason Fried,” writes Tim Ferriss. 4 Build a foundation for success and remember that “If you win the morning, you win the day.” 4
Let’s keep the conversation going! Please comment, like, or share so that we can continue to learn and grow together. Keep learning, improving, and becoming a better person!
- Your First 90 Minutes Can Make or Break The Rest of Your Day (The 90 Minutes Focus Technique), by Thomas Oppong, March 24, 2018, accessed 2/6/2021, https://thomas-oppong.medium.com/your-first-90-minutes-can-make-or-break-the-rest-of-your-day-the-90-minutes-focus-technique-45963b3abcf
- The First 60 to 90 Minutes of Your Day, by Mark Struczewski, Jan 01, 2021, accessed 2/6/2021, https://www.markstruczewski.com/blog/first-60-minutes-your-day
- The Methods For Superhuman Productivity, by Robin Sharma, accessed 2/6/2021, https://www.robinsharma.com/article/the-methods-for-superhuman-productivity
- Tim Ferriss: How the World’s Most Successful People Start Their Days. A productive day starts with a great morning routine, By Tim Ferriss, DEC 20, 2017, accessed 2/6/2021, https://www.inc.com/tim-ferriss/tim-ferriss-how-worlds-most-successful-people-start-their-days.html
- 6 Things You Should Do During the First Hour of Your Day, by Choncé Maddox, June 13, 2018, accessed 2/6/2021, https://www.business2community.com/strategy/6-things-you-should-do-during-the-first-hour-of-your-day-02074579
- The First Hour Of Your Day Is The Most Important, by Alex Assoune, accessed 2/6/2021, https://www.panaprium.com/blogs/i/first-hour-of-your-day-most-important