Every single Successful Person in the history of the world woke/wakes up early. Winston Churchill and Linda Evangelista are the only exceptions: The former politician didn’t get up until 11, but at least he was up and doing work from bed starting at 8. Linda Evangelista famously refused to awake for less than $10,000 a day, but that right there is a business strategy of the savvy if I’ve ever seen one. Lean into that satin pillow, Linda.
I am not a Successful Person — not yet, not in the proper sense, with a capital S and P and a TED Talk or a billboard — but I’d like to be. A few years ago I taught myself to wake up earlier in the hopes of getting more of my life together. In retrospect, it worked: I recently got a promotion. But what if jumping out of bed isn’t enough for my more dramatic long-term goals? What if there are other key components that lead to true outlier-level career triumphs, and I am missing them? Nothing a little research and replication can’t eke out. I tried five morning routines of five successful people… mostly because someone has to feed this hungry internet beast. (To its credit, the internet is 24/7 and money never sleeps.)
Jennifer Aniston’s net worth is reportedly $150 million, not to be tacky. You would think this number would encourage me to at least try to set my alarm for her standard 4:30 a.m. wake up time, but it did not. 4:30 a.m. is not early, it is the middle of the night, which seems counter-intuitive.
1. She wakes up at 8 a.m. on non-work days, however. So fine, on a Saturday morning, I did this.
2. Next on the agenda, the old “drink hot water with lemon” propaganda rhetoric that I conceded to only because of $150 million, and also because my mom keeps saying it’s good for digestion.
3. I washed my face with soap and water then spent the whole day panicking about whether or not this would cause acne.
4. Said worries interrupted my required 20 minutes of meditation.
5. Sometimes Jennifer Anniston eats fresh eggs from the butts of chickens that hang out in her own backyard. I don’t have a backyard so I had to settle for her second go-to: a protein shake. Well and Good has the full scoop on her preferred recipe; I went to Juice Generation. I always eat after workouts but wondered if eating before could be the missing link.
6. It was not the missing link and in fact, it nearly made me sick. Jennifer Anniston spins for 30 minutes, then does yoga for 40. I don’t have a spin bike in my mansion so I signed up for SoulCycle instead (45 minutes), which is a terrible after a protein shake. Following this I did some half-assed yoga on a mat in my apartment, and then, to feel extra Jen, I drank a SmartWater. SmartWater is just regular water with very smart marketing, but in this exercise, you can’t argue with success.
Did I feel successful after this morning, which ended around 11? Not any more than usual, to be honest. I think the call time has to be less insane than Jen’s 4:30 weekdays, but more extreme than 8 a.m. weekends.
Now this is more like it: Oprah wakes up at 6:02 a.m., but she has never set an alarm. “I don’t believe in them,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “They are … alarming!”
1. I set an alarm because my internal clock doesn’t kick in until 45 minutes later on a great day. I was tired but like, the whole world wakes up at 6:02 a.m..
2. Oprah says her first thought when she wakes up is, “Oh, I’m alive. Thank you!” So I did this. It made for a nice morning mindset. What follows, for her, are a series of downward dogs with actual dogs. I had to do mine alone.
3. Oprah makes herself a chai tea or skim cappuccino at 6:45 a.m. but I can’t cook. Instead, I put my sneakers on 15 minutes before she says she does and left the house with enough time to stop at a coffee shop by my apartment. (I never leave my apartment early enough to do ANYTHING, so this felt amazing.)
4. By 7:05 a.m., Oprah is in her home gym so that she can have the TV on and tuned to CBS’s “Eye Opener” to see what her BFF Gayle is wearing. I don’t have any friends on TV but Leandra was in Italy while I did this, so the time difference meant I got to watch her stories like a little morning program on my way to the gym. Ah, nice caftan.
5. Oprah does 20 minutes on the elliptical and 30 minutes walking on the treadmill. She starts out at the Level 3 incline setting and then every minute adds to the incline until she gets to 12 or 15, then she does sit-ups. I did Barry’s Bootcamp, which is like an…extreme version of this? Then I tried not to throw up. Might have been the cappuccino, though.
6. At 8 a.m., Oprah does a sitting meditation, so at 9 a.m., I did one too. (I had to shower after Barry’s and also, let’s not forget, I have an office to be inside of that isn’t a palindrome of my own name.) She said that if she’s in a rush she’ll only meditate for 10-12 minutes, which was comforting. I always think of meditation as THE FULL MONTY or nothing at all. Not very zen, I know. Anyway, I liked Oprah’s realistic approach and actually, it allowed me to relax a bit.
7. At 8:30 a.m. Oprah eats medium-boiled eggs and a piece of multigrain toast for breakfast. “I have actually noticed that lately I have been eating breakfast at 8:38,” she told Well and Good. Wild woman. It was 10 a.m. by the time I ate my Oprah meal, but it was better than a Kind bar and certainly filled me up for longer.
8. An hour behind Oprah’s schedule and feeling guilty about it, I went through my schedule while eating, as she does, knocked out a few phone calls and had zero bank wires. But wait a minute! “[B]usiness transactions and financial stuff…I try to get all of that done by noon or 12:30 when I am home, since that’s 3 p.m. in New York and the banks close soon after that.” Oprah is on California time. Do you realize what this means? Even on a one hour delay, I was two hours ahead of Oprah.
