Early morning hath gold in its mouth.
–Benjamin Franklin

Every successful businessman that I know (or about whom I have read) gets up and gets to work early. It’s such a universal trait of accomplished individuals that I’m tempted to say it is a secret for success. “Early to bed and early to rise,” Ben Franklin said, “makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Healthy, wealthy, and wise. Let’s talk about how getting up and getting to work early helps you to achieve those goals.

In my experience, there is no better time to collect your thoughts and plan your day than early in the morning when the office is quiet. Not only are you undisturbed by phone calls and interruptions, but ahead of you is the potential of an unopened day. The solitude promotes a kind of relaxed, contemplative mood. You feel free to think in an expansive way. Later on, when the place is noisy and the pressure is on, it’s difficult to pay attention to what’s important. You feel your attention drawn in several directions at once. You feel the pressure of deadlines, and you may be hit with bad news, which could put you in a bad, unproductive mood.

A Near-Perfect Morning Routine

Over the years I’ve studied hundreds and experimented with dozens of time-saving techniques and organizational systems. The simple, three-step routine that follows is the best of the best.
Step One: Getting Healthy (6:30–7:00)

The first thing I do every day is run sprints. After a four- or five-minute warm-up, I run eight 50-yard dashes, with 30 seconds of rest in between. Then, I do a serious 10-minute stretching routine (yoga moves, mostly). Finally, a cold shower and a fresh set of clothes complete the process.

This workout is a condensed version of everything I’ve learned about health and fitness for the past 45 years, and it has dramatically improved my health. For example, I no longer have the back, shoulder, and neck pain that troubled me for so many years. I am as strong as I was when I was playing football in college, and I rarely get sick.

Step Two: Planning the Day (7:00–7:30)

I begin each day with a list of “to dos” that I’ve usually created the night before. I add to that list by going through my inbox and selecting any items that are important enough to make it to my daily list.

I used to scan my e-mail for things to do but found that I couldn’t resist the lure of trying to knock off a bunch of little things that wasted my time and drained my energy. Now, I scrupulously avoid e-mail in the morning. In fact, I don’t even open it up. I check phone messages and faxes and add any important items to my daily task list. Again, I don’t respond to anything at this point. My job is simply to organize it all—to figure out what I will do today and what I can delegate or do later.

Now comes the fun part. I get out a clean sheet of paper and write the date on top. Referencing all the inputs I have just gathered, I select 15 to 20 that I intend to accomplish before the end of the day. (You have to be realistic when you do this. There is no way you can do more than 15 or 20 significant things in a day.) Of the 15 or 20 items, I highlight four or five of them. These are all important-but-not-urgent tasks. (The urgent tasks you have to do. The important-but-not-urgent tasks are the ones that will advance your long-term goals. They are critical to your success, but you will almost certainly fail to do them unless you make them a priority.)

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to structure all your tasks so that none lasts more than an hour. Tasks lasting 15 and 30 minutes are the best. If you have something that takes several hours to do, break it up into pieces, and do it over a few days. It will be better for the extra time you give it, and you won’t get crushed on any one day.

If you adopt this simple system, you will see how well it works. Before your colleagues, competitors, and coworkers are even sipping their first cups of coffee you will know what your priorities are, and you will already be thinking about some of them. You will not have to worry about forgetting something important, and you will have a strong sense of energy and excitement, knowing that your day is going to be a productive one.

Step Three: Give Your Day a Boost. (7:30–8:30)

Here’s the best step. Select the single most important task of the day—the one highlighted task that will best help you accomplish your most cherished goal—and get to work on that. Don’t worry if something else is more pressing. Don’t pay any attention to what someone else wants you to do. Heck, it’s not even nine o’clock yet. It’s your time, so spend it on yourself!

If you are having trouble figuring out what is the most important task, ask yourself this question: “If I knew I was going to die in a week, which task would be most important to me now?”

If you spend the first working hour of every day on something about which you deeply care, it will give you more energy than you can possibly imagine. (I know this is true because it happens to me every morning.)

Success Is What Happens When You Do a Little Bit Extra Each Day

I suppose it’s possible for success to come in a single windfall, but most often, it arrives bit by bit. Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to figure out, on the average, what time you have been getting to work each day, and I want you to promise yourself that you’ll get there at least 15 minutes earlier from now on.

Don’t fool yourself. If you’ve been trying to get to work by eight but get there at that time only two days a week, admit that your starting time is 8:15 or 8:30, then fix your new objective.

Fifteen minutes a day multiplied by 50 weeks is 62.5 hours of extra work. That gives you more than a full week’s advantage over those against whom you are competing. You can accomplish a lot in a week, so don’t underestimate what this will do for you.

It’s not just about doing extra stuff. It’s about getting a jump on things. Getting in early makes you better prepared, more thoughtful, better organized, and more effective in every area of your life.

Early to bed, early to rise. It will make you healthier . . . and wealthier and wiser, too.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways.html

Author's Bio: 

Michael Masterson, author and businessman, has developed a loyal following through his writings in “Early to Rise,” an e-newsletter that mentors more than 400,000 success-oriented individuals to achieve their life goals. Over the course of his remarkably successful business career Michael has been involved in the development of dozens of successful businesses, including two that grew beyond $100 million. At one time or another he’s owned and run companies that were public/private, onshore/overseas, local/international, service/product-oriented, retail/wholesale/direct mail, and even profit/nonprofit. What do you want to do this year? Become wealthier? Get healthier? Read more books, travel the world, and become wiser? Sign up for ETR at http://www.earlytorise.com, and we’ll show you how to do all of that and more . . . in just five minutes a day.