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The Morning Routines of 15 Successful Top Business Leaders: What Can You Learn?

The Morning Routines of 15 Successful Top Business Leaders: What Can You Learn?

By Madeline Harrell

Whether you prefer to abuse your snooze button or hop on the treadmill first thing, having a dedicated morning ritual can prep your mind for a full day of living up to your potential.

Setting aside time for yourself in the morning can seem daunting at first, especially for those (like me) who are addicted to the snooze button and the adrenaline rush of finding an acceptable outfit and brushing their teeth, all in under ten minutes.

There’s definitely a correlation between early rising, take charge individuals and their imminent success, I’ve made some changes to how I address my mornings.

What do the ultra-successful do to make sure their days start off smoothly? And what can we learn from them?

Here’s are 15 successful people who have found their own personal formula for greatness. Whether that includes an earthy green juice or a highly competitive 5:45am tennis match, we could all learn a thing or two from these Fortune 500 individuals.


Craig Newmark

Craigslist founder

The founder of everyone’s favorite buy-and-sell platform spends his morning with others in mind. Not only does he make time to ensure his customers are receiving top notch service, but he looks out for vets and voters, too.

  • Spends the first hour of his day on customer service
  • Addresses any current projects
  • Works on specifically serving military personnel and their families
  • Researches voters’ rights


Anna Wintour

Editor in Chief at Vogue

Ah, Anna Wintour. The Queen of Vogue. Perpetual hair goals. She couldn’t be a queen everyday if not for starting her day with some competition, followed by some self-love. Win or lose, you always have your hair dresser.

  • 5:45am hour-long tennis match
  • 6:45am daily blowout of her famous coiffure



 Steve Jobs

Founder and former CEO of Apple

While this is less of a routine and more of an existential, life-affirming practice, it’s one of the less physically ambitious recommendations out there. Steve Jobs dedicated his life to a company he built and loved. If he can manage to ask himself the hard questions about personal fulfillment, so can we.

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”


Margaret Thatcher

Former U.K. Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher, a.k.a. the Iron Lady, was known for being the first female British Prime Minister, her strict conservative politics, and for foregoing sleep in the interest of late night political meetings and early morning talk shows. Her routine just goes to show, waking up early is easier if you’re excited about something, even if that something is agricultural talk radio. To each their own.

  • Woke up at 5am
  • Listen to the “Farming Today” broadcast on BBC Radio 4, primarily about agriculture


Eva Chen

Head of Fashion Partnerships at Instagram

Eva Chen shot to stardom as the editor-in-chief of Lucky Magazine, and has since found her digital niche in the fashion department at Instagram. She starts her day sans television, with her mind on style.

  • Start with a warm green tea
  • Choose her outfit, starting from the shoes up (it’s all about the fashion)
  • Intentional about not watching TV


David Karp

Tumblr founder and CEO

The Tumblr founder and CEO makes sure to spend some time outside collecting his thoughts, before checking his emails…even if they’re from his girlfriend. He goes for the “take care of yourself so you can take care of others” approach. You go, Karp.

  • Goes on a 15 minute walk (or Vespa ride) through Manhattan to the office
  • Checks emails from colleagues and his girlfriend
  • Makes a to-do list for his day


Padmasree Warrior

Chief Technology Officer of Motorola

Padmasree Warrior puts every morning routine to shame with hers. Hands down. If you’re a superhero in training, follow in this ultra-successful career mom’s footsteps. She makes sure she has time for herself, her son, work, and the news…all before 8am.

  • Wakes up at 4:30am
  • Reads emails for an hour
  • Reads news online
  • Cardio or resistance training for an hour
  • Gets her son ready for school
  • Gets to the office around 8 or 8:30am


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John Paul DeJoria

Cofounder of Patron Tequila and Paul Mitchell Hair Products

Yes, you can found two mega popular product companies without checking email before you get to the office. John Paul DeJoria credits his success to his resistance to online communication and being intentional about daily gratitude.

  • Lays in bed for 5 minutes to meditate on being present and grateful
  • Checks his calendar
  • Checks in with his assistants
  • Makes pressing phone calls
  • Intentional about no email


Brad Lande

Head of Birchbox Man

This routine is exactly what you would expect from the head of a male personal care company. However, he is insistent that he adopted these practices individually, over time, after assessing their effectiveness.

  • Drinks hot water with lemon
  • Meditation practice
  • Yoga asanas
  • Face oil
  • Breakfast smoothie


Michelle Gass

Chief Customer Officer at Kohl’s

Michelle Gass ensures she has time to shake her sleepiness by waking up before dawn and getting her cardio in. As if that wasn’t incredible enough, she purposefully leaves coffee out of her routine. She’s been following this schedule for 15 years and swears by it.

  • Wakes up at 4:30am
  • Goes running
  • Intentional about no coffee


Tim Armstrong

CEO of Oath

A truly dedicated tech CEO, Tim Armstrong devotes his morning’s excess of cortisol to checking in on the functionality of his company’s products.

  • Gets up at 5 or 5:15am
  • Works out
  • Reads
  • Uses AOL products (for QA)
  • Moves on to emails at 7am


Gwyneth Paltrow

Actress and founder of Goop

Gwyneth Paltrow practices what she preaches on her lifestyle brand website, Goop. She sets aside time for her own wellness routine.

  • Wakes up at 4:30am
  • Practices yoga asanas
  • Eats clean food



Karen Blackett

MediaCom CEO

The CEO of MediaCom likes to switch her routine up, spending equal amounts of time letting her son wake her up, and sweating it out in her home gym.

  • Wakes up at 5:45am three times a week to spend 45 minutes in her garage-turned-gym
  • Otherwise, wakes up when her son comes into her room, anytime between 6:30 and 7am


Kenneth Chenault

American Express CEO

Chenault’s morning routine begins the night before. He prioritizes his to-dos on a nightly basis. Not a bad idea for those looking to beat the Sunday (or Monday, Tuesday, etc.) scaries.

  • His night routine informs his morning routine: he creates a “tomorrow list,” a to-do list he creates the night before



Jenna Lyons

Former Creative Director at J. Crew

Everyone’s career spirit animal, Jenna Lyons, knows her snooze button very well. She enjoys some very milky coffee while spending her early hours with her son, rather than her closet.

  • Wakes up at 7:35am, immediately hits snooze
  • Gets dressed quickly
  • Has coffee
  • Gets her son dressed and takes him to school
  • Checks her email in the car service on the way to work
  • Arrives at work at 9:15am

So what can all of these various morning routines be boiled down to?  While it is important to note that no routine is one-size-fits-all, there are quite a few overlapping activities here that can give anyone a boost. Don’t worry, we did the math for you. Here is your consolidated recipe to be a highly successful person via a morning routine:

Get an early start.

While 4 and 5 am may sound like a stretch to most, giving yourself ample time to prepare for your day can make all the difference. Whether you spend that time kickboxing, quietly meditating, or watching the news over a cup of Colombian joe, providing yourself ample time to prepare for your day will set you up for immediate daily success. Maybe you’re a Padmasree Warrior with an appetite for pre-5am cardio, or you’re a Jenna Lyons, in a love affair with your snooze button. Either way, the beginning of your routine informs the rest of it, so be sure it’s whatever you do nourishes your heart and brain the most.

Don’t rush yourself into work (unless you’re into that).

If you love immediately checking email when you leap out of bed in the morning, more power to you. For those of us who may struggle with getting our engines going in the morning, take some cues from John Paul DeJoria and Gwyneth Paltrow. Give your mind time to wake up with calming activities like meditation or intentional thought. I can’t imagine an IT manager coming into work, half asleep and unprepared to tackle a server outage. Give yourself time to assess your mental state, and ease yourself into the day. There is no need to catapult yourself into a stressful situation that you may not feel equipped to handle

Get your endorphins going.

If you’re not a morning person, this could sound like a type of personal hell. But the science says, Nothing prepares your mind for a long day of mental workouts like a physical one. Physical exercise wakes up your mind with endorphins, and gives you time to plan out your day. If your job is to manage projects for a team, take that 30 minutes on the treadmill to wake your brain up, sort through the different projects circulating the office, and decide how you will address your priority list. Seriously, your team will thank you.

The second side to this coin is hydration. If you work out and don’t hydrate, you’re actually hurting your productivity instead of helping. Water acts as a conduit for electricity to travel between cells. Want more coherent thoughts? Drink more water.

Give your body the right fuel.

In addition to hydration, how you fuel your body is a pivotal point of your daily health. That means listening to that old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Newsflash: it still is. This is something that many people (especially Americans) frequently overlook in favor of speeding to work or the gym. While your body can withstand some pretty intense pressures, there’s no point in stressing it unnecessarily. Providing your muscles, brain, bones and digestive tract with foods that energize it/help it recover are just as important as giving your car the right kind of gas. You wouldn’t put discount ethanol in a Ferrari, the same way you should avoid foods that you will burn off quickly (fast digesting carbs, anyone?) or will leave you with a sugar hangover. Next time, try swapping the office donuts for some peanut butter toast or an omelet.

In addition to getting the right balance of carbs, veggies and protein, taking vitamins is a great way to give yourself a competitive edge. B12 for serotonin uptake, vitamin C for wellness, and magnesium sulfate for just about everything. As it turns out, alcohol (like that beer you may have after work) increases your body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. So while you may go to sleep relaxed after a drink, you’ll wake up with more cortisol. Magnesium helps to decrease your body’s levels of cortisol, leaving you less wound up and more open to creative problem solving. You can accumulate more magnesium through regular servings of vitamins, fish, or leafy greens.

Spend time with those you care about.

As if this even needs to be said, but spending time with loved ones in the morning can help you start your day with confidence and contentment. Whether you include them in your morning endorphin rush, or sit with them while quietly reading the paper, spending time with people you care for is essential to boost your self-worth and lower your stress levels. It can also remind you why you go to work in the first place…to care for those you love (even if that person is yourself).