So long as she doesn’t smite me down for saying that, I’d consider this a major success.
Barack Obama starts his days two hours before his first event. I like the idea of working backwards from your first important thing — it seems less monotonous and less militant than a daily call time (although I get that the irregularity could undermine your internal clock, Oprah).
1. My first “event” was at 9 a.m., but in order to make a 7 a.m. workout class, I had to set my alarm for 6:20…so turns out this didn’t make much of a difference. But! I liked the mindset.
2. Obama and I both work out in the mornings, but I get the sense that he never skips. So, on Obama day, neither did I. Something I try to remind myself on mornings where I am tempted to hit snooze is that I never feel better for sleeping in 20 minutes extra, and I always feel better after working out, so…GET THE FUCK UP.
3. Barack Obama reportedly ate a breakfast of eggs, wheat toast and (until his doctor gave him a cholesterol warning) bacon every day — but no coffee. I could get down with the food portion of this party but no coffee is rough for me. Well-knowing that green tea doesn’t do shit as a caffeine supplement, I tried it and broke down by 10 a.m. for an iced coffee. In the words of Miranda Hobbes about her trash magazines, “It’s my thing, let me have it.”
4. The fourth and final agenda in Barack Obama’s documented morning routine includes reading the paper — the actual paper, not a digital copy. I bought a paper after my workout and read for 15 minutes on a bench before going up to my apartment. It was nice to delay looking at my phone for a while longer while still feeling productive.
Although this was a watered-down-for-the-press’s version of the busiest man in America’s routine, there’s something really civilized about reading the actual paper, and eating an actual breakfast. Kind of makes you feel ridiculous when you’re not the president and you’re like, “I’m too busy to X.” Completing all of this set me up for a go-get-em-tiger mental space for the rest of the day.
If there ever was a morning bird in this whole entire world, it has to be Gwyneth Paltrow. She wakes up at the crack of dawn, so…
1. Sigh. So did I. I set my alarm for 5 a.m., woke up, laughed, went back to bed.
2. But not for long! Because I don’t have an Apple and a Moses to rouse, feed and get ready for school (after dribbling spoonfuls of lemon-flavored flax oil into their baby mouths), I really had no excuse but to get the hell up and get my day started. I used this weird window of time between being…up (barely) and heading toward Hubert Street for my GP-evangelized workout class to brush my teeth and get some work done. It was slow and steady; I wasn’t powering through my to-do list, but it was productive, not to mention gloriously quiet.
3. Until it wasn’t. I arrived at Tracy Anderson in Tribeca, the eponymous studios of Gwyneth’s favorite trainer. “I am a very longtime Tracy Anderson fanatic,” she told Byrdie.com. “I practice her method religiously. I do it five days a week.” Okay. Now, I work out, but not like this. The first half of the class was a true dance party to a top tier playlist. If the instructor, Lana, could deejay my every morning, that would be great. The second half was a combination between torture or Broadway on steroids set to hip hop music with leg weights (which I am aware probably is a nightmare for some people)? For me, it was one of those satisfying burns where you want to pass out in the moment but then need everyone to know you attended a Tracy Anderson class after. It took sheer will and determination to stay alive but I swear to god, I think I grew an ab in the process. I understand the fanfare and I, too, would like to one day to be a Tracy Anderson fanatic.
But on this day, I settled with bragging rights, plus I was 45 minutes early to a freakishly healthy breakfast thanks to my tight edit of a morning. I used this time to start writing a story. Success.
The fifth and final routine I tried is none other than that of Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour. Woudn’t it be weird if you didn’t know what name would follow that comma? Yeah. It would be. Now that’s TED Talk/billboard successful.
1. Anna begins the day at 5:45 a.m. with a tennis lesson, so I began my day at 5:45, then took a tennis lesson at 7. (I didn’t want to subject anyone else to such a call time in the name of guinea pig journalism. Just me being thoughtful.)
First of all, if you’re looking for a tennis coach, no matter your level, I highly suggest using PlayYourCourt. You answer a few fast questions about where you live, what you’re looking for and they assign you with a coach who matches the criteria almost instantly. It was very 21st century, very efficient. They matched me with an instructor named Nataliya who is patient, probably going to win the U.S. Open someday and lovely.
I arrived early, 6:30 a.m., to reserve a court spot. At 7 a.m. sharp, we began. At 8:30 a.m., as I walked home to change for work, I thought to myself, “Holy shit. I just played a game of tennis and, if I wanted to, could have an entire hour and a half to do nothing before my first meeting.”
2. Instead, I grabbed a coffee from Starbucks and got a blowout, just like Anna, then did emails from my phone under the dryer. I wasn’t mad.
I was the most successful on this day in terms of productivity and creativity, which I credit to the effect of a one-on-one lesson with a professional instructor (rather than a solo run at this same time, or a workout class) had on my brain. My mind felt tuned-up in a way it hasn’t in forever. I was awake and buzzing and full of energy. It was truly kind of remarkable. I think this is how you’re supposed to feel after meditation? I wonder if the effect would be the same if I started my day off with a crossword puzzle or some other non-work-related stimulation. Another experiment for another day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go immediately to bed.
Illustrations by @CrayolaMode.