Wake before 6am, drink water, get working before breakfast and make the bed

If fitting in breakfast before heading to work feels like an achievement, chances are you are not one of life’s great leaders.

Research has found the most successful people complete numerous tasks before they even eat their morning toast.

The most accomplished, according to the study by the World Economic Forum (WEF), “set aside their first hours of the day to invest in their top-priority activities before other people’s priorities come rushing in”.


There are 14 habits proven to help make people more effective, according to the research, which references What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, by the US time management expert Laura Vanderkam. The first is to wake early, according to Ms Vanderkram’s survey of 20 executives, 90 per cent of whom rise before 6am on work days.

Successful people also tend to prefer water over coffee, exercise and work on a top priority business project before breakfast.

Henrik Bresman, associate professor of organisational behaviour and academic director of Insead Global Leadership Centre, says the last point is particularly key.

“Leaders have so many small things going on, so if you start with your enormous inbox or to-do list it will not only eat up time, but by the time you get to the big stuff you will have lost that crisp energy you have in the morning,” he says.

In addition, the research found successful people also work on a “personal-passion project,” spend quality time with their family, connect with their spouses and, perhaps surprisingly, make their beds.

That point cites work by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit about the science of habit formation among individuals, which claims making your bed makes you more productive by setting off “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold”.

As if that was not enough, successful people also network over coffee, meditate, write down things they feel grateful for, plan and strategise, check their email and find the time to read the news.

As the report authors point out, however, they do not necessarily do all of them.

“If you did, I don’t think you would actually have time to lead. You will be quite exhausted,” says Mr Bresman.

Many Twitter users attacked the study, mocking the 14 suggestions. One tweeter wrote: “15. They die early of a massive heart attack due to lack of rest.”

q&a don’t neglect yourself

Henrik Bresman, associate professor of organisational behaviour and academic director of Insead Global Leadership Centre, reveals what the study may have missed:

Are there any habits the WEF research has missed?

There is a fair amount of evidence to say that effective people have some kind of ritual that gets them going in the morning, whatever that might be. It could be different things for different people. It could be a run. It could be a cup of coffee at your favourite spot in the house. It is just something that is positive and makes people jump out of bed and get going rather than just lying around and feeling miserable about having to get up after too few hours’ sleep.

Are there any other habits successful people carry out that we should emulate, no matter what time of day they do them?

There are some things that we know. Successful leaders find a support group, people they can go to and talk to about the challenges they are facing, the dilemmas or the hard decisions they are facing. It is more of a community, a network that you can go to and ask questions and perhaps be a little bit vulnerable.

And is there anything we should avoid to become successful?

One big thing that is really sad, and you come across it all the time, is when people just burn out because they do not take the time to recharge. They don’t take the time to stay healthy and just think about their physical and mental well-being. Successful people take care of themselves. They don’t neglect themselves.

